This essay is authored by my sister and is not my work in any way–Natasha.
Thoughts from reading “The Bad Beginning.”
Upon this perusal of the first book in the Series of Unfortunate Events, one thing in particular stuck out to me (in fact, the only thing that really stuck out to me), and that was anger. More specifically, righteous anger. It was not something that was featured in this series so much as the overwhelming sense of sadness and hopelessness that sticks out in every book. The very word “unfortunate” speaks of remorse and regret, rather than such an emotion as anger. Righteous anger really only seems to be felt by one character in this book, and that is Klaus, the middle Baudilaire orphan. His and his siblings’ parents have been cruelly taken from them, they have not a penny to spend at the moment, and they have been deposited, like so much unwanted luggage, upon the dirty doorstep of Count Olaf. This alleged relative is cruel and unreasonable; he has taken advantage of their helpless state and thinks of nothing except how he may gain their fortune. Why, indeed, should Klaus not be angry? The more pertinent question may be, why is he the only one? Where do the helpless have to turn if no one has righteous anger? The book, The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snicket, is, I believe, an example of how the idea of different “truths” and “realities” for each person affects the more vulnerable people in society.
These children are being abused and mistreated. Of all people who plead for the law’s protection, surely they are the most deserving of it. Why has no one helped them? Why does nobody listen when they try to explain their situation? Why are even those who care what happens to them rendered ineffectual? These are questions that occupy the reader’s mind for the whole of the series, and it gets very frustrating to have to witness over and over.
It is not logical or realistic that every single time the Baudilaires are in danger, no adult can or will help them, and the only ones who really seem to notice or mind this are the children themselves. True, it is
kind of this series’ thing, but one must admit that if something like this happened today there would be outrage. There would not be a snowball’s chance in hell of Count Olaf escaping the long arm of the law. The public would despise him and offer pity and support to the three orphans. Mr. Poe would be fired.
Yet it is not so in this book’s world. Our heroes just can’t get ahead. They are friendless, penniless, and helpless. The only people they can rely on are themselves. Why is that? Because the books do not follow the rules of logic and reality, and because every single adult is incurably Stupid.
Each one has a nonsensical idea of what they think life is which they adamantly refuse to give up in favour of the reality the children are actually facing. Mr. Poe doesn’t believe anything is wrong with Count Olaf. He chooses to believe that it is merely the children’s grief or petulance that causes their discontentment. Count Olaf and his theatre cronies refuse to see themselves as bad and evil, instead labeling the children as the nasty and unpleasant characters of the story. And everyone absolutely will not see how it is completely illegal for a guardian to marry his 14-year-old charge. Except for the orphans themselves, each person believes what is most convenient for the sake of himself, herself, or the plot. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are the only characters who have even a remotely firm grasp on reality and justice.
This is a literary example of one of the downsides the belief in different realities for
different people can have. It brings to center stage the utter helplessness of those who depend on justice to save them, when no one around them “sees things” the same way they do. They have nobody to fight for them, nobody to get angry for them.
We see that they are being treated unfairly, but in the book’s world, who knows? Perhaps that’s only how they see it. Perhaps what is outrage to an obvious injustice to them really is only an overreaction to Mr. Poe. Maybe Count Olaf really is a devilishly handsome hero, just trying to obtain his just desserts. Who’s really right? Yet we cannot help but root for the orphans. We see that they are good-natured, heroic, and resourceful people. It defies our sense of right and wrong to think otherwise.
What would it look like if reality and absolute truth were subjective to each individual–if people only saw what they wanted to see? There would be those, just like the three children, who slip through the cracks, who get abused and mistreated because no one can or will stand up for them in righteous anger.