Identifying an example from the text, how is the concept of "life" displayed?  How is this concept of life relevant to the larger aim of the text?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Similar to the delicate nature of the butterfly revealed at the end of the text, the concept of life that is embraced focuses on the intrinsic value of creation.  From the earliest descriptions of Owen, the concept of life rendered is one that embraces inner worth and subjectively honed notions of the good:

From the time that his little fingers could grasp a penknife, Owen had been remarkable for a delicate ingenuity, which sometimes produced pretty shapes in wood, principally figures of flowers and birds, and sometimes seemed to aim at the hidden mysteries of mechanism. But it was always for purposes of grace, and never with any mockery of the useful.

As opposed to the world that surrounds Owen, life is shown to be something that is inner- driven. "Purposes of grace" becomes the way in which Owen appropriates the world around him.  When Peter Hovenden speaks of the need to "earn one's bread," it is diametrically opposed to what Owen embraces.  Owen defines life and being in the world as "a new development of the love of the beautiful", and in doing so rejects "all utilitarian coarseness."  Owen's understanding of life is to use his talents to envision what can be as opposed to being tethered to what is.  For this reason, Owen's life as Peter's apprentice fails.  Owen wishes to construct what might be in the world, something of which Peter "can make no sense."

There is a battle in the text between the external reality around Owen and his own conception of life that guides him. Owen pledges his life to, "My force, whatever there may be of it, is altogether spiritual."  This is something that people like Danforth seem to outwardly reject.  "The harsh, material world" fails to grasp Owen.  He experiences frustration, but never sacrifices his voice.  This becomes an essential concept of life advocated in the text.  Owen is not fully understood, and embraces a path of non- conformity.  While he does experience frustration and a sense of social isolation, Owen recognizes that he must embrace his pursuit alone.  When Annie disappoints him, it becomes clear that his sojourn is one where only his creative powers can accompany him.  This concept of life is one that asserts how an individual's voice is its own reward and contains a level of power that cannot be externally controlled.

The need to create the beautiful is what animates Owen throughout the text.  This becomes the larger message of the work.  The artist's own sensibility to create in the name of their own artistic voice becomes critical.  When he presents his gift, this sensibility becomes clear:

This case of ebony the artist opened, and bade Annie place her fingers on its edge. She did so, but almost screamed as a butterfly fluttered forth, and, alighting on her finger's tip, sat waving the ample magnificence of its purple and gold-speckled wings, as if in prelude to a flight. It is impossible to express by words the glory, the splendor, the delicate gorgeousness which were softened into the beauty of this object. 

The creation of the "ideal" is what drives the artist.  This is the concept of life that Owen embraces.  It is its own intrinsic good.  The act of creation in accordance to this inner spirit is the most important element in consciousness. All else "became of little value" when Owen recognizes the creative power in the butterfly. In recognizing how creation in its own right gives meaning to life, an inner directed concept of life is offered in Owen's narrative.

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