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Human Failure Essay

“4 1/2 minutes” is a story full of the darkest human emotions and human interaction at its worst. The main character, Miles, will take the reader through a journey and one will wonder why it ends so abruptly. Miles has already begun his torrential downfall eventually leading to his absence of mind and life. Kate Sheofsky wrote this story to show the realness of humans and not to put a sugar coating on it. The author told a weaving, intricate, and beguiling story of human failure in its worst form. Miles gets the full body tattoo to show that he is strong and that he will find acceptance  whatever the cause.

Many colors are used in “4 1/2 minutes” that showcase the point of being strong and having courage. The author chose to use the color purple when she describes the tattoo Miles is receiving on his back. (Sheofsky) In army operations the color purple is used when naming operations that have multiple types of units involved. Whenever more than one type of unit is involved that means it is a joint effort. When Miles received the purple tattoo it was foreshadowing his oneness with the fish. Blue is most often associated with water and re-birth. Sheofsky writes “patches of blue as his skin is revealed” and this shows Miles is ready for his acceptance (Shoefsky). These colors foreshadow Miles and his strength; furthermore the main character and his name of Miles also have a hidden sense of power behind it.

The name Miles has a hidden meaning behind it to show the strength of the character. Miles has an ancient meaning of soldier. In “4 1/2 minutes” the author states “His skin is young, but his expression is worn and battered. “Dark circles haunt his vacant eyes.” (Sheofsky) These words portray the average soldier through history. Soldiers are often young and overstressed beyond what the common person can even comprehend. After years of bloodshed and torment they often will have the vacant stare. This 1,000 yard stare is common with soldiers that have been pushed too far or have seen too many atrocities. Miles is one of these unlucky few that have been pushed past the point of rational thinking. He is tired of trying to deal with the emotional range of depression. The strength of Miles unfortunately leads to his demise, consequently he does find the acceptance he was looking for.

Acceptance is a natural feeling that humans strive towards. Acceptance means “Favorable reception; approval” (Dictionary) and the average human can only stand a certain amount of rejection before psychological issues develop. They may learn to accept rejection in its many forms, but no one strives for it. Miles was stabbed in high school with a buck knife by a group of men (Sheofsky). This shows that he was not accepted through his high schools days. This would have an impact and lasting repercussions on anyone. Constant rejection by peers will bring on a state of depression. Miles was obviously past the point of a normal depression and at the point of insanity. Miles believed the tattoos of aquatic life would help the fish accept him as an equal. It would take an inordinate amount of strength and passion to receive a fully body tattoo just to have a small moment of acceptance. Miles was so far gone that he chose to end his life just to have 4 ½ minutes of acceptance.

The strength of Miles led him to insanity and his drive for acceptance. He decided paying the ultimate sacrifice was worth a small time of bliss. As he sunk to the bottom to meet his demise “a wide smile stiffened on his face” (Sheofsky) and this truly shows that he finally had acceptance in his life. The strength to take the ultimate sacrifice for this acceptance is the highest possible amount of mental breakdown a man can achieve. The use of imagery and metaphors helped show who the main character was and the effects society had on him. Even though he may have been insane he still had the mental and physical strength for a non-stop, full body tattoo and to allow himself to slowly drown and die.

Sheofsky, Kate . “4 1/2 Minutes.” Short Stories. 01 2002. 11 Oct. 2005 .

“Acceptance.” Dictionary.com. 4th ed. 2000.

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