Individuality Within Community

The problem of the place of individuality within community is a theme common to Olaf Stapledon's "Star Maker" and several short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. These works discuss problems and tensions that arise between individuals in a community, their results, and what that reveals about the nature of individuals and community. However, while "Star Maker" mostly just shows the results of these tensions, arguing that they must either end in greatness or calamity, Hawthorne's works tend to focus more on the actual tension, with the results being of less importance than an understanding of the causes. These two authors seem to make the point that to live happily in community we must learn to accept reality and not try to force our wills upon others.

"Star Maker" tells the story of our universe as seen by one who observes the entire sequence. Throughout the life of the universe individuals and communities arise-from clouds of expanding gas and dust to human beings and symbionts-and then face some great struggle, which they must defeat to survive. "Throughout the progress of a waking world there was one grave, subtle, and easily overlooked danger." If the race survived, it would progress into an elevated state of being, where it would enter a higher community and again face a struggle of even higher awakening. If at any stage it lost the great fight it would decay. Humans, for example, failed in their struggle, and consequently were "burnt up like a moth in a flame by irresistible catastrophe."

Hawthorne did not write about such transcendent things, but about everyday life and the struggles humans face in trying to live in community with others. Most of these stories, such as "The Birthmark" and "Rappaccini's Daughter" show the individuals concerned being defeated by the struggle, but one of them, "The Artist of the Beautiful," gives an example of communal acceptance and enlightenment such as "Star Maker" is all about.

According to "Star Maker," the higher stage of awakening could only be achieved "after a long-drawn agony of economic distress and maniac warfare, haunted by an increasingly clear vision of a happier world." In most cases, this was not achieved, but occasionally it was.

The most important example of this in "Star Maker" is the story of the arachnoid/ichthyoid symbionts. The two species had "grappled desperately," although they didn't compete for the same resources. These two species "strove to exterminate each other, and almost succeeded." They eventually resolved that struggle and became symbiotic. But there eventually came another crisis, in which the arachnoids began to develop technologically, and the ichthyoids psychically. They came under tension and eventually broke out into conflict again, this time more deadly than the first, for they were more sophisticated. But the two species overcame this crisis, too, and were reunited, eventually becoming the most powerful race in the galaxy. Like the narrator's description of married life, the two species had grown together, "mutually distorting, but mutually supporting," and realized that they were greater in community than as individuals.

Hawthorne's "The Artist of the Beautiful" gives an example of someone who continuously faced these struggles and eventually overcame them to become a satisfied member of the community. Owen Warland wanted to capture the vitality of nature in a mechanical creation, but his community thought him strange for this, and made him an outcast. Consequently, when people Owen respected and loved made remarks maligning his use of his time, Owen's work or his spirit would be destroyed and he would become someone normal members of the community respected for awhile. Again and again Owen would be driven to work on his project, and again it would be destroyed. However, like the relatively few populations in "Star Maker" who passed the test and achieved enlightenment to become part of a greater civilization, Owen finally learned how to live in community. Although he had made his butterfly to please a woman who was now married to someone else, Owen was not crushed when she didn't understand it or him. When his work was destroyed after he finally completed it, Owen was not upset because "his spirit possessed itself in the enjoyment of reality." Instead of trying to remake people in his mind to believe they understood him, he simply accepted them for what they were, and himself for what he was. Although the others couldn't fully understand Owen, they were willing to accept him at the end when he returned to society, and he learned to accept their lack of understanding, so they were all content: not in perfect harmony, but in peaceful community.

This seems to be what both Hawthorne and Stapledon are getting at: that we must live in reality and enjoy it for what it is. When the narrator of "Star Maker" left on his fantastic voyage, he had left in bitterness; but when he came back, he was joyful and felt peace. Although he knew that the events on the Earth were insignificant in the grand scheme of things, the narrator was content to live in community with his wife and family. The narrator passed his test successfully, just as Owen passed his. Both of these men learned to enjoy the world for what it was in order to live peacefully and happily in community.