Summary of presentation- the Dispute of a Man with His Soul



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Summary of presentation- The Dispute of a Man with His Soul


  1. When?

The Dispute of a Man with his Soul is Egyptian literature that dates back to around 2050 -1800 B.C. That makes it nearly 4000 years old! One of the interesting aspects of this story is that it is so ancient, and yet attempts to tackle many of the things that we (modern people) still think about and grapple with. The story deals with social class problems and religious beliefs both of which are still a main topic 4000 years later.

  1. Where?

To really understand this story I think you must understand where it came from. This story comes out of an Egyptian period called the Middle Kingdom, where the old social class was slowly changing to become more democratic. The literary period this story came out of is called the Wisdom period in which there was literary theme of national and social distress. (Thanks goes out to the humanities book for that little tid bit) One main point I'd like to bring up is that what makes this story stand out is that its not an essay on some injustice or another, but is instead told from a more personal perspective. In fact, its just about as personal as a story can get, because the dialogue is between a man, his soul, and nobody else!

  1. What?

To set us up analyzing a story its always good to take a glance at the title. "The Dispute of a Man with His Soul". So whats this tell us? Well only everything we need to know! The title indicates that the story is about a man having a disagreement wit his own soul! Weird??? Well... lets just try to keep in mind that the Egyptians also buried people surrounded by gold they couldn't possibly need, and built mega ton pyramid structures in the middle of a giant dessert. Boredom can do a lot to people. At any rate, to give a general overview of the story, there is man who wants to commit suicide, and then there is his soul, or what the Egyptians referred to as the Ba, that thinks its a stupid idea to commit suicide and the soul is going to abandon the poor man. The man's reasoning behind his suicide is simple, he is miserable, has no friends, and thinks all the world has gone evil! Ouch! Basically he believes that the afterlife will be better than the life he has now. His soul however disagrees and thinks he should stay alive. Thats right folks, not only can this poor guy not make friends, but his own soul is criticizing his decisions now. He has clearly hit rock bottom. In the end however the man and his soul reach an agreement, the man agrees to stay alive for the time being, and try to do good and see good in the world however difficult it may be. You could say he has a new perspective, one of hope as opposed to despair. While he recognizes that life can be painful, he also now understands that it is nonetheless important to experience this, for without sorrow, there would be no joy. I could explain this further but its best to contemplate these things on your own. The man's soul in turn agrees to abide with him.

IV Why?


I seriously doubt any students in my humanities I class will actually read this, perhaps even our professor won't. But, on the off chance that one of you does accidentally click on this summary and actually reads this far, I'd like to leave you with some things to think about regarding this story. Perhaps actual understanding of every word in every stanza of the story is not as important as what it makes us think about. Consider this, why is this story important when it is 4000 years old? I think it gives us a better historical perspective. It lets us know what people were thinking about 4000 years ago! That in itself is a good enough reason to take a few minutes to read through this. But for me, theres an even better reason. This story gives us the opportunity to compare and contrast our own beliefs on the qualities of the human soul with those of a man 4000 years ago. It forces us to ask the question, what do I think about the concept of a soul?

Another topic to consider regarding this story is whether it is more literal or figurative. In the story the man paints a picture of a world gone mad, what do you think about this? Keeping in mind that this story is from a personal perspective, could it be that the world the man is living in is as it aways was, and perhaps the man had simply degenerated into paranoid madness? Or perhaps keeping in mind the period this story was in, was it an attempt at an enjoyable fiction story with mild social criticisms? The man could simply be exaggerating, the truth being that there is simply a high level of social injustice around the time he was living. The poor suffering while the rich indulged. And finally think about this: how does the man in this story relate to his world? In the beginning I think he has a very negative outlook, and doesn't see any reason to continue on. Toward the end however he sees value in life and perhaps even beauty and hope. How do you relate to your world? Do you see the positive or the negative? The difference between a good life an one full of misery can sometimes be something as easy to change as personal perspective. Thank you for reading my summary.



-James Dawson

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