Imperfection, like mortality itself, is an integrated aspect of being human. Most people, however, try to mask theirs through self-importance and ambition. Self-importance and ambition help to promote self-confidence and the illusion of perfection in an imperfect world. The three narratives–The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry, The Mirror Maker by Primo Levi, and The Nose by Nikolai Gogol–provide evidence to prove how imperfections are hidden by ambition and self-importance.
In The Little Prince, the narrator describes his meeting with a little prince from another planet. The little prince is a peculiar child whose non-stop talking and unique perspective of life made the reader questions grown-ups everywhere. In this book, one of the imperfections that the author focused on was vanity. One of the first examples of vanity we were presented with was the case of the discovery of Asteroid 325. The astronomer who first discovered it was dismissed because of the way he was dressed. A few years later, “the astronomer repeated his demonstration…wearing a very elegant suit. And this time everyone believed him” (Saint-Exupéry 10). Saint-Exupéry showed us that people hide behind beautiful clothing and accessories to make themselves feel more important. The astronomer’s discoveries did not change between the years. Only his clothing changed and somehow that provided others with ample evidence to support his claims. The first garment seemed too ridiculous to them and therefore, if they had accepted his findings, they would also be labeled as ridiculous. People are vain but they prefer to refer to it as protocol to add a bit of confidence and power behind their choices. It is still vanity as the author presented it but most people would never see it as such. Instead, they would agree that they are making the world better by imposing dress codes and protocols. In reality, they simply want to feel more powerful and perfect.
Another imperfection we could find in the story was laziness. Both the lamplighter and the geographer that the little prince visited can be placed in that category. They both stayed in one place for their entire lives but attempted to hide it with ambition. They both believed that they were doing an important job and if they continued, they will eventually have a better life and make the world a better place. As the little prince remarked, neither had the will needed to actually move and do something else with their lives. They were stuck in that one spot and decided to embellish it by enlarging their self-worth.
Likewise, Primo Levi’s The Mirror Maker exposed people’s imperfections under their mask. Timoteo is a mirror maker who loved to create new types of mirrors. He invented one that could distort the human body. He gifted his fiancée with one but it did not make the impression he was aiming for on her. That was the story’s first approach into human’s perception on his own imperfection. After Timoteo gave the mirror to his fiancée, “Agatha saw herself transformed into a stork-woman, with shoulders, breast, and abdomen compressed into a bundle balanced on two extremely long, sticklike legs; … The story ended badly. Agatha broke mirror and engagement” (214). Even though Agatha knew the reflection she was staring at was not truly hers but a distorted version, she refused to accept it. She did not want to have something that would give the faintest hint that she may not be perfect.
Then, came Timoteo’s most controversial mirror. He invented a metaphysical one that could bend the rules of physics. It was supposed to show the viewer the way the other person viewed him. This mirror was not well received by the population. First, Timoteo tested it on his family and friends. When he tried it with Agatha, “the image of himself that he saw, as on a small video screen, was not very flattering” (215). He immediately left her afterwards because he suddenly realized he no longer had feelings for her. Yet, when he presented the mirror to Emma he “saw a marvelous Timoteo” (215). That was when he was aware of his profound love for her. Timoteo’s feelings changed from one instance to the next, not because the women did any great acts but because he was able to see their perception of him. In Agatha’s mind, he wasn’t flattering while he was the handsomest in Emma’s. It was his pride that decided who he loved at the end. He found someone who saw him as perfection rather than a flawed man. She boosted his ego.
Finally, Timoteo opened his invention to the rest of the world. It did not receive the attention he thought it was going to receive, however. The author wrote, “all the salesmen agreed in reporting that customers satisfied with their image as reflected on the brow of friends or relations were too few” (216). This statement provided with yet another example of people not being able to accept their imperfections. Most other people around a person such as their friends and family will without a doubt see the imperfections in the person. They will never see the person as perfect. The only person who can trick himself into thinking that he is perfect is the person himself. The others will see what he is lacking or what he possesses in too large amount. That was the fact that the people could not handle. They refused to accept the imperfections that their own friends and family saw so they blamed the mirror.
Lastly, there is The Nose by Nikolai Gogol. The main character in this short story was Kovalev who was the epitome of vain and self-absorbed. Gogol emphasized Kovalev’s traits by writing almost a page description of his rank and importance at the beginning of his story. As soon as Kovalev noticed the missing nose, his mind immediately went to his fellow collegiate and his ranking contacts. He was engrossed by the class ranks and where he stood in them. He wanted to elevate himself so “to give himself more nobility and weight, he never referred to himself as a collegiate assessor, but always as a major” (305). The title revitalized his self-esteem which was his primary reason for working hard and worrying so much about the missing nose.
Consequently, Kovalev’s most prominent imperfection was his inflated self-importance in society. As intended, Gogol’s character illustrated the disgusting part of society which it had hidden behind beautiful words and ambition. From a broad perspective, Kovalev gave the air of a hard-working young man who deserved to have his best wishes met. Yet, the amount of obsession he revealed throughout the story showed that the ambition was mainly a front to undermine his feeling of superiority. The social rank that society had established gave more room for battle of superiority versus inferiority between the people. When Kovalev met his nose, he was never nervous to approach him because of the status quo standing between them. He questioned himself, “How shall I approach him? … By all tokens, by his uniform, by his hat, one can see he’s a state councilor” (307). He didn’t want to go meet the nose for fear of coming of as impertinent to someone with a higher rank than him. Even the nose had inherited Kovalev’s self-importance. It was reluctant to talk to him because it believed itself to have a higher status than him.
Undoubtedly, the nose is the most prominent feature of a person’s face. It almost leads the face hence when it becomes detached, it left with that sense of predominance. Combined with its master’s ambition, it gained the authority that Kovalev had always craved. Nevertheless, Kovalev and the others around him never noticed his nor its nose’s manners as insubordinate or fallacious. On the contrary, they were well received because they are similar to the ones they also possessed. Everyone is obsessed with the rank they are currently in and how to level it. Societies with no ranking can see the narcissism that this type of system had spread within the people. That same ambition that it induced is what had created the distrust between the people. For example, when Kovalev realized that his nose was really gone and he could not get it back, he immediately settled for blaming others. According to the narrator, “it would hardly be unlikely if the blame were placed on none other than Podtochina, the staff officer’s wife, who wished him to marry her daughter” (316). The staff officer’s wife wanted to secure a bright future for her daughter by helping her to marry well with someone with reasonable rank but that motherly affection and ambition caused her to be the recipient of Kovalev’s anger. He believed that she was looking for a way to persuade him into marrying her daughter so she used witchcraft to remove his nose from his face. His belief was found to be false, nonetheless, there still withstand that element of distrust among the people of the same society because there is the possibility that it may have been true. Anyhow, the people circulate this distrust as ambition regardless of the outcome.
Human beings are never perfect, either in life or in literature that aspires to reflect human truths. We are not created to be perfect beings but none of us like to be reminded of that fact. As it was proven in the three literary works – The Little Prince, The Mirror Maker, and The Nose – we go through great length to try to disguise them.
Gogol, Nikolai. “The nose.” n.d. PDF File. 30 November 2016.
Levi, Primo. “The Mirror Maker.” n.d. PDF File. 30 November 2016.
Saint-Exupéry, Antoine De, and Richard Howard. The Little Prince. San Diego: Harcourt, 2000. Print.