The Night In Question By Tobias Wolff

Narcissism is a term used to refer to a social problem or mental illness in a person and it is commonly described in terms of a personality trait. Such characteristics are selfishness, self-pity, spitefulness, having a low self esteem and self-loath. One such narcissist that I happen to know quite well is a man called James. He was my neighbor, an infamous man who was known by everyone in the little town of Thordia but loved by none.

James was brought up in a poor background where his parents struggled to put food on the table and took him to school encouraging him to study so that someday he would come and help his family. He worked hard in his studies and eventually through his toiling and patience he succeeded and he was employed at a reputable firm as an accountant. James’ world changed in a blink of an eye, his pay was good and he vowed to himself never again would he embrace the life poverty offered him.

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James’ character changed, he became resentful towards her family, those around him and his long time friends as well. All the expectations his parents had for him including him becoming the savoir for his family altered. Instead of him helping his family by providing some of the basic necessities, he was neglectful, ignorant and most of all selfish. He attended lavishing parties, went to discotheques and drunk all his money dry.

While his family suffered, he enjoyed his life to the fullest and when he was confronted by his mother about the matter, he resulted to a confrontation denying the fact that he had a problem and he hid his true image from the world. Clearly all James cared about was himself and no one else. By this, he demonstrated a great deal of narcissism by being selfish and self-centered.

When he arrived late to his place of work, he was asked by his boss, “Why are you late for the third time this week?” “It’s not my fault, my driver drove slowly”, instead of taking blame for his lateness, he blamed his driver for driving slowly. This portrayed the narcissism trait in him where he got all defensive and not responsible for his lateness.

Likewise, in the stories in “The Night in Question” there are feature characters that highlight the same narcissistic qualities as my friend. These qualities show that narcissism is a disease evidenced by Brian Gold, Wiley and Anders. In the story “Chain”, Brian has self pity which results to him being resentful. He pities himself and his low life and has a false belief of him having a grand existence where he is rich and has magnificence and all this makes him contented while what he really requires is honesty and self-respect.

Brian Gold exhibits narcissism where he lacks a high self-esteem and his worth. He looks for an enemy so as to boost his ego and to look heroic towards other people. He has an obsession of boasting of his heroic nature to his counterparts and in a situation where people perceive him as being frail and submissive for being a Jew he seems to have an inferiority complex issue.

Brain’s intentions are to soothe his ego rather than do what is right. He has resentment towards people inclusive of himself for questioning his maleness and he sought to avenge in order to impress people the likes of Tom Rourke in order for him to gain “Man Points”.

Brian Gold has great anger in him and feels that people including his wife do not comprehend it. He goes ahead and looks for people who will assist him in pampering his anger because at some level this anger gives him power. He seeks to revenge a single injustice done to him so as to coddle all anger and frustration he has which he has accumulated from many sectors of his life and focuses it on one item.

Mr. Gold has a hurt ego and he finds a way to redeem it by ruling over his adversaries. Handling a hurt ego is a hard task since people who have this perceive advice from a friend as being manipulative and due to Brian’s hurt ego he becomes paranoid. So as to reinstate his honor, Brian Gold uses propaganda of the Taliban by labeling the disc jockey a “Child of Satan” in a bid to validate for his vandalism.

Not only does he possess a feeling of self-righteousness where he has a goes to avenge against his enemies but also has envy which causes him to demean and disgrace those people who he has an unfair advantage over. Finally Brian Gold illustrates himself as being a narcissist whereby he spends a lot of time alone and this gives him the opportunity to have an obsession over his grievances and he fosters it until it is beyond his dreams.

In the masterful short story “Life of the Body” by Tobias Wolff, Wiley is self-delusional and this is demonstrated by several examples. Firstly, Wiley thinks he is charming yet all he portrays is obnoxiousness.

He degrades his dignity yet he openly blames other people for unfairly injuring his dignity. Wiley not only believes that lying improves his image and reputation but also that he is rational in a world that is unfounded in that it persecutes him with bias yet in actual sense he is the irrational one in a rational world.

He is a lazy but according to him he thinks he is a disciplined individual and he gets the notion that he has the so called “bad lack” when it comes to women. Wiley considers himself as superior to other people based on the fact that he has gained wisdom and morals by being smart from reading books (Tobias Wolff, 1997, 136).

Wiley experiences solipsism where he is self-centered, lacks compassion and lacks the ability to see what people make of him. He is emotionally retarded and believes that his mind is the only reality. He oppresses his actual self and acquires an addiction to his inner ‘be-esser’.

In the end, Wiley is beaten up due to his ignorance where he does not have a clue on the unreceptive circumstance he had created. He is a narcissist who has an improved self-esteem that has no connection to realism. A ‘be-esser’ is usually too concerned with his or her image that he/she is incapable of seeing that other people are least impressed with it. Wiley has a false thought that he is superior hence having the capability to do anything and that he has no distinct boundaries.

He is more interested in his image and can therefore not put up with people having a bad impression of him. This is the main reason why he tries to prove that he has a good character to Kathleen, an action that only proves him as the exact opposite. Wiley who believes that the end justifies the means uses this factor to diminish his lies.

“Bullet in the Brain” which is one of Tobias Wolff’s short stories in “The Night in Question”, gives a clear kind of narcissism which is the intellectual pride. In the story, Anders is book smart but the intellectual pride he possesses hinders his vision of being foolish in that he lacks the proper skills in handling life circumstances. Anders proves that he is not street smart in that he has no idea on how to befriend his enemies.

He allows his persona which is full of critic to take over his character and this gives him a delusion of being all-powerful hence leading to his death. Anders cannot turn off his sarcasm when he is intended to do so and he does not know when he should keep quiet and when to talk. In Anders’ flashbacks, by the statement “he didn’t remember” the moments of his life which were meaningful show that he grew lonely as days went by.

Miller is another character who shows narcissism apparently which is deeply rooted in the inveterate wish to be a child completely reliant on his mother. The narcissist does not want to grow up and become fully independent. He refuses to go into the world where he wouldn’t be loved unconditionally and where his needs would not be met according to his expectations.

Miller lacks the ability to have a strong steady relationship and all he can manage to maintain is a symbiotic relationship that is filled with interdependence. As a result both of the groups in this relationship end up being crippled psychologically and emotionally.

Miller is so selfish and self-centered that he is resistant towards his mother’s intentions to begin a life with distance between the two of them and for her to marry again. On the other hand, he is filled with jealousy and is engulfed with a feeling of betrayal by his mother. He opts to be the “little boy” to his mother and for their relationship built on symbiosis to continue and gradually cause spiritual death (Behary, Wendy, 2008, 57).

Tobias Wolff in “The Night in Question” portrays his characters as narcissists who are imprisoned in their own narcissism, trapped in their cages of self-centeredness with each and every one of them demonstrating the deepest elements of narcissism traits.

Brian Gold, Wiley, Miller and James are narcissists who all show their degree of selfishness whereby the world revolves only around them. Narcissism in psychology is used to depict both the aspect of one’s self love and self absorption which is usually not healthy and it is caused by a disorder in the sense of self.

Works Cited

Behary, Wendy. Disarming the narcissist: surviving & thriving with the self-absorbed. Shattuck Avenue, Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2008.Print.

Tobias Wolff. The night in question: stories Vintage Contemporaries. East Mill Plain Boulevard, Vancouver: Vintage Books, 1997.Print.

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