What is an analysis of the article by David Helwig entitled "Haunted by Lives Unlived"? Looking for the literacy devices used, any themes, and...

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droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The above answers offer good summaries of the themes included in David Helwig's essay, as well as its general thesis—that is, that what has happened, or not happened, to us is a fundamental part of who we are. However, your question also asks for commentary as to the literary devices Helwig uses to convey his message, so I will explore those here.

Of course, the essay in its entirety represents an extended metaphor, with the idea of lives unlived presented as something that haunts us, where each unexplored possibility is its own ghost. Through the use of anecdote, Helwig acknowledges what this concept owes to Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken," and simultaneously brings his thesis into the realm of real life by allusion to one of his own chosen past lives, as a teacher. This existence, then, represents a foil to the "ghost" lives with which the essay is primarily concerned. Later, another anecdote indicates one of the ghost lives Helwig might have chosen, when he was a student in Toronto and tempted to become a singer.

Frost is not the only literary allusion Helwig makes. He also references Edith Piaf's "Je ne regrette rien," and then goes on to personify this regret with imagery describing how it "eats away at the heart" and must then be "stifled," as if with a pillow. Regret is described as a living thing; Helwig's recommendation is that it should be stamped out—but then, we are left to question, can it still haunt us like the ghosts of unlived lives?

The idea of what is real and what is not, and whether these things are connected to "where the body just now finds itself," is one that permeates this essay. Helwig queries "where does life happen" and describes both memory and expectation as "forms of imagination". To him, then, there is little to distinguish the "singer I did not become" from his lived self, nor the memory of a fantasy from a memory of what truly occurred. The overriding theme of the essay is perhaps not chance, memory, or regret but in fact the question of whether we can say what "really" happened, and whether this matters.

tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Helwig uses an analogy in his two-page article to discuss other choices that we all could have made during out lifetimes. The analogy is that each choice is a metaphorical ghost that comes back to haunt us every once in awhile and we are left to wonder what our lives had been like had we made different choices. He then makes an allusion, or reference to another popular author (or event), to Robert Frost's famous poem "The Road Not Taken." Helwig's interpretation of this poem is that the road less traveled by represents the choices that we didn't make in life as well. Therefore, Helwig uses analogy, metaphor and allusion to make his point that we shouldn't look back on life with regrets for choices that we never made. He even philosophizes as to when and where life is really lived. For example, do we live in the past? Our memories remind us of our past...but the present is what we know now and the future is what we generally live for or prepare for. It is an interesting article to get one reflecting on life and the choices that we choose to make over the ones we choose not to make.

reidalot eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Helwig's article poses an interesting question: why are we haunted by lives unlived? He attempts to answer this question in his essay.

He uses the metaphor that we are all ghosts which becomes an extended metaphor throughout this article because ghosts do haunt. However, what haunts us is the lives we did not live, the paths not chosen . . . "the subtler question of the continuing existence of what was not done" (1). He looks at life through the question, what if? What if we chose different careers, colleges, husbands or wives? How would our lives be different? How would our memories be different?

Helwig's thesis is that even though we must live in the present, our memory and expectations are an integral part of the human experience and make us who we are. Thus, both are "forms of the imagination" (2). He goes on to discuss the role between actual memories formed from reality and memories formed through dreams. In such a way, the ghost lives haunt us, leaving us to wonder how our lives would change if different choices had been made.