Moral Ambiguity in Old School

May 5, 2019 by Essay Writer

The narrator of Old School, by Tobias Wolff, is a character that can be characterized as morally ambiguous by the reader. This moral ambiguity is accentuated by the complexity of the character, and the fact that the story takes place from his point of view. This element gives the reader a look at his inner reasoning and debate, the difference between what he thinks and what he does, and the positive reasons for his negative actions. The not-so-clear line of his morals are a central tool to expressing the meaning of the story, which is focused on the confusion of being young and trying to find oneself, and that growing up is a messy and not strictly positive or negative process.Because we see the narrator and his actions through his eyes, and therefore see not just the decisions that he makes but his reasoning behind them, we are more likely to feel sympathy for him, and understand why he does what he does. If the character was described through the eyes of another, the reader would just see his actions and judge him on the outcome of his decisions rather than the emotion and thought behind them. For example, when he enters a writing contest with his name on someone else’s work, the initial instinct to just his actions is that he was stealing someone else’s work, which is morally wrong. However, since the reader has access to his thoughts, we see another layer of moral reasoning below the surface. The narrator finds a story in an old literary magazine, and connects to it on a deep emotional level. Not only does he wish he could write so fluently, he finds that the writing almost seems to be written by him, because it is a scene so close to his own life. When he finds this passionate connection, he feels desperation to make this his own writing. In this, and also in his exhausted and worn out state, he types the story himself and forgets that the writing is not in fact his own. The reader understands this on some level, because we too feel his desperation, passion, and confusion. Because we have a link to both his physical actions and his mental process, we are torn between categorizing him. Because we can see into his mind, all of his actions can be explained, even the most overtly wrong. Because we experience the conflict between these two different aspects of his life, and because in the narrator’s point of view he sees himself differently than the rest of the world, the question of his innate morality does not have a clear-cut answer.This link into his inner thoughts also affects the way we see his judgements, because his thoughts are not always equal to his actions. When George confides in the narrator about the character he felt an inappropriate affection for, the narrator’s first reaction is to be condescending to him in his thoughts. He thinks he is silly and naive. However, his actions are not condescending; the narrator advises George to keep this to himself, for he knows that their peers would not take kindly to this information. The narrator’s actions show compassion to George, because he warns him of possible taunting from other classmates. However, his inner thoughts show him taunting and looking down on George himself, which is how he is able to warn George. This incident is an example of the narrator being morally ambiguous by having different thoughts than actions, and again is an example of how the point of view of the novel affects the reader’s view of the character.The moral ambiguity of the narrator is central to the theme of the story, which is about being young and unsure of oneself. The difference between his actions and his thoughts, and his decisions of varying morality, both demonstrate that being a teenager means changing your mind constantly. Because he is unsure of himself, his opinions will be constantly be changing as he checks out all options. The story is a classic tale of a young person growing up, and the audience can relate to the humanity of the complex main character. Everyone who has been a teenager knows that the journey into adulthood is a messy process. As young people, we have to make decisions that we’ve never made before, and that may be questionable to those who have more experience. We all make mistakes and learn from them, and this cycle is pivotal in the novel. The main character in Old School is a morally ambiguous character for these reasons, and this makes him recognizable to the reader, and is central to the story.

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