In light of "The Reward" by Lord Dunsany, how do people fail in life?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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"The Reward" by Victorian writer Lord Dunsany (1878-1957) implies that failures in life come through disregard of higher values while in the pursuit of baser values. The opening line, "One's spirit goes further in dreams than it does by day," suggests that sight and understanding are limited by our waking state and, in keeping with Freudianism, given expanded awareness in dreams.

The human failure in "The Reward" is that some unidentified individuals "invented a new cheap yeast." This invention was within the bounds of the legal structure (“But they drove a perfectly legitimate trade, … the law allowed it.”) but outside the bounds of a higher moral structure: “‘They shall look at it for ever,’ the angel said.” The angel who has descended to Hell to build an expansion of Hell's domain says that on one Christmas Day when he rested, he witnessed "little children dying of cancer." The implied connection is that they were dying of cancer because of the "new cheap yeast."

Dunsany is suggesting that the higher values of respect for humanity and love of human life were disregarded by the inventors of the "new cheap yeast." Conversely, Dunsany is implying that the baser values that were pursued were greed, disregard for human life, and selfishness. It requires all three baser values to be in play for an individual or group of individuals to prosper on an invention that leads to children's illnesses and deaths.

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