Appearance vs Reality: Not Only in Shakespeare

One of the most common themes English students must study is the concept of Appearance versus Reality in literature. How things appear to be, are not always the case. Looks can be deceiving, with or without an Instagram filter. This is not only found in literature. Today’s version of this is, of course, social media. Polished, successful and happy versions of people are uploaded to your computer or phone screen, for you to regard with envy. We obviously do not want to promote the other side of us; the one that wears no make-up and stays in pyjamas a lot longer than necessary. The contrast between the person we promote on social media, and the one we are is known only to us. We are all aware of this concept. We are creating a different sense of our selves, suitable for public viewing. And while this is indeed paramount in today’s society, it is the more subtle, and somewhat general subversion of appearance of day-to-day life that I find more alarming. Though it is subtle, once noticed, causes one to pause and re-assess their view and how they see things.

The past few days the weather has been quite good. Well, good enough to paint a tempting picture of summer tranquility through the library window. The sun, causing shadows to fall on the path, and the slight breeze which ruffles your just-done hair awakens the annual longing for summer, and the freedom it brings. The sight of the paths and flowers outside highlighted by the rays created within me, a desire to go for a cycle. A simple, yet archetypal act of summer. It personifies the freedom summer brings. The ability to travel to any location of your own accord at any time creates the picture of a picturesque summer. Today, I fulfilled that desire. I cycled. For forty minutes my Dad and I cycled, only to be greeted by disappointment and stiff muscles at the end of it. The relaxing, peaceful and liberating cycle I endeavored to have, must have passed me by on my route. Instead, I found myself pushing to keep going as my muscles ached and yelled at me to stop. Although I am not the fittest person ever, it was not the struggle with exercise that bothered me.

It was only when I got home and collapsed on my couch that I realised I had built up a picture in my mind, one free of practicalities and reality. Au lieu of perhaps, the reality of a cycle in Ireland I am familiar with, I replaced it with a perfected ideal created in my head.

Perhaps it is watching too many cheesy American films that portray a flawless and satisfying image and expectation for my personal life. When daydreaming, I seem to forget about how things actually are, apply different characteristics to people I already know, and in turn, create a distorted situation in my head. Social situations that I practice in my head rarely turn out the way I anticipate them. The freedom of your mind and your imagination allow your desires to come to light. They surface despite the actual situation outside of your head.

It seems to me that there must be something in the human psyche that removes the blemishes of people, memories, relationships and situations when contemplating upon them in the mind. This creates a certain expectation of situations in life that is never fulfilled. Like children, we imagine things the way we want them to be, not how they really are. We carry within us this desire, searching for a way to satisfy it.

My cycle failed me. It proved to me that in our mind, we really do have the freedom to create what we want. While this sounds like an awfully pessimistic realisation, it is more like a revaluation. Reality is not to be confused with what one expects, or wants. The expectation you have for a wedding is tainted and moulded by the desire for it go smoothly. The reality of the actual events of the day become further away and forgotten about, once the day becomes a memory. You forget that the guests were late. You forget that your shoes were digging into you after 3 hours. You remember the look on everyone’s faces, the smiles, and the “good” dancing. The actual day becomes a figment of our imagination, being replaced by the more polished version we choose to remember.

The mind creates a distinction and struggle between what is real, and what we want. And it is the latter which always wins.

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