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Contracts and Consequences in Literature

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    Staff Writer


In the realm of literature, contracts, agreements, and pacts often serve as central plot devices, driving the narrative forward and shaping the destinies of characters. These contracts can take on a multitude of forms, from formal, legally binding agreements to unspoken, symbolic pacts. They can represent a shift in power dynamics, a question of morality, or the precarious balance between personal desire and societal expectations. In this blog post, we will delve into some notable examples where contracts take center stage in the narrative.

Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Perhaps one of the most famous contracts in literature is the pact between the scholar Faust and Mephistopheles, the devil. In this story, Faust, disillusioned with his life, makes a deal with Mephistopheles, trading his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. This tale, rooted in German folklore, has been reinterpreted in countless forms and remains a potent symbol of the dangers of unchecked ambition and the human tendency to overreach.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: While not a contract in the traditional sense, the pact that Dorian Gray makes in Oscar Wilde's novel is one of the most famous in literature. Dorian wishes that a portrait of him would age instead of himself. The wish is granted, and Dorian remains youthful while his portrait grows old and ugly, reflecting his moral decay. This informal contract with supernatural forces drives the entire plot, demonstrating the tragic consequences of vanity and moral corruption.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: In J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit," Bilbo Baggins is presented with a contract by a company of dwarves to serve as their burglar on a dangerous journey to reclaim their homeland from the dragon Smaug. This contract is not just an agreement—it's Bilbo's invitation to adventure, setting the stage for the epic tale that follows.

The Devil and Tom Walker by Washington Irving: Another literary contract with the devil, this short story features Tom Walker who, in his greed, makes a deal with the devil, often referred to as "Old Scratch." The contract, signed in blood, grants Tom a buried treasure in return for his soul. As with Faust, this story serves as a moral warning against excessive greed and the consequences of entering into such ill-fated agreements.

The Contract by Melanie Moreland: This contemporary romance novel features a personal contract that changes the dynamics between two characters, Richard VanRyan and Katharine Elliott. Richard, Katharine's boss, proposes a new role for her: fiancée instead of PA. As they navigate the challenges and surprises this contract brings, we see the transformation of their relationship from loathing to love, all hinging on this central agreement.

A Contract with God by Will Eisner: This graphic novel revolves around the protagonist's existential struggle with the existence of God and the significance of his actions in a seemingly arbitrary world. The "contract" in question here is Frimme Hersh's contract with God, which serves as a metaphorical device to question the validity of religious faith and the meaning of human existence.

The Contract by Derek Jeter and Paul Mantell: This novel for younger readers involves a contract created for the protagonist, Derek, detailing what he needs to do to set himself on a path to achieving his dream. This contract, which includes items like respecting himself and others and maintaining good grades, serves as a central guide for Derek's journey towards his goals.

While contracts in literature often act as pivotal plot elements, they also often serve a deeper purpose, illuminating aspects of human nature, morality, and society. Whether it's a contract with the devil, a personal contract between two individuals, or a metaphorical contract with God, these agreements reflect the complexities of human choices and the far-reaching consequences they can have.