How To Live A Meaningful Life — A Synthesis Essay Written Through the Glimpse of the novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain
Foreword: The Art of Racing in the Rain is a novel by Garth Stein that zooms in on unbreakable bonds between family with an interesting twist: the story is told by a dog, Enzo. The book encompasses countless hardships, heart shattering events, and other struggles that develop characters throughout. In this Synthesis Essay, I use the book as a tool to unpack one of the most impossible-to-answer questions that mankind ponders upon: how does one live a meaningful life. I answer that question here through examining the novel and using Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories to break that question down and eventually coming to a resolution.
Living a life worth living is among the greatest concerns for mankind. Hence, every person has some form of these three approaches: they either live life without hindrance based upon their instinctive impulses, their id; they either live conscientiously based upon how the environment sees them, their ego; or they live by the morals and values they have learned from their experiences, their superego. The id, ego, and superego are psychoanalytic models developed by Sigmund Freud. All three can result in positives — but also negatives: living freely with no thought of consequence can be costly or result in lifelong tranquility; abiding by how others perceive you can be burdening or make one more aware of their environment; living by experience can prevent one from trying new things or can let one make wise decisions. Though these models of psyche are different, life is rich in all three of them. This complexity and richness is delved into through Garth Stein’s novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain where Denny and his dog, Enzo, as characters are unraveled through these mechanisms. Both of the characters are unpacked and observed as they experience freedom at its prime, consciousness at its fullest, and the accumulation of an experience that all readers can agree upon as meaningful. Though these psychoanalytical models are so different, their similarity summarizes human life. Meaning lies in cartoons as well. In a dog cartoon lies a man crying while undergoing a session with a therapist — that therapist being a dog. A dog is thought to be an excellent companion that provides positivity and validation… just like a therapist. While this dog is anthropomorphic, it’s important not to ignore the man, of which rather than wallowing away in his sorrows (id), his superego tells him to seek help in the therapist. Another source of help is letting go of all forms of restraint. Kendra Cherry from verywellmind.com looks at the id as a pleasure principle, of which helps relieve oneself from the hardships of life. Each psychoanalytic entity has its waxes and wanes. It is only together when they are most effective. This spectacular blend of thinking is the only mindset that’ll provide one with the ability to live a meaningful life. Hence forth, it’s important to find a balance between the id, ego, and superego.
The chains that bind humanity to the ground are the cumbersome problems of daily life; living freely of them, however, has its own worth and cost. While living without weight on one’s shoulders sounds like a dream come to life, its brutal punishments are not to be underestimated. The id of one’s personality opens two separate roads to the future: one of sensation and the other of consequence. This dilemma of which road to travel on is delved into by author, Garth Stein in his novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain. Denny, a professional race car driver, takes his dog, Enzo, for a ride at Thunderhill Raceway Park, both of whom are racing addicts. At the raceway, Enzo is instructed to bark once if he wants Denny to drive slower or bark twice if he wants Denny to drive faster. Enzo’s mentality at the moment is beyond the term ‘excited,’ rather he is thrilled. As soon as he’s instructed on how to regulate Denny’s speed, “[he] barked twice, and that surprised him and Pat and Jim”(153). Denny offers Enzo a massive speed lap and of course, “[he] barked twice. Then [he] barked twice again. Denny laughed — there is nothing like it. The sensation of speed. Nothing in the world can compare. It was the sudden acceleration, not Jim’s bed sheet, that kept me pinned to the seat as we gathered speed and flew down the first straight… fifteen turns at Thunderhill. Fifteen. And I love them all equally. I adore them all… each so magnificent! Around the track [they] went, faster and faster, lap after lap (154–155). Enzo’s intimacy with the raw speed of the car allows him to let go of his life’s worries: his family’s (in terms of ownership) battle with cancer, the possibility of Denny wrongly being filed as a sex offender as well as losing his daughter. He is relinquished of all this negativity. Though freedom can provide the brightest of moments, it can prove to be a menacing opponent. What is often overlooked is that one’s worst menace happens to be themselves and their instincts. The id relies on letting go of past experiences as well as lessons learned. This means that it brings about actions based upon instinctive impulses. The id answers the call for cravings as soon as they are desired. This could result in possibly stealing or causing chaos for the sole purpose of satisfying these cravings. An example would be if one was very, very thirsty while sitting at the dining table. Instead of waiting for the jug of water to be passed around, one would immediately grab someone else’s glass in order to fulfill their own desires while overlooking that of others. Verywellmind.com is a renowned site that focuses on brain health and psychology. Their analysis of Sigmund Freud’s concept of “immediately fulfilling these needs is not always realistic or even possible. They [people] might find [themselves] grabbing the things that [they] want out of other people’s hands to satisfy [their] own cravings. This sort of behavior would be both disruptive and socially unacceptable”(verywellmind.com). This entire aspect of behavioral psychology seems to result in two pathways. Though it can be most helpful in contributing to a healthy brain, the id can incite chaos not to the person consumed by it, but those around them.
To live with utter caution and awareness leads to two opposing results: making strong decisions based upon one’s surroundings and environment, or throughout life, one will always look over their shoulder. One’s ego calls upon looking over one’s instinctive impulses through how they will be perceived by others and their environment. If one possesses a firm mindset, the ego could result in wise decisions that positively impact their surroundings and the people around them. Through this concept, it is understood that ego can serve as a way to suppress the id. One of humanity’s worst sources of id, however, is acting upon anger. It is seen in The Art of Racing in the Rain, when Denny has been absolutely startled as his in-laws have demanded custody of his daughter right after the tragic death of his wife, Eve. Inside, Denny feels countless emotions: pure exasperation, raw anger and hate, this inherent rage that envelops him. His despicable father in-law, Maxwell, explodes after Denny’s refusal of handing over his daughter until Zoe, Denny’s daughter herself, walks steadily toward the fray. With her innocent little voice, she announces that she’s finished her egg. She proceeds to climb onto Denny’s lap and asks if he is hungry. She tells him “ ‘Grandma can make you an egg too.’ ‘No’ he said apologetically. ‘I’m not hungry…’ Denny looked at the Twins… I [Enzo] saw something change in Denny. I saw his face tighten with resolve”(173). Aware of his daughter’s presence, Denny suppresses his fiery rage and shock for her. In response to his environment, a trigger occurs in Denny that silences his id of which calls for a shock wave of rage that Denny wishes to emit. His ego, the suppression of the id based upon awareness of the environment, shows its presence in the strongest way. This creates a positive result that spares his daughter from his anger, hence, halting Denny from hurting his daughter in an emotional way. As odd as it is, one’s ego can be the source of pain itself. Freud’s findings state that the ego operates around what he calls, “reality principle.” The ego uses “realistic ways of satisfying the id’s demands. This can be interpreted positively, but makes the most sense when shined in a negative light. By observing the environment around, one can rely too much on how they are perceived or seen. Afterall, the ego “considers social realities and norms, etiquette and rules in deciding how to behave.” An example of this could be sitting at the dining table with your family and guests. When aware of the people around them, one would wait for everyone to take food and drink first. However, if upon return from, let’s say, fencing practice, a normal human being would be exhausted with a yearning for water. Through the ego, however, one must wait for everyone at the dining table to take their share of the food displayed. In the process of waiting, dehydration will overcome all suppressing of the id and will result in an instinct to grab water right away. The ego’s call for patience would worry one to wonder how they will be perceived if they were to ask for water. Fear of perception could easily drive one’s mental health far downward. Freud shows and deeply understands not only the benefits of the ego, but its consequences as well. Rejection of one’s instincts based upon fear of perception is not the answer when it comes to living a meaningful life.
A lifestyle comprised of acting upon morals, lessons, and experience provides meaning to oneself and elevates them to a superior position of life. However, when it comes to making decisions, its consequences are equally punishing. Nonviolence is a form of superego. The ability to refuse the fiery rage drawn from the id is a skill that is incredibly difficult to master. Only a select few with a pure soul are able to perform this — Denny is one of them. Denny, one of the protagonists from The Art of Racing in the Rain, approaches the site of his wife’s funeral and finds his despicable father in-law, Maxwell, and his two sons walking towards him. After being accused of a sex offense, cheating and the most painful of them all, being an incapable father, one would think Denny would be in the worst state of mind. In front of his daughter, the vile Maxwell denies Denny entrance into the funeral and commands him to leave. Although Denny defends his name under Maxwell’s brutal words, there’s no hope, for Maxwell will have none of it: the two sons advance with their jaws roughly tightened. They raise themselves into their own mobile battle stations: Denny is only an unarmed soldier on a battlefield surrounded by weapons aimed and ready to fire… but even the will of a lone soldier is unpredictable. Eve’s brothers approach with their fists ready for war… Denny is not. One of Maxwell’s sons jabs Denny straight in the stomach and demands his departure… Denny refuses. Elevation of one’s soul derives from a small handful of qualities that only a miniscule amount of people on this planet have — the power of nonviolence is one of them. Denny reaches his zenith of pure heartedness when he says, “‘Punch me if you want, ‘I won’t fight back’”(212). Denny’s supernal resistance is beyond the contemplation of someone so savage like Maxwell: Denny reflects on his morals on looking beyond violence. Even when Denny received a heavy jab to the stomach, he still doesn’t move because he knows violence never results in a positive outcome. The entire The Art of Racing in the Rain mentality revolves around this idea of being the best person one can be and having an impact that’ll influence the people around you for the better. This painting that has been illustrated of Denny and the way he is would guarantee,if Eve were still alive, she would be proud of her husband. A search for pride, however, is often mistaken for validation. The superego calls upon one’s morals, lessons, and experience to make wise decisions. One’s experience and learnt lessons often call upon others to help. In a cartoon, a man lies down on a bed while consulting with a therapist. However, this therapist is an anthropomorphic dog. People often release their different emotions in front of dogs: fear, sadness, anxiety, frustration, grief, etc. Dogs are seen to be “man’s best friend” and are always thought to be incredibly supportive. While the man is crying in bed, the dog says: “well I think you’re wonderful.” All humans seek validation from someone in order to feel better about themselves. However, the reason people often go to see a therapist is to receive validation from someone else which often causes insecurity as well as reliance on the perception of others to find meaning in one’s life. People look to the lessons they have learned throughout their life in making the decision on whether to go to see a therapist or not. The only issue about this is that they naturally develop this innate reliance on the other’s perception of them. This creates a poison of insecurity in people that can stay with them for a long period of time. Making decisions based upon morals, learnt lessons, and one’s experience can lead to an unreliable weighing of positive and negative outcomes.
For one to live a meaningful life, they must live free of pressures, be conscientious of the world around you, and reflect upon learnt lessons and morals. If a man or woman adhered to any of these mindsets individually, they will ultimately experience a psychoanalytic conflict with only one enemy — themself. Though the id can result in splendid experiences on the race track, but it can also result in socially unacceptable and disruptive actions that can ruin one’s life: the id is not the answer. Though the ego can soften family conflicts, it can result in one having a tense insecurity based on a strong desire to match how others may perceive them: the ego is not the answer. Though the superego can elevate one’s soul to a superhuman level, it can also lead to a reluctance to try new things: the superego is not the answer. Following a specific mindset is like rolling a dice: the result is unpredictable. In order to live according to meaning, one must blend the three — id, ego, and superego. Whether it’s feeling the gush of wind on a race track, easing tough moments in life for your love ones, or being the best human being one can be, the indistinguishable mix of Freud’s three psychoanalytic mechanisms creates lively waves of positivity that splash on the shores of life. In order to live meaningfully, one must find balance between the id, ego, and superego.