I’ve just finished reading the epic The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (which is a great big tome of a book) after a nice few days away relaxing, and it was a great book for making the mind work. [Usual spoiler alert. If you haven’t read it, come back when you have.]
First, it reminded me a little bit of Jiminy Cricket in Pinochio when he says
Yep, temptations. They’re the wrong things that seem right at the time… but… uh… even though the right things may seem wrong sometimes, or sometimes the wrong things, may be right at the wrong time, or visa versa…
In other words, morality is not as clear cut as we would sometimes like it to be, and the right thing may seem wrong, or wrong things may seem right. I want to say, predictably, it all comes good in the end in The Goldfinch but in unexpected ways.
Quick bit of plot: Theo Decker’s mother dies, he ends up uprooted from New York to Las Vegas with his father, an alcoholic (but dry, now addicted to drugs) gambler, who also dies, and then ends up back in New York. In Vegas, he meets another neglected boy, Boris, and they support each other, becoming addicted to alcohol. After his father’s death he moves back to New York and stays with a furniture restorer, Hobie, to whom he found his way after the bomb in the museum experience that caused his mother’s death (where he also stole a picture, encouraged by the dying man who sent himto Hobie with his ring). Lots happens, mostly people suffer or die and Theo takes all sorts of drugs, but in the end, Boris helps him sort out the picture theft once and for all, and following a tip off to the police by an associate, they end up with the handsome reward for the return of several art works.
There are lots of different and interesting ideas about morality portrayed in the book. Here are a few:
Boris, at the denouement, makes the point that good things sometimes produce bad results, so bad things can also produce good results. In other words, he may have stolen the painting from his only friend Theo (I forgot to mention this – there’s an awful lot to this plot!) but in the end they have resolved the issue of the stolen painting (Theo had worried about it, having not intended to steal a painting, and not knowing how to return it) and made them money in the process. A more interesting analogy he makes, is that sometimes good and bad is a bit like the weather: there is a bigger picture, but you can’t always see it. Sometimes people call this picture God, some people call in coincidence, but he thinks it is there.
Hobie, when Theo eventually gives him the whole story, talks about how we become attached to objects: they embed themselves into the narrative of our lives. His business partner who encouraged Theo to take the picture had become attached to it in replica form as a young boy. Hobie thinks that we may need the beauty of individual objects in order to tap into a higher order of beauty.
And lastly, Theo’s father, addicted to drugs and gambling, believes that sometimes you have to lose to win.