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Week One Essay Topic: Destiny and Fate in the Novels of Pat Conroy

Posted: Sep 09, 2009

Prince Hamlet declares in the final act of Shakespeare's play "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will." The Irish novelist Frank Harris says "There is a destiny that shapes our ends...." The debate over fate versus free will has raged for centuries. Even the Greek gods feared the Fates or Moirae: Clotho who spins the thread of life, Lacheis who measures it , and Atropos who cuts it with her shears. Pat Conroy seems to cast his lot with those who are convinced that fate plays a major role in the shaping of our lives.

Conroy has this to say about his writing:

No story is a straight line. The geometry of a human life is too imperfect and complex, too distorted by the laughter of time and the bewildering intricacies of fate to admit the straight line into its system of laws.

In his recently published novel South of Broad Conroy has his protagonist Leo King make the following observation:

If I knew then what I have come to learn, I would never have made a batch of cookies for the new family across the street, never uttered a single word to the orphans, and never introduced myself to the two students who were kicked out of Porter-Gaud School and quickly enrolled at my own Peninsula High for their senior year...But fate comes at you cat-footed, unavoidable, and bloodthirsty.

In the course of the novel Leo learns "the power of accident and magic in human affairs . . . the unanswerable powers of fate, and how one day can shift the course of ten thousand lives."

Here is the question for the week for the Pat Conroy Contest.

Chapter one of South of Broad begins with the statement, "Nothing happens by accident." Pick a character from one of Pat Conroy’s novels and explain how destiny affects him/her. Do you agree that real life is the result of predetermined forces? Or can we affect our fate?

In 100 words give us your thoughts about the question of fate versus free will. For example, what is the difference between accident and fate? Is there a difference? If Leo had not taken the steps outlined above, would he have had an entirely different life? What about the role of fate in The Prince of Tides? The Great Santini? Beach Music? Can we affect our fate and at least partially control our destiny, or is our life to a large degree predetermined? If so, why or how?

We look forward to reading your first essay which you should post on Writers of the South Facebook group page.

(For the Pat Conroy Contest Rules click HERE)

---Penne J. Laubenthal

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