Discontent in Jane Martin’s Beauty
Every day, a person will see celebrities on television, talk to peers in school or at work, or have encounters with strangers on the street, and automatically make assumptions on what their life must be like. Many times, they envision the other person’s life to be something bigger and better than their own life and that vision causes them to become jealous. That jealousy, in effect, can consume them and cause them become unhappy with the assets and characteristics that they have.
People can become so discontented with their lives that they would be willing to give up everything they have to start over or have a different life with different problems. The way that the main characters in Jane Martin’s “Beauty” describe their lives as undesirable and wish to change their current situation clearly demonstrate how people tend to be discontented with their own lives regardless of what they have going for them. Because “Beauty” is a play, Martin introduces the characters through dialogue.
The first character, Carla, is first seen talking on the phone with a random suitor that she met at a bar and she cannot seem to remember. This is evidence that Carla has some type of beauty that attracts male attention, even without any actual interaction. Later in the play, Carla references the fact that she has a modeling meeting with Ralph Lauren, reiterating the fact that she is physically beautiful. The second character, Bethany, is Carla’s friend, and obviously a good friend because she does not mind interrupting Carla on the phone regardless of how many times Carla asks her to be quiet.
Bethany has a demanding job as a public accountant, and decides to take a break to go to the beach. While there, she finds a lamp with a magic genie inside. The magic genie grants Bethany three wishes, three chances to have something she would not normally get in her life. Martin uses the genie to unmask Bethany’s hidden desires and discontent in her life. Her first wish for $25,000 was not only a test to see whether the genie was real or not, but also showed that Bethany is unhappy with her current situation and believes that money can help.
The latter however is less prominent than the former because if she were concerned about money, she would have asked for millions of dollars. Bethany’s second wish to cure her uncle was another test for the genie, and was a logical, selfless wish. When Bethany realizes she only has one wish left, she is forced to think of one thing that would make her happiest. She visits Carla, her best friend, and confesses her deepest, strongest desire; to be beautiful like Carla. Bethany tells of how jealous she is of Carla’s life and hates her own, while Carla feels the same way about her friend’s life.
Bethany implies that she is going to use her last wish on being beautiful like Carla, and Carla fervently attempts to dissuade her. Martin has the characters act in this way to demonstrate humanity’s discontent with their own lives and jealousy of others. Martin illustrates Bethany’s discontent by having her expound on how wonderful it must be to be beautiful. Bethany believes that her own charm is nothing compared to beauty, which fuels her unhappiness. “Pretty is what people discover about you after they know you,” she says (39). Beautiful is what knocks them out across the room. Pretty, you get called a couple of times a year, beautiful is 24 hours a day” (39). Carla sees how envious her friend is of her beauty, and in order to show how everyone has some type of discontent for their own lives, Martin has Carla confess her jealousy of Bethany’s life and informs her friend on the negatives of her beauty. “You’re the one with the $40,000 job straight out of school,” she responds to Bethany’s assumptions (39).
Carla explains that her beauty is not all it seems, stating that she’s “hanging on by her fingertips” by modeling, that “creeps” are always calling her, and that she had to get a nose job just to stay in the modeling business (39). Martin has Carla continue to speak about the negatives in her life to further illustrate her discontent. She explains that she cannot have a conversation with a man without him coming onto her, that she has no privacy, no female friends, and never had a real, long-term relationship (39).
Carla wishes she had Bethany’s intelligence; she would rather be in Bethany’s position with a personality rather than beauty, explaining that she leaves dinner parties because she’s out of conversation (40). Despite Carla’s warnings, Bethany continues to believe that it would make her happiest to be beautiful, basically asserting that the incessant male attention, kindness based solely on physical beauty, and being part of the beautiful “league” (40) are far more desirable than the ability to make conversation, or for that matter, anything she has in her current life.
When it comes time to make the final wish, Martin makes it clear that Bethany has her mind set on beauty. Unsuccessfully, Carla attempts one last time to dissuade her, then Bethany unleashes the genie. After an explosion, the two girls regain consciousness and realize they have switched bodies; Bethany’s wish for beauty has come true. Although Bethany did not mean to become Carla, she still ultimately got her wish. In the last few lines of the play, Bethany explains that the swap gave both girls the one thing that everybody wants; different problems. “It’s better than beauty for me; it’s better than brains for you” (41).
Martin adds these last few lines to add sort of a bigger meaning to the story. All along, the play was just an exchange between two friends who were unhappy with their current situations, but when Bethany makes her assertion, the meaning of the story is cast onto a wider audience. Jane Martin uses the interactions between Bethany and Carla demonstrate the way that human discontent can cause such unhappiness and lust for something different. “Beauty” clearly shows how, regardless of what one has going for them, one can be so willing to give it all up because of their jealousy.