Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 324
This influential and important book by Hannah Arendt is a complex and rather dense work of literature. It contains many scientific, historical, philosophical, and sociological points, as well as the author's own unique synthesis of various modes of thought to explain her thesis. To choose significant quotes from this work is a daunting task, partly because Arendt offers her own structural breakdown and emphasis of her main points, but also because individual readers may find divergent ways of isolating quotes they find particularly effective or noteworthy.
With that in mind, I found this quote to be a significant one as it lays out one of the book's main ideological threads:
The mortality of men lies in the fact that individual life, with a recognizable life-story from birth to death, rises out of biological life. This individual life is distinguished from all other things by the rectilinear course of its movement, which, so to speak, cuts through the circular movement of biological life. This is mortality: to move along a rectilinear line in a universe where everything, if it moves at all, moves in a cyclical order.
In this quote the author is trying to establish that people's lives and how they perceive their lives are inseparable from their biological existence which includes only two sure events: birth and death. But the author goes on to discuss the idea that one primary impulse that drives humans forward is the production of works (words or deeds) that live after they are gone: a way to achieve immortality. This idea has spiritual implications, as the author also suggests:
By their capacity for the immortal deed, by their ability to leave non-perishable traces behind, men, their individual mortality notwithstanding, attain an immortality of their own and prove themselves to be of a "divine" nature.
These quotes occur within the first chapter after a fairly lengthy discussion of the great philosophers' attitudes and ideas related to humanity and immortality.