Right versus Good in The Curse
The short story entitled “The Curse” by Andre Dubus is about a man who had witnessed a horrible crime against humanity being committed right in front of him but was not able to do something to prevent it. It explores the concept of conscience as experienced by humans in general but relates it particularly with regards to the events experienced by the main character in the story. Dubus imparts the difference between doing the right thing from doing the good thing from which he reveals, through the experiences of the main character, that doing the good thing always works better to one’s own conscience.
Mitchell Hayes is a bartender who have one night witnessed how five young males have raped a young lady as the bar is about to close. There were only few people in the bar that night and the boys took turns in keeping Hayes at bay while the others held down and another took his turn on the young lady. The boys were drugged and Hayes was afraid there was no way of telling what was on their minds. He had called 911 immediately right after the incident and the boys are already gone, but it was, of course, too late.
The young lady was immediately rushed to the hospital and the other responding officers were able to apprehend the culprits. Even so, Hayes still thinks he could have done something to prevent the crime from happening. He had in fact attempted to call the authorities but one of the boys had jumped up on him preventing him from doing so. Hayes is deeply disturbed by the incident and by what he could have done to prevent it. His family and friends consoled him, trying to convince him that it was the right thing to do. “No Mitch. Five guys that mean.
And coked up or whatever. No way. You wouldn’t be here this morning,” his teenage son told him (Dubus, 565). One of the police officers who responded to his call told Hayes that it was their job preventing crimes and hinted that he would have been in the hospital had he chosen to do what he was thinking at the time of the incident. His boss told him to forget his feeling of regret that he had not done something t stop the boys.
Even the regulars on the bar do not blame Hayes for not doing something that could have stopped the boys from committing the heinous crime. Many of them even appeared sympathetic,” as Dubus (566) relates. However, attempts to console him could not resolve Hayes’ feelings of guilt. His wife told him he did the right thing, but was also sure she would have stayed by his side had he chosen to fight the boys, which, it appears, he really wanted to but is being held back by something. His feeling of guilt is reinforced by the fact that he was not able, or worse, that he did not attempt to fight the boys. Hayes was so burdened with guilt that he felt fatigued “beyond relieving by rest, by sleep” (Dubus, 563).
Like with Hayes’ experience, people do not always have a clear choice of right and wrong, or good and bad. Sometimes, given specific circumstances, the good thing is not actually the right thing to do and most of the times the right thing is not actually the good thing to do. People are often confronted with choosing a lesser evil even in the course of everyday life. Decisions that offer the least risk are not always the easiest to live with. Hayes had to choose whether to help the young lady and risk himself being hurt, or possibly risk being killed, or to just stand back and seek to redress the crime in some other way.
Hayes had chosen the latter which, logic and reason dictates is the better thing to do, hence the right choice. He had shown compassion to the victim by tending to her after the incident and he culprits have already been arrested because of his immediate action. Whether justice would be served would be another topic. The point is that Hayes have done everything he could to redress his shortcomings. However, Hayes is distraught by the fact that he had not done anything to prevent the horrendous crime. What he did after the incident was not enough to make up for neglecting to do the good thing.
Making a stand on preventing the crime is definitely the good thing to do. But Hayes had also had to think about his family. Had Hayes chosen to fight, he would have gotten hurt, or worse, he could have gotten killed. Hayes had to choose to stand down in order to make sure nothing bad happens to him for his family, which is the right thing to do. But for that, he bears a heavy burden on his conscience. Throughout the course of the story, Hayes does not stop to think that he could have chosen to do the good thing, not the right thing.
Dubus relates to the readers that this burden on Hayes’ conscience is the curse being referred in the story. So heavy was this burden that Dubus, at the end of the story, relates about Hayes: “From the floor behind him, far across the room, he felt her terror and pain and grief, then her curse upon him. The curse moved into his back and spread down and up his spine, into his stomach and legs and shoulders until he quivered with it. He wished he were alone so he could kneel to receive it” (566).