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Many times in our lives we come to a moment of realization, or an epiphany. They come in many different ways and can affect our lives in an assortment of situations. I was lucky enough to experience one of these moments during this semester after reading a couple of the short stories that we were assigned. The first story was “The End of Labor” by R. James, which I felt a strong connection to through the character of Walt. His story seemed to follow that of my stepfather very closely. The second story that I felt a strong connection to was “The Untold Lie” which portrayed a man named Ray who was at a crossroads in his life. Both of these stories seemed to link to my own life rather easily, but the one I found the strongest connection to was “The End of Labor” due to its relationship to my family and the things I had overlooked for most of life.
The title, “The End of Labor”, instantly inserts an image into your mind. Depending on the social class that you are from or the different lifestyle that you live, various images and thoughts might be brought up and these thoughts are exactly what the author is trying to provoke. Within the first two paragraphs James lets us in on what his thoughts are about physical labor, and what we have become as a country within this labor force. He does this by telling the story of Hank, a hard working middle aged man who has bounced around from job to job before landing on one in the logging industry. Before this new job however, Hank worked a construction job where he was reminded many times, and even encouraged to not work as hard. Many excuses were given to him but Hank seems to sum it up perfectly when he says, “He figured they meant if you work this hard they’ll expect all of us to do the same. Some of those guys had put more effort into avoiding work than they would have just doing the job.” (R. James) Hank’s thoughts here give you great insight into what type of person he is, and the type of lifestyle that he was brought up in. They also show a deeper meaning of what the author is trying to get across, that our society now puts so much more energy into avoiding the completion of a task, than we actually use doing one. Walt has worked his way into a job where he can now afford to have much more financial stability through his hard work and dedication. His story follows the path of the American dream, which shows that through hard work and determination almost anything can be accomplished, and by almost anyone.
Walt’s story of starting in a manual labor intensive field reminds me a lot of my stepfather, Kurt. He, like Walt, started in his particular field very early and stayed with it for a large portion of his career. Right out of High School with no money to his name, and all he had was an idea for a company that he thought would work out. He started a construction company initially with only one piece of equipment and just himself. I was told of the numerous months, maybe even years that he had been putting in seventy, even eighty hour weeks due to a drive and hard work ethic that I haven’t seen out of anyone else I know. He single handily brought his company to what was probably one of, if not the most profitable business in our town. Instead of simply searching for ways to avoid doing hard work, both men, Walt and my stepdad embraced this lifestyle and found themselves in favorable situations.
Growing up with a stepfather who was so driven had its ups and downs. Although I greatly appreciated all of the financial advantages that I received from him, and the happiness that he brought to my mom, we still had our bumps in the road. At times I had trouble respecting his authority over me because he was not my real father and he found it difficult to balance being a father figure, while also knowing that I had another one in my life. This is why I have not really appreciated the things that he has given me in my life, outside of the material things. After reading “The End of Labor” I finally was able to connect what my stepdad did to the American dream and realize that what he was doing was preparing me to do the same things that he has done. His work ethic has really given me an insight into what is needed in order to be successful, and to truly feel as if I’ve earned it myself. Due to being introduced to him when he had already gone through the initial struggles of following your dream, I didn’t really appreciate what he had gone through. I realize that not everyone will be as lucky as he was with his business, even if someone works just as hard as he did, but I also know now that living a life that doesn’t give chance to this opportunity isn’t one that I want to live. Even if my life ends too soon, as it did with Walt’s, and almost did with my Stepfather, I will know that I worked for everything in my life, and wasn’t just handed my fortunes. As a society we need to fully appreciate and embrace everything that comes to us, and by doing this we can truly fulfill the American dream.
In the story “The Untold Lie”, we see someone who seems to not really appreciate what they are given in their life. Ray Pearson is a farmhand who has worked there ever since he was young and married. He was privileged to receive a loving wife and children but still feels that his life was wasted in many ways. He works with a young man named Hal who seems to echo who Ray was earlier in his life. Hal is in a period in his life where he is choosing to either settle down with a girl, or continue to be independent and live his life to the fullest. This is where Ray really finds difficulties because he sees Hal making the same choices he did, but Ray sees them as mistakes, not opportunities. At one point Hal straight up asks Ray what he thinks he should do about marrying a girl that he has gotten in trouble. This is where the author shows how Ray really feels about his life by saying, “Ray couldn’t answer. He shook Hal’s hands loose and turning walked straight away toward the barn. He was a sensitive man and there were tears in his eyes. He knew there was only one thing to say to Hal Winters, son of old Windpeter Winters, only one thing that all his own training and all the beliefs of the people he knew would approve, but for his life he couldn’t say what he knew he should say.” (Anderson, 53) The author shows here that Ray feels that Hal is in the same situation as he was earlier in his life. Although Ray wants to tell him the right thing, wants to show him how he living a life of family and hard work is good, he can’t bring himself to tell him this because he feels that his own life has been wasted. The author is showing you that Ray, even with a family of his own, still has many regrets in his life and can’t come to terms with this and this continues the story with a very solemn theme.
The author intentionally makes this story into one where it is not very happy, which makes the reader feel and know that Ray is not happy. Many people in our society have this same feeling towards life and this is why many people do not have a happy life. Although many Americans are blessed with fortunes in their life, if we do not appreciate these fortunes then our lives are as useless as we think they are. There has been many times where I have felt exactly like Ray has in this situation, thinking back on mistakes I have made in my life and wondering about the things I could have done better. However none of this can be changed and I should have instead focused on the things that I have been fortunate enough to have. By focusing on the positives of life, social classes, wealth and all of the things that come with do not matter as much. If we appreciate the things that we do have, and try not to worry about the things that we cannot change then as a society we will be much happier and will live much more fulfilled lives.
Although many times it is easier to focus on the “what ifs” in life, these are also things that cannot be changed. We must focus only on the things that we can change and work diligently towards righting the mistakes that we may have made in our lives. Appreciation is something that I feel has been lost in this country, but is one of the few things that may be easier to right than any of our other proving wrongs. As a member of society although we may not love what we have been presented with, it is what we do with this opportunity that defines us as individuals, not what we have come from. By appreciating the things that have come our way, and the opportunities that present there selves to us, we can create a contagious betterment of living and help work our way to having a better society. At many points in history the USA was considered the best country in the world, due to the opportunities that were there for everyone. Although many feel as though some of those opportunities may have been lost, our ability to create opportunities has not. We need to stop worrying about the things that we do not have, and the things that we cannot change, and start focusing our energy and our time on the incredible opportunities that his country presents to us. By doing this, we will not only live a better life, but also help reduce a life of resentment, and misfortunes.
I feel extremely fortunate now to have realized the many things in my life that I have overlooked and taken for granted. Although appreciating things is something that may not be as valued in our society now, as it used to be, I believe that it is something that would be easiest to right. After reading stories like “The End of Labor” and “The Untold Lie” I feel that I now can truly appreciate the things in my life, especially not only the material things. Lessons learned from someone more experienced are very valuable and this is one thing that I will bring with me for the rest of my life. Although I may not have appreciated the things given to me in the past by my stepfather, I truly intend to appreciate them in the future. By carrying with me these lessons learned I will further my own growth as a person, but also look to help better our entire society by encouraging something as easy as appreciation.

Work Cited

“The End of Labor” R. James

Anderson, Sherwood. "The Untold Lie." The Have and the Have Nots: 30 Stories About Money and Class in America. New York City: Signet Classics, 1999. 50-57. Print. Ser. 250.