There is so much beauty in the world. We are surrounded by it, whether it is acknowledged or overlooked. And so much emphasis is placed upon beauty, that scales have been invented to measure it, and new words are even invented to describe it. This article will examine On Beauty to see how postmodernist author Zadie Smith views beauty.
Let's begin by dissecting beauty. Why is beauty such a hot topic? Why do we talk about it so much? Because of all the available media, we are bombarded by it everyday. And to reiterate, beauty is all around us, in everything our senses pick up on. However, do people really know the meaning of the word? Sure, people can rattle off a book definition, but do they really know the true meaning of beauty. When someone looks at a painting, or reads a poem, or even observes another human being, and mutters “beautiful, absolutely beautiful,” we never ask, “what do you mean?”, we just take the words at face value. But really, what do they mean? Society has distorted beauty so much, many times its meaning is not clear.
Beauty is just a word that is thrown about and abused; it has become a insipid compliment. Why is this? Because most people judge beauty superficially – outside to inside, instead of inside to outside. We could not, however, say, “That person is interesting looking,” and leave it at that. Interesting how? The sentence hungers, begs for a more colorful adjective. And we should assign it a better description; however, we should also dig deeper and with more conviction, judging not only the surface, but beyond the surface, and applying this to all that we behold.
Lets take a look at a few characters within Zadie Smith's novel On Beauty and how these characters treat beauty. I would like to begin with the abuse of beauty, then follow it by the appreciation of it. Within the novel, beauty receives disrespect in several forms, the strongest being from Howard Belsey, a college lecturer who never truly appreciates beauty. Howard's inattentiveness even stretches beyond beauty, as he completely overlooks Kiki's emotional straits. Howard's inattentiveness becomes an extension of his infidelity, an infidelity which hie attempts to deny. This infidelity is absolutely unnecessary and shows a gross and utter disrespect for not only Kiki, but his entire family, which Howard totally ruins through these extramarital affairs. Ignorance of beauty is not only Howard's monstrous weakness, but it also belongs to Howard's academic nemesis, Monty Kipps. Similarly to Howard, Monty is never in defense of beauty, but uses it to push his own agenda and selfish purposes. Like Howard, Monty is just as inconsiderate to others, prone to greediness and lust, and also betrays his wife with an extramarital affair. Katie examines and observes with a keener eye Rembrandt's work, and as a result, she sees the painting in a whole new light. Because of this new insight, she is intellectually excited, her life is forever changed. This insight is never experienced by Monty, but is experienced by Howard at the end of the story, when he forgets to bring his notes to a lecture, he improvises, which helps him to not only see the finer points and beauty of Rembrandt's work, but opens his eyes to the inner and outer beauty of his wife, Kiki.
Beauty can fade away – either gradually and gracefully, or abruptly and grotesquely. Beauty is fragile and must be treated with care and delicacy, if you want it to last at least for a little while. Beauty is all around us, within and without, and we need to observe it, absorb it, and appreciated it, not just sit back and let it overwhelm us.