Chapter 2: Everyday Envy
In the last chapter envy was looked at in relation to the other deadly sins and its hierarchical place. The emphasis was on envy as a sin; in this chapter envy will be viewed phenomenologically, as it is seen in humanity on the hoof so to speak, everyday envy.
Chaucer pinpoints the fact that it is goodness that excites envy; the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines envy thus, ‘Mortification and ill-will occasioned by the contemplation of another’s superior advantages’. This underlines the anguish and loss of self esteem that envy precipitates; there has to be a lack of self esteem for envy to flourish. ‘Envy… is fundamentally a response to a discrepancy; it floods in to fill the spaces variously of fall-short and short-fall (Boris,1994:iv).
Envy has, I think, four parts; first an exigency, a lack, an inadequacy is experienced; simultaneously the envious eyes see (literally or metaphorically) something that someone else has which, in comparison to what we have, and envy is about constant comparison, is preferable. That feels intolerable because it is as if in wanting we have been judged and found wanting, and the misery and humiliation that entails leads to the need to attack and despoil what is envied so the perceived difference is no longer there.
However, there are some forms of envy that are not so excruciating,
Fools may our scorn, not envy raise,
For envy is a kind of praise.
(The Hound and the Huntsman, xliv,line 29)
Gay noted that essential quality of envy, it is excited by the superiority of another’s happiness, success, reputation or possession. There is a spectrum from the envy that discerns what is valuable and galvanises to further effort towards an attainable goal, this in its pure form is emulation; it often takes the form of rivalry. When it is soured by dishonourable methods of outstripping one’s rival then it moves towards its more sinister aspect – envy. At the other end of the spectrum is the more damaging aspect of envy which Klein described so compellingly and is discussed in the next chapter.
There is envy that is sanitized by affection and respect. We see an attribute, possession or talent which we envy, we wish we had it. We may recognise that it is not within our power to try to emulate. We do not want to take it away from our friend; we do not want to spoil it, we admire the quality and possibly idealise the person so as to elevate them above our envy.
Affection does not prevent us from envying but it defuses the more spoiling elements. Harry admires and envies his friend and colleague Tom’s outstanding intelligence. Realistically he recognises that no amount of effort will elevate his intellectual capabilities to Tom’s. He does not, because he is truly fond of his friend, wish to spoil Tom’s attributes (affection protects them from that) but because he does not love himself he denigrates his own undoubted intelligence and undermines his literary achievements. He feels it is only with the utmost care that he protects Tom from the full force of his envy and feels somewhat resentful having to do this.1
Envy as Equaliser
Envy is forever looking upwards. It does not look sideways. In Facial Justice Hartley (1960) describes a life after a catastrophic war. A Dictator has decreed that envy is so destructive that it has to be eliminated. The citizens are coerced to be as alike each other as possible. The worst crime is not envy itself but to excite envy. ‘Equality and Envy – the two E’s were…the positive and negative poles on which the New State rotated ‘(p.12). In order to exterminate envy everything that was enviable has been destroyed. Of course that in itself is the very essence of envy. Neither envy nor equality are spoken of as words but referred to as Good and Bad E. All tall buildings had been destroyed in the war except the tower of Ely Cathedral and none are allowed to be built – a horizontal view of life is required. No comparisons are to be made, women are encouraged to undertake an operation so they all looked alike, to be pretty would excite envy. The result is that the populace loses its humanity and becomes a non-thinking mass. The independently minded heroine, Jael, visits the Ely and looks up at the tower and leads a dance round it. She pays the price of having her more than averagely pretty face (an Alpha face) changed to a Beta face by cosmetic surgery and so made indistinguishable from the others.
Angela is often in trouble with her employer or those in authority. When this happens she contemptuously relates ways that illustrate how ineffectual they are, how stupid, how lacking in capability. In other words she flattens the difference in their relative positions. She finds it hard to tolerate that they are more powerful than she, further up the ladder of success and seeks to bring them to her level. This impulse also manifests in her relations with friends, but in a benign way. When it was her birthday she was given presents by her flat mate and her lover. She was overwhelmed and felt unworthy to be the recipient of such largesse. She bought them each a small present because, she felt, saying thank-you was not enough. When we were discussing this she said, ‘When I am given a present I feel inferior, but I don’t feel superior when I give them’. Returning kindness is an element of gratitude, of course, what gives Angela’s action the envious edge is that being the recipient is so hard and makes her feel at a disadvantage. ‘Some patients cannot tolerate difference (the place where they are not…) and so must eradicate difference as did Eve through the intercession of the serpent…'(Emery, 1992:22).2
Envy is frequently apparent in daily life. The glamorous couple who trumpet their joy will attract derogatory comments from gossip columnists. Anyone who is successful and obviously enjoys their success may well be pilloried and strenuous attempts will be made to devalue their achievements. The frenzy of excitement that surrounds any star or famous figure’s fall from grace shows the schudenfreude that derives from the toppling of an envied figure.
Envy and Covetousness
Envy is sometimes confused with covetousness. If we say to our neighbour ‘I envy you your garden’, it means ‘I admire your garden and I would like to have it’. It does not mean, unless we are envious, ‘I can’t bear you to have your garden, I want to spoil it, and your enjoyment of it’. The vandal who scratches an expensive and desirable car does so through unalloyed envy. It is said that this country is more envious than the United States. There, we are told, when a covetable car is seen by someone who is poor it acts as a spur to further efforts in order to gain one; here the response is more likely to be an act of vandalism. Menninger merges envy with covetousness, referring to the fact that it is covetousness that is cited in the Ten Commandments, he also writes, ‘Envy (covetousness) was, as a matter of fact, the first on the list of the famous cardinal sins proclaimed by the early church fathers…’ (1975;134).
To covet is to desire something, to long for something that belongs to another. Although it has the same attribute of looking at and longing for what is seen, covetousness does not seek to spoil what it wants, but will go to great and devious ends to appropriate, purloin or steal the object of its desire. The most important difference is that covetousness does not feel diminished by its need or longing, whereas envy does.
Envy and Greed
Greed is an inordinate, insatiable longing. It is a close cousin of covetousness. Berke (1989) says that envy and greed are usually working together and reports that Nina Coltart has coined the term ‘grenvy’ to describe the fusion (p 26). He goes on to say that ‘pure’ envy is less common than grenvy. ‘At least it [grenvy] acknowledges goodness before trying to ruin it. Envy itself admits no desire except to destroy’. I do not agree. I think envy first has to perceive something as good, desirable, enviable before it is set in motion. It is like an aesthetic sixth sense. It is after the goodness has been sighted that the destructive impulses emerge. ‘Envy can fuse with greed, making for a wish to exhaust the object entirely, not only in order to possess all its goodness but also to deplete the object purposefully so that it no longer contains anything enviable’ (Segal 1964;41).
Greed, unlike appetite, can never be assuaged, it is the manifestation of inner emptiness, whereas envy is the product of a sense of inferiority. Berke (1989) suggests envy is graspingness for self; greed, graspingness for life. He says that the two can be distinguished by the begrudging nature of envy. ‘Greed does not begrudge. The greedy person wants as much as he can get,and more…’ (p 24). The greedy person can recognise and want goodness and all that entails. The envious person feels compelled to debunk and poison that which, despite himself, he can recognise as good. Greed is destructive but it is incidental and unintended; the destructiveness of envy is axiomatic. Envy is projective; greed, introjective.
Envy and Jealousy
In Envy and Gratitude Klein quotes from Othello
Oh beware my Lord of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on… (Act 3, scene iii;68)
and observes, ‘Shakespeare does not always seem to differentiate between envy and jealousy’ (Klein,1957:182). She goes on to say that Shakespeare is writing about envy as she has defined it, ‘the angry feeling that another person possesses and enjoys something desirable – the envious impulse being to take it away or to spoil it’ (Klein,1957;181). What she does not say, though, is that it is Iago who is speaking. People tend to think Othello is a play about jealousy; the eponymous hero kills his wife in a jealous rage. I would suggest, however, that the energy that sets the ensuing tragedy in motion and drives it ineluctably to its conclusion is envy. It is Iago’s envy and it is this that besmirches and brings down all the nobility and promise that flourishes at the opening of the play. Othello’s jealousy is a product of Iago’s envy. Thus when Iago is speaking of jealousy he imbues it with the contemptuous, spoiling attributes of envy.
So what is the difference between envy and jealousy? Segal (1964) comments that even among analytic writers there was a tendency to muddle jealousy and envy. Certainly people are more likely to say of themselves that they are jealous, than that they are envious. Sometimes they mean they are jealous; often they mean they are envious. I suspect that this lack of differentiation is because, even without being fully aware of the difference or knowing entirely what envy is, there is an understanding of the malicious, crabbed aspect of envy that makes owning it uncomfortable. A patient who was musing on the difference between envy and jealousy finally declared, ‘Mostly people say they are jealous when they mean envious. A person who is grounded in love can say they are envious and not be afraid’.
Envy is between two objects; jealousy between three. Envy is dyadic; jealousy, triangular. Jealousy appears later when the infant’s field of vision has widened and it can relate to something beyond its intense relationship to breast as part object and mother as whole object. Jealousy fears that the love one person feels is his has been, or is about to be, taken away. Jealousy arises out of an idea of what is one’s due whereas envy comes from a sense of inferiority.
Into the perfect twosome of Desdemona and Othello, Iago insinuates the suspicion, the spectre of Cassio who, in Othello’s mind makes the unwelcome third; he fears that Cassio will steal Desdemona’s love which belongs to him. One might imagine then that Othello would eliminate his rival to restore the perfect tranquil dyadic relationship but he does not; he destroys the very object whom he loves, or rather loved, above all else. This is both an envious attack and a jealous one. Othello kills Desdemona, not Cassio, because he is filled with an envious hatred that she can attract the love of another; possibly because the life of a Moor in Venice, despite the high rank Othello had achieved as commander, was not and certainly had not been easy. Maybe he envied Desdemona’s undisputed high position as a white woman of noble birth. 3
Though jealousy is less disturbing to own and has the overtones of grand passion it is nevertheless a devastating emotion. Davidson (1912) and Farber (1976) speak of jealousy as being more intense and impassioned, more spiteful and less restrained than envy. With jealousy is the added problem that there are two sources of bitterness and unease, the loved one and the seducer, two objects to hate.
Klein (1957) says that oedipal jealousy can be a way of mediating destructive envy to healthy rivalry. The hostile feelings instead of being focused on the mother and the breast are distributed amongst rivals – siblings or father and thus the intensity is dispersed. Later when these relationships develop into love there is a change from the oral desires to genital. ‘The elements of envy, the attack on people with special advantages and qualities simply for the sake of their goodness, can gradually be modulated to jealousy, and eventually a more honest state of competition’ (Hinshelwood, 1989:171).
An interesting sidelight on the place of envy in relationships is that Barbara Castle in an interview in the Daily Mirror (6. 10. 1995) talking about the success of her marriage, said that her husband envied her but was not jealous. Boris (1994) puts it more forcibly, ‘Only relationships based on the mutual agitation of ongoing envy – like that Albee evoked in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – have any staying power’ (xvi-xvii).
Schoek (1966) in his exhaustive study of envy recognises its universal nature and its destructiveness sociologically, ‘… I believe envy as the implicit or explicit fulcrum of social policy to be much more destructive than those who have fabricated their social and economic philosophy out of envy would care to admit (p.2).
Those who wish to justify the widening gap between rich and poor, sections of society and nations, label any suggestion that this is not equitable nor ethical nor even sensible as being consumed by the politics of envy. No doubt envy does have a part to play, but to bray that any declaration that the disturbing lack of equilibrium is envious and nothing else seems at least to be short-sighted. Mrs Alexander, in the nineteenth century wrote the children’s hymn ‘All things bright and beautiful’. There is a verse that is now dropped from hymnals;
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly
And order’d their estate.
It was comforting for the rich to know the differences were divinely ordained and the poor were reminded that there was no point in complaining about their lot.
However Schoek goes on to say despite its divisive and destructive aspects, ‘… envy alone makes any kind of social existence possible’ (ibid). In the chapter ‘Theory of Envy in Human Existence’, he postulates that envy is so deeply rooted biologically and existentially in humanity that it cannot be wholly negative in its consequences. He asks ‘ May it not rather be supposed that certain social controls dependent in part on the capacity to envy, are not only necessary to maintain the status quo of a society, but are also sometimes essential to the processes of development’ (p 350).
Burton (1621) comments,’ ‘Tis a common disease, and almost natural to us… to envy another man’s property (p.265). But Schoek asserts that it is envy which makes us unofficial watchdogs of each other’s property because we begrudge the thief, the swindler, the burglar their ill-gotten gains. So long as it is kept within bounds envy leads to a sense of fair play and equality of opportunity, it domesticates civilisation and promotes creativity.
For some individuals, work can become an obsession with a moral authority. The Protestant work ethic, derived from Calvinism, has the implicit belief that work and the resultant wealth are a sign of divine approval and poverty a proof of idleness. However a display of riches is not approved. An ascetic moralism is the cloak for a defence against envy. Puritanism is in many ways a shadow aspect of envy. Those who make a virtue out of unremitting work resent those who have a more carefree attitude and who are less dedicated to the accumulation of wealth. We tend to criticize most those who do what we secretly would like to do. Parables like the ‘Prodigal Son’ (Luke 15:11- 32) and the ‘Lost Sheep'(Luke 15:4-8) 4 are problematic for those whose path has been virtuous and hard working all the way. Puritanism took the high moral ground and banned as sinful nearly all forms of enjoyment. In some ways this was a reaction against the perceived licence of Charles I’s reign, in others a ‘dog in the manger’ act. Milton was a Puritan poet. It is interesting that in Paradise Lost he created in Satan, the archetypal embodiment of envy, a character of energy, vitality and some emotional appeal. One wonders if he were not secretly on the side of Satan, the anti-Christ, the disrupter of order, who embraces evil and power with such elan.
So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear,
Farewell remorse: all good to me is lost;
Evil be thou my good.
(Book IV, 1, lines 108-110)
It is perhaps not without significance that Margaret Thatcher came from a non-conformist background. She exemplified the notion that to succeed is to be moral and to be poor is a sign of spiritual bankruptcy. It could be conjectured that her husband with his somewhat louche lifestyle and her feckless son provide striking examples of her shadow.
Thompson (1993) argues that in societies where poverty is not a disgrace the sharing of available supplies and the looking after of weaker members is the norm; in those where wealth and ostentation are valued hoarding and panic occur when shortages threaten. However, Berke (1989), Schoek (1966) and Erikson (1950) all cite instances of extremely poor tribes where poverty was abject and ubiquitous; food was zealously guarded and sharing almost unknown. Schoek cites the Sironio tribe of Bolivia. They live an extremely meagre and impoverished existence and very seldom share food. They will go to extreme lengths to avoid this. They usually feed at night and secretly to avoid the envious looks of the other members who, if they see someone eating, gather around and stare – enviously. Schoek says that if phenomena like this had been properly evaluated and observed there would not be the myth of the golden age, as exemplified by Thompson, where social harmony prevailed because no one had any more than the next and all had very little. It is interesting that in America which is, on the whole, non-hierarchical, huge wage differentials are tolerated; in Japan, which is a traditional and deferential society, the differential between top managers and their work force is not great because it would not be acceptable.
Envy and the Evil Eye
Envy comes from the latin invidere, to look upon intently, maliciously, to overlook. In past times it was said that a person who had a spell put on them had been overlooked, which is another definition of envy. Envy in all cultures and civilisations has been linked with the Evil Eye. There are various common ways of describing the envious gaze, green eyes, red eyes, hollow eyes; all illustrate its rapacious nature.
In the chapter ‘Envy and Black Magic'(pp.32-45) Schoek demonstrates the link between envy and witchcraft. Universally envy is perceived as being dangerous and destructive; it is endowed with magical powers to harm. Those who are on the fringes of society, those who are different or handicapped in any way are in danger of being thought of as witches, or whatever term rational 20th century thinking decides. It is logical to imagine that those who are without the benefits of intelligence, health, family or even the ability to conform will be envious – and therefore will seek to destroy others’ security.
The avoidance of envy as a strong element in the organizations of culture is quoted by anthropologists and sociologists. Erikson (1950) pointed out that amongst Dakota children being educated in state schools there was little competitiveness; to answer a question in class was considered bad form, showing off knowledge that would make those without that knowledge feel bad – envious.
The Navaho Indians are often held up as examples of generosity and a lack of materialism; they have little desire for possessions or personal achievement. However Berke (1989) argues that the reason for this is to avoid envious attack, ‘… the individual Navaho is under constant social pressure not to possess what he might like or to give away what he has come to possess. If he fails, “the voice of envy will speak out in whispers of witchcraft”…'(p.47).
Whereas most western societies will not admit to believing in witchcraft, charms against the evil eye are still commonly sold in mediterranean countries. We are still wary of those who give us a ‘dirty look’ or a ‘withering glance’. The belief in the evil eye is universal and primeval and is entwined with superstition, magic and witchcraft.
In the Faerie Queen Spenser depicts Envy, 5
All in a kirtle of discoloured say
He clothed was, ypainted full of eyes.
(Book IV, 30, lines 31-32)
The evil eye has power and arouses fear throughout civilisations and we go to great lengths to avert its malign gaze. In order to avert the envious attack a person who has secured promotion will assiduously point out to his disappointed colleagues the problems the job will bring. Mrs. B, who enjoyed an apparently friendly but rivalrous relationship with her sister, noted that whenever she complimented her on her looks or her clothes, her sister would point out a defect or hidden flaw. Similarly Mrs. B realised whenever her sister commented on her (Mrs. B’s) happy marriage she would enumerate her husband’s irritating ways. Those who are envious need particularly to avert envy. Consciously or not they are aware of its corrosive power. There are many proverbs that illustrate the subjective nature of the optics of envy. For example ‘Envy turns a blade of grass into a palm tree.’ and ‘Where there is a juniper bush envy sees a forest.’
Perhaps envy could be described as the opposite of a pearl; I mean, at the centre of a pearl is a grain of sand which caused friction and has been covered by a beautiful shimmering coating. A pearl is a symbol of value and beauty. Envy is the opposite; but at the centre covered over with all the destructive, spoiling, begrudging features that distinguish it lies a little grain of discrimination. Discrimination is the faculty of observing differences accurately and making exact distinctions. Of course like most things there are two aspects of discrimination; it is about noting differences and making choices. In the negative aspect this leads to discrimination against ethnic groups, genders and religions. In its positive aspect it is about selecting something and feeling good about the choice. The envious person finds that hard because whatever they choose it will always be felt to be ‘wrong’.
Hartley (1960) observes that in attempting to eradicate envy the Dictator has created a society which has lost its humanity and became a non-thinking mass. ‘If personality expresses itself by acts of discrimination, and discrimination, besides being taboo, has no material to work on, what becomes of personality? It shrinks, it atrophies, it dies’ (p.60). Discrimination, then, is what delineates and defines individuality. Envy is like a radar which seeks out what is good, when it discovers its objective, it needs to spoil the very thing that attracted it in the first place because then the comparison starts and the envier finds himself lacking.
The prejudice shown to immigrant communities can be seen not only as intolerance of what is other, but also there is often a strong element of ‘they are getting our jobs, our women, our benefits’; a resentment, a fear that the immigrant will get something that is rightfully theirs. This is actually a triangular situation between indigenous worker, immigrant and a third perceived rightful possession and is therefore more accurately jealousy.
Fear is an important ingredient of envy. There is the fear that another may get what we think is ours. There is the fear that love, admiration, appreciation and success are rationed commodities. Helen said, ‘If you love someone else I feel that means you love me less. If someone gets a job that I don’t want now or I can’t take now, it seems there will be fewer jobs when I do need one. Any good thing that happens to another means there is less available for me’.
Envy robs a person or group of their humanity; to be envied is to be a cipher, a symbol, a one dimensional object. All that is seen is whatever it is which is envied; all the rest of the target is obliterated. Envy erodes any sense of an I-thou relationship, it is diminished into an I-it opposition.6 This is seen at its most chilling in civil war where neighbours are no longer people but representatives of the hated (envied) enemy. The first World War produced a mortifying defeat for the Germans, the effect of which was then exacerbated by the humiliating terms of the Treaty of Versailles. A nation who has had their national pride so depleted is ripe for envy. The awful result was that Jews were seen to be doing rather too well and so were easily turned by Nazi propaganda into non-persons and the horror of the Holocaust ensued.
Envy’s Attack on Creativity
Goya’s picture of Saturn (Cronos in Greek mythology) eating one of his children is horrific. It is an insightful depiction of an envious attack on creativity. Saturn’s face shows malevolence, rage, anguish and horror to the point of madness. According to Greek mythology, Cronos was, with savage irony, the god of fertility, one of the earliest of the gods. He had castrated his father Uranus at his mother Gaia’s behest because she was tired of ceaseless childbearing and angry because Uranus had imprisoned many of their children. Cronos led a rebellion of the Titans and became the leader of the gods in his father’s place but he forgot to placate his mother for usurping his father’s place and not freeing his brothers. She foretold that he too would be replaced as king of the gods by one of his children. To avert this misfortune Cronos ate his many children at birth till he was tricked by his wife and given a stone to eat instead of the last child, who was Zeus and who duly became king.
In devouring his offspring Cronos showed scant regard for them as sentient beings and that is precisely what envy does to the one who is envied. It negates their subjective reality. As I said above we go to some lengths to avoid being envied; it is an uncomfortable and difficult experience. The envied one feels the attack of envy as a repudiation of their self. All one is and has been is discounted; all the envier sees is the success of the now. The hard work, the suffering, the penury, the anxiety, all are obliterated by the envier. The envied one is no longer a person, they are an object – a thing. ‘Whether I now ridicule or covert this possession is not so important as the seeming advantage I gain by reducing… you to your possession (Farber, 1976:40). We do not ask to be envied, indeed we seek to avoid it, but once triggered there is nothing we can do about it. It is the fact of being that is the target, not what we are doing. Nietzsche said, “If I cannot have something, no one is to have anything, no one is to be anything!” (quoted in Ulanov 1983:20) 7
The person who is the victim of envy feels helpless and impotent. In an attempt to deflect the onslaught there is the temptation to deny the good that is the target of the envy; to say ‘I’m no different, I don’t have anything you could possibly want’. The denial of one’s talents, attributes, gifts leads to feelings of remorse and resentment and does not help at all. The envier then feels the envied one is deliberately hiding and withholding the good in order not to share it and the attack becomes more frenzied. This can have a drastic effect on the envied person. The envier can enter into and affect the inner world of the envied – projective identification. I will elaborate on this in the next chapter.
As a symbol of envy Cronos is a potent one for anyone who has laboured to produce a piece of work, write a book, paint a picture, and has known the lust to destroy what has been produced. Nowadays the computer is a helpful extension of the writer but sometimes is blamed for ‘eating’ a laboriously, painfully produced effort when, by ‘mistake’, the writer has erased pages of work. Perhaps this is why computer users need to have frequent back up and copy onto floppy discs. It takes consciousness to tear up or burn work; it needs only a lapse of concentration to erase. On a more conscious level Mitrani (1993) writes of a patient, a talented screen writer, who would begin a piece of work and just as the ideas were beginning to develop on the page would tear up the paper and erase all traces of the piece from the memory of his computer so there was no possibility of returning to his ideas later.
In the next chapter we will descend deeper into envy, explore its malign and corrosive power and look at the ways it can stunt and poison lives.
- Resentment is closely linked with envy and is sometimes indistinguishable. Scheler was particularly interested in this emotion though he maintained the french word ressentisment is untranslatable. It carries the sense of living through, and reliving again and again an emotional response to another. Gnawing at this emotion increases its affect and deepens it into the core of the personality. See Formalising in Ethics and Non-Formal Ethics of Values, 1973 and other works.
- This adds an interesting dimension to the creation fable. Emery suggests that omnipotently treating oneself as eligible to enviously eat from the Tree of Knowledge is an intolerance of difference which culminates in envy.
- Some countries have the concept of crime passionel. Murders executed in a fit of jealousy carry a lesser sentence than others. The reason for this is that there is the feeling that the killing of a rival may be prompted by horror of loving someone who is faithless and therefore less inexcusable.
- There was once a landowner who had two sons. One day the younger one asked his father for his share of the estate. The father gave it to him; the son exchanged it for cash and left for a far country where he squandered his money in reckless living. He had spent it all when a famine fell on the land and he had to seek shelter with a farmer and was told to go and mind the pigs. No one gave him anything and he was so hungry he would have been glad to eat the pig’s food. Eventually he thought that his father’s servants were treated better than he was at that time, so he decided to return and beg his father for his forgiveness, tell him he was no longer worthy to be called his son and to ask for work on the farm. So he set off for his father’s house. When he was still a long way off his father saw him. He ran to meet his son and embraced him. The son confessed his faults and said he should no longer be called his son. His father called his servants telling them to bring a robe for his son, to put shoes on his feet and a ring on his finger. Further they were to kill the fatted calf and they would have a celebratory feast. For, as he said, his son who had been as dead to him had returned. The festivities began. Meanwhile, the elder son who had been out working in the fields, on returning heard music and dancing. He asked what it meant and was told his brother had returned and his father was so delighted he had ordered the feast. The elder brother was furious. He refused to join the feast. His father came out and pleaded with him but the son pointed out how he had always done his duty, slaved for his father and had never been given anything for a feast with his friends, not so much as a young kid. But his brother had spent all his father’s money on wine, women and song and when he turned up the fatted calf was killed for him. His father told him that he was always with him; everything he had was his, but his brother was thought to be dead and was found to be alive, was lost and was found, surely that was cause for celebration. A shepherd, on finding he had lost one of his flock, left the rest of the sheep and set off and searched until he had found the errant lamb. The teaching in both these parables is that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents and returns to the way than over the ninety and nine who are virtuous.
- Spenser’s description of envy in the Faerie Queene is worth quoting in full for its bravura and attention to so many of envy’s properties.
- The story of Frankenstein’s monster is an interesting illustration of what can happen when a creature made in human form is treated as an ‘it’. Frankenstein’s creation did not dare to attack his maker to whom he professes devotion and idealises but attacks Frankenstein’s loved ones. This is because he cannot bear Frankenstein to be happy when he is so wretched. Frankenstein had reneged on his promise to make another creature, a female, and so allow his monster some hope of happiness. Earlier the monster reproached Frankenstein for his unthinking and cavalier attitude to his creation. Remember I am thy creature: I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy , and I shall again be virtuous'(p.104).
- This attitude is illustrated graphically in the recent film of Richard III. Richard, hated by his mother from his birth, determines to be villain (Act 1, scene i). His desire to be king fuels his hatred and envy of the rightful heirs. In the pursuit of his goal he ravages the kingdom. At the end of the film he stands amongst the ruins of all his hopes, but he has wrought devastation on everybody else as well.