A moral dilemma entails a choice between two highly conflicting values, where the decision made may result in guilt and remorse. As responders we are able to assess our own values in regards to the character’s actions. These characteristics are present in the texts Montana 1948 by Larry Watson 1993, The Returning by Daniel De Paola 1964 and Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby 2004. I personally have been influenced to assess my own values towards family ties, justice and the balance between right and wrong.
When faced with a moral dilemma, avoidance and denial often result in greater consequences. In Montana 1948 the sheriff Wes has conflicting values of family loyalty and justice leading to an immense moral dilemma whether to convict his own brother even though this may have an adverse effect on familial ties. Wes instead resorts to denial of the situation.
This denial is highlighted shortly after Franks exploitation of Indian women was brought to light by Gail. Wes attempts to refuse Marie’s accusations. “For gods sake, you know how she (Marie) likes to make up stories.” Despite knowing his brothers capability to commit such actions his aggressive tone shows his resistance to Gail’s argument, instinctively protecting his value of family over the law and also his loyalty to Marie. After coming to terms with the facts of Franks perversity Wes attempts to solve the problem, although half heartedly, by confronting Frank. “I think the problems been taken care of. Frank said he’ll cut it out,” In this context the colloquial language ‘cut it out’, referring to the molestation and raping of women, undermining the situation, reducing its severity and allowing Wes to not only justify his own avoidance but to pacify Gail. The relevant consequence to his lack of action is Frank’s murder of Marie the following day, in an attempt to dispose of evidence against him, a much graver fate than if Wes had convicted Frank initially.
Denial of a moral dilemma is also manifest in the film Million Dollar Baby. The scene in which Maggie asks Frankie to end her life, Frankie is faced with an unfathomable decision that contradicts his love for her as a daughter but also his faith in God. Repetition of “I can’t” demonstrates Frankie’s affliction towards the situation. The diegetic sound of Maggie’s breathing paired with a close up shot addresses Maggie’s constant suffering supporting her reason to beg Frankie for the favour. Frankie chose to avoid maggie’s request until she attempts to take the problem into her own hands. The use of dark lighting in the final hospital scene, emits an eerie feeling to symbolise Frankie’s daunting and pressing task. He realises he must end her suffering.
These texts demonstrate that doing what is morally correct may be difficult. Nonetheless I have learnt that the outcome of ignoring an issue may become an even bigger burden. If presented with a moral dilemma, I would work to solve the problem as quickly as possible but also to take the time to do it correctly. The perception different individuals hold for one another influences the approach taken in a moral dilemma, highlighting values of family, race and social status. In watson’s novel Wes is aware of the racial division, upon native American Indians of the time. This prejudice plays a large role in the treatment of Marie. The prejudice of the native indian women is evident in Julian’s comparison of native american women to “red meat” The derogatory metaphor ‘red meat’ conveys his perception of the native American Indian females as lowly animals, merely alive for amusement value.
However Wes has a moral dilemma between the prejudice and his personal beliefs. This is demonstrated in the scene prior to Marie falling ill. David describes Wes as: “He simply held them (Indians) in low regard…he could treat indians with generosity and respect (as he could treat every other human being)” The use of the pronoun ‘them’ is intended to inflict primitiveness and inferiority on American indians by stereotyping them, meanwhile the words ‘generosity’ and ‘respect’ holding positive connotations, show Wes’ broader perspective. The conflict between his personal and family values pose a moral dilemma. Wes’ valuable perception of all individuals lives, override the views held by his brother and father, compelling him to seek justice.
In Daniel De Paola’s short story “The Returning” we are presented with an underlying conflict between the whites and the natives. Although not spoken between one another, each character has been influenced by society to hold certain views. Negative connotations from Dark cat expressed in “At another time and place, he wouldn’t have wanted to linger in a room alone with a white woman.” Contrasting with “But here and now there was only friendliness between them.” Conveys Dark cats prejudice towards whites. Meanwhile, high modality present in “never felt” shows that Dark cat may be turning a new leaf with the whites. This example demonstrates that moral dilemmas can make one rethink their bias.
As discussed each character has conflicting predetermined values and beliefs that directly affect their decision. I have come to a conclusion that although mentally testing, the way in which I would handle a difficult situation would be to try to be aware and disregard irrational prejudices.
Through my study of moral dilemmas, in particular in the texts Montana 1948, The Returning and Million Dollar Baby I have come to question values such as family, justice and the balance between what is right or wrong. I would act immediately to resolve the dilemma and overcome any prejudice that conflicts with my decision.
Courtney from Study Moose
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