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Couch Potato and Self-Perfection: Oblomov vs Jonathan Livingston Seagull

vsNow, there can’t be two more different books than Oblomov and Jonathan Livingston Seagull save for two things. The first one is that both became instant classics after their publication and still enjoy wide readership. Another one is a common theme of self-perfection making them timeless texts and an ideal pair for comparative analysis.

Oblomov is a novel by a Russian author Ivan Goncharov, published in 1859, which took the writer ten years to complete. The main character of the book is Ilya Oblomov, a lazy sybarite, who likes contemplating about life but has no will power to accomplish anything in his life (luckily, being a rich heir he can afford it). He’s a satirical symbol of a coach potato lifestyle, which is still a plague of our society.

The opposite of him is Andrey Stoltz, Oblomov’s entrepreneur friend, who’s life credo is work,work,work. He’s driven by ambition to achieve the material success.
In my counter-intuitive opinion, Oblomov and Stoltz are similar: they are not much interested in personal development.

So, though traditionally these characters in the book are considered as plus and minus of the human existence, I think the third character called Olga is often underestimated in terms of her connection to the book’s theme.

She starts out in the book as a love interest of Oblomov, introduced to him by Stoltz. Their relationship doesn’t work as she can see clearly their boring life together, decades without any progress. Years later she meets Stoltz again in Paris and marries him.

Olga quickly outgrows her husband and her strive for personal change and growth is what makes her different from Stoltz. While the latter self-develops as much as his business requires it and then slips into the maintenance mode, Olga’s feminine and irrational nature, on the opposite, urges her to never stop, to continue her spiritual journey. In that, she’s a kindred soul to Jonathan Livingston, the hero of our second book.

Richard Bach published his metaphorical parable of a seagull in 1970: it was initially rejected by several publishing houses until the agent Eleanor Friede saw a jewel worth putting on display.

Jonathan Livingston the Seagull is a dreamer amongst the food-obsessed co-natives (quite an unexpected attack on materialism from an American writer :p). Not only he dreams, but also goes as far as to become an outcast and embark on a single-minded endeavor searching for other meanings. He’s rewarded by finding new friends sharing his ideals.

He doesn’t stop at that: he returns to his native flock to help them realise the breadth of life. Jonathan is a spiritual leader, a symbol of someone who pushes the society forward. He’s an inspiration to anyone who dreams but is afraid to make dreams come true.

You may ask, “what’s wrong with being a couch potato or a gastronomical enthusiast? Not everyone wants to be enlightened like Buddha.” That’s true. If someone enjoys a relaxed lifestyle and nothing else – it’s okay. But if someone has dreams beyond that, but never has a courage to pursue them, and furthermore lets down other dreamers – isn’t this the saddest thing in the world?

Life can often be daunting, that’s why we all need inspiration to move on and stay true to ourselves in the pursuit of happiness.

Don’t go for the second best. Never assume it’s okay to sell out. Safety is sometimes a hidden grave. Be inspired and move out of the comfort zone. These two books are amongst hundreds of others that will help you to stay on track.

One question I have to you is what books helped you grow and how. My turn to listen to you now.

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