Daily actions build people's image. As persons commit bad actions they are seen as bad people, and usually this is true. Also, as people make good actions they are seen as good people, however this is not always the case. In "The Story of the Good Little Boy" by Mark Twain, Jacob Blivens is a good boy who is always looking after the well-being of the people around him by doing good acts to help others. He wants to be as good as the characters he discovered in the books of his Sunday lectures, which have grasped his attention due to the success they always achieve in society. Blivens wants to be as successful as they are an he behaves as a good boy not because he wants to become one, but because in his heart what he really wants is to be praised and remembered.
To discover Bliven's real intentions, it is necessary to look into the psychological field. Blivens might have had a condition call "Psychological Egoism," which is about the motivation that drives the actions of a person. Specifically, "we are always deep down motivated by what we perceive to be in our own self-interest" (May 1). This is evidenced by Blivens own motivation. He may have thought that he was behaving like the good boys in the Sunday school stories, helping and feeding stray dogs, being honest, and giving pennies to the homeless, but the difference is that he is not doing it selflessly. All his acts are done with the ultimate intention of receiving recognition for them, like the time when Blivens sees Jim Blake in a tree stealing apples. He went to Jim to warn him about stealing and getting hurt, but Blivens ended up with a broken arm when Jim fell out of the tree onto him. He was more confused with the outcome of his act than concerned about the safety of Jim. Blivens thought the "nothing ever went right with this good little boy; nothing ever turned out with him the way it turned out with the good little boys in the books" (331). Blivens was comparing the unlucky outcome of his actions with the outcomes received by the good boys in the stories. That was his motivation.
Other people could say that Blivens did not deserve his fate because he was really an unfortunate good boy. All that he did were good acts and help others out: He obeyed his parents, he never told a lie, and he was really honest. However, what they do not see is that deep in his heart all that he wanted was to fulfil his ambitions, and coincidentally to get it done he had to be a good boy. This is revealed at the start of the story when the narrator says, "Jacob had a noble ambition to be put in a Sunday-school book" (331), and this is even more evident when the narrator proceeds saying that he wanted it "with pictures representing him gloriously declining to lie to his mother," and "giving a penny to a poor beggar" (331). All this points to the fact that he essentially is not a good boy. He is just a boy that does good things to receive a profit out of them, in this case the fulfillment of his ambition.
Another piece of evidence that supports Blivens psychological egoism is the fact that he is actively looking for potential opportunities to commit a good act. "One thing that Jacob wanted to do was to find a lame dog that had not any place to stay, and was hungry and persecuted" (331), and he wanted to find a poor dog in that condition despite the fact that it would be better if that was not possible at all. he did not desire for the dog to be in a better condition, he just wanted it in bad shape in order to get the feeling of helping it out, "bring him home and pet him and have that dogs imperishable gratitude" (331). Also, the time he saw some guys on a Sunday, ready to sail in a boat. Nothing could have gone wrong with these guys on their trip, but Blivens "was filled with consternation, because he knew from his reading that boys who went sailing on Sunday invariably got drowned" (332). Blivens ran to warn them of the danger but he slid "into the river" and almost got drowned. It was not necessary for him to disturb some guys who wanted to enjoy a Sunday in a boat, but instead he saw an opportunity to help them and in this way add another good act towards the accomplishment of his goal.
Despite the fact that Twain did not specify Blivens age, he was just a boy and he might not have been completely aware if what he was doing was really altruistic or not. Science demonstrates that at older ages altruistic behavior diminishes. In a study conducted during 1980 in Georgia Southern College, it was demonstrated that "as the age of the respondent increased, the proportion predicting altruistic behavior decreases from .758 for the 10-year-olds to .689 and .688 for the 13- and 16-year-olds, respectively" (Black 4). This means that probably when Blivens was a younger kid his actions were innocent and pure, but then, as he had grown more, his actions started to become a little selfish although they still were good actions. This leads to the fact that the ultimate goal in Blivens acts is his satisfaction.
In addition, Blivens actions are not altruistic in any way despite his concern for other people's wellbeing. These are similar to Katniss from the film The Hunger Games. Despite wanting to help other people from the three districts, she is driven by the need for revenge making her actions not pure altruistic (The Hunger Games).In the case of Blivens; he always made sure not to miss out on Sunday-school. He would peruse through the books and see what all the good boys gained for their acts. However, as he went through the literature, none of the boys ever got to receive anything good for their actions. Instead, they all died in the last chapter and pictures of funerals found at the book's final page. According to Blivens, his ambition was to appear in one of the books and flooded pictures of him doing good things (331).In this case, Blivens act could not befit the label of being referred to as "altruistic" for his motivation behind the actions was to appear in a Sunday-school book. It is an indication that his acts were not "pure" altruism. Instead, it was a self-sacrificing behavior for there is an end gain for oneself. His actions are similar to Achilles from The Iliad. According to Achilles, he is aware of the fact that if he decides to go and fight in Troy, he will most likely end up dead (Johnson 406). Through this, Achilles is sacrificing his life to revenge Patroklos death. However, the end result of this is that he will remain glorified for many years to come (Johnson 406). It is an indication Achilles is looking out for his well-being and not fight for his people. In case Blivens wanted to act well and not have the urge of appearing in the books, his actions would be those termed as pure altruism.
Additionally, as seen from the Mark Twain's story, Blivens driving principle in doing "good" was that he would only do something that is best for him. It is an indication that Blivens is not ready to sacrifice his well-being in case there is no definite outcome for his actions. Blivens has mixed motives in doing good which is that, he carefully chooses what to do that is best for him with the perception that it is going to others. It is evident at one point whereby Blivens went to help out an old man who had been pushed in the mud by some boys (331). The main aim for this was to receive a blessing from this blind old man. However, Blivens ended up getting a severe whacking as the old man claimed that it is he who shoved him into the mud and is no pretending to help him get up (331). After this incident, Blivens went and looked over the Sunday-school boys and did not find such actions. It is an indication that Blivens was insufficiently altruistic. In case Blivens would have helped the blind old man and have it in mind that it might involve some loss of his well-being, then, it would be an altruistic action taken with a much more robust sense.
At some point, Blivens went to look for a lame dog so that he would provide it with food and shelter. He found one and brought it home. However, the dog tore all his clothes and made a scene that was astonishing (331). It is the same dog that the boys in his Sunday-school books had helped and they got rewarded unlike him. From his actions, despite being morally motivated, they are not in any way altruistic. His actions are similar to Plato's "Myth of the Ring of Gyges" whereby he states that in case an individual had two magic rings, he would not act in manner that would help others. Instead, he would act selfishly and do anything he wanted for no one could see him thus no punishment would exist (Verene 201). It is an indication that not every action that one undertakes despite being morally motivated is selfless. One should aim at not only acting right towards others but for their good. In case one wants to behave in an altruistic manner, it should be towards someone or something driven by a sentimental attachment. Such an act should not have any praiseworthy outcomes as in the case of Blivens; he mistakenly thought he was helping the dog thus augmenting its well-being, however, for the dog, it did not believe it was benefiting from Blivens actions.
As in a fable, the moral Twain transmit is that good actions are truly good only if they are done with a sense of selflessness and without expecting anything from them. Twain portrays this very effectively with the humor he infuses at the end of the story. Blivens final is very tragic if it is observed from a more realistic perspective, but Twain makes these "incongruous exaggerations in his humorous descriptions" (Chelala 54) that take the story to a more imaginary plane where with a single punch, a human body can be dismembered and "apportioned around among four townships" (333). Although the scene described is nasty, Twain makes it seems funny and comical, and this humorous description is more likely to catch the attention of the readers, so he can make them focus on the moral of the story: Doing bad things like the bad kids in the Sunday stories and doing good things for the wrong reasons, like Blivens, yield the same outcome. This adds to the fact that what Blivens was doing was not truly altruistic, but more focused on his self-interest.
There is a reason why the outcome of Blevins's acts never came out as he wanted to. At the end of the story, the narrator says that "every boy who ever did as he did prospered except him" (333), it is probably because those boys were not looking for recognition nor praising, they were just being themselves, and as good boys they got recognition. On the other hand, although Blivens acts were in pro of the wellbeing of the people, the motives behind those actions were not. Summarizing, Blivens was not behaving as he really was; he was imitating other lives in order to accomplish his goal. He created an image of "altruism" and turned it into a profession where the ultimate objective was to satisfy himself.
Black, Charlene R. Weinstein, Eugene A. Tanur, Judith M. Development of Expectations of Altruism Versus Self-Interest. Journal of Social Psychology 111.1 (1980): 105. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. Web. 10 April. 2018.
Chelala, Rania. Border-crossing Laughter: Humor in the Short Fiction of Mark Twain, Mikhail Naimy, Edgar Allan Poe, and Emilie Habiby. Thesis. U. of North Carolina, 2010. Carolina Digital Repository. U. of North CArolina: 2010. Web. 10 April. 2018.
Johnson, Ian. "Homer-The Iliad." (2007).
May, Joshua. Psychological Egoism. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d. Sun 7 April 2018.
Twain, Mark. The Story of the Good Little Boy. Literature to Go. By Michael Meyer. 1st ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins, 2011. 330. Print
The Hunger Games. Retrieved from https://watch32hd.org/watch_kMjlhMWE5OT.html#video=Z1vTBAElWMUzh51JFlrHuiO3n_fNYi9j42Yq
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