We Are Defined By the Presence We Establish
In the presentation “Belly of the Beast”, Odds Bodkin’s invited his audience to feel and understand the story through their own perspective. His performance was less of a story being told and more of a presence being established. He worked upon the audiences’ imagination and senses which allowed them to see an interpretation of the story from their own point of view. Bodkin, Hawthorne, and Gilman establish that we are not defined by our physical aspects or what it is that we do in life, but rather by the power and desires of our mind. Hawthorne encourages his character to “release her mind from the burden of actual things” (471) revealing the relationship between the mind and the world around us. These three pieces of literature emphasize how human worth is not defined by earthly measures, but rather by our own definitions of what we consider to be our true essence.
Through the sound effects, facial expressions, and soothing music, Bodkin played with the emotions of his audience which allowed us to feel as if we were a part of the story. As a result of his humor and candid expressions, the audience was able to feel comfortable and was willing to let his performance work on their own interpretations. Also, Bodkin was not simply presenting a story about Greek mythology, but was performing it and living through it. The performance was enhanced because he was so involved in the story himself. In order to understand the story on the same level he did, he encourages us to become involved in the story in our own way. What was most captivating about Bodkin’s presence, however, was his exit. Once he finished his performance, he said thank you for listening and walked silently for the door. Expecting a speech or expecting him to return to his chair in the front row to collect his things, the audience seemed lost and confused. So quickly, such a powerful presence was there one moment, and gone the next. According to Bodkin, this is how life should be lived. He reveals to us that we are defined by the presence we bring into a room, by the emotions we feel, and by the interpretations we allow our imaginations to make.
Similar concepts were addressed in Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” and Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Both pieces of literature have characters that are forced to question their worth according to the opinions of others. In Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark,” a beautiful woman deceives herself of her own beauty because of her reliance on her husbands’ opinions. According to these opinions and judgments about what he considered an imperfection, “Georgina soon learned to shudder at his gaze” (468). When we define ourselves according to how others see us, we become strangers to the person we truly are. Essentially, if Georgina did not identify herself through her “mark of imperfection,” her true essence would lie beyond her physical appearance and within her spirit (468). In Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator is cut off from interacting with the world around her and is confined to her own thoughts. Her husband’s opinions about her “nervous conditions” drive her deeper into discovering the person she really is (388). This “imaginative power and habit of story-making” she possesses allows her to discover what her true essence is by exploring all aspects of her mind and soul (390). This revealed the true power and strength of the mind and soul and how, though we may be restricted by the physical world and the people within it, we are never bound by our souls. This common theme in all pieces of work reveals the relationship between the spiritual soul and the physical body and how if we live according to our soul, we tend to neglect what defines us in the physical world and vice versa.
All three pieces of work encourage the underlying ideals of Jesuit education through their emphasis on strengthening the soul and living through our desires. A Jesuit education is not defined by doing something perfectly or correctly, but rather by discovering and taking advantage of that inner drive to do good for ourselves and others. Observing Bodkin’s performance was moving and eye-opening through its way of telling a story. After observing his performance, I learned that a story does not necessarily need to be defined by facts and through only one perspective, but can instead be defined by emotions, feelings, and interpretations. Essentially, we are not defined by what we do, what we look like, and who we please, but rather the presence we hold and our ability to look at ourselves and understand our feelings and our own meaning.