A Project Submitted to Liberty University, Spring 2014


The pursuits of humanity can leave man either captured or captivated. Whether it is an idea, a prized treasure, or some distant shore on the horizon, man’s many pursuits hold him shackled, the only release realized when the elusive quarry is finally gathered, or death forces closed the eyes of the hunter. These pursuits have been a critical characteristic of man’s experience from the beginning of time. From creation, man has chased things and ideas that have left him with a longing, triggering primal drives. This perpetual pursuit has brought triumph and tragedy. The times may change, but these basic drives have existed from ancient times into modernity. Man has gone to extreme lengths in his efforts to fill these internal voids that leave him hungering and thirsting for more, causing contentment to become a stealthy prey, rarely realized.

There are certain themes that appear in literature which provide an allusion to these primal drives and desires.  Recurring themes that involve man’s pursuit of passion and pleasure, power and position, purpose, and eventually paradise appear in ancient texts and contemporary writing.  This project will research some of the literary references to these characteristics of humanity and show how they are described and either met or unmet in the narratives and poetry of the world. This will not be an exhaustive paper; with the ever-changing landscape of humanity, such an endeavor would be impossible. Rather, this work will offer an introduction and discussion on some of the driving forces of the human experience that have been chronicled in literature and backed up human experience.

The Pursuit of Passion and Pleasure

Man’s pursuit of pleasure often slips into hedonism, but it begins with a longing for companionship and intimacy birthed long before in the Garden of Eden. God purposely designed man for relationship, and for intimacy. This intimacy is not limited to merely the physical and sexual, but emotional and spiritual as well. As man has experienced the longing for close connections (Swindoll, 2000), it has led to the often misguided hunt of the hedonist.

Consider that, as revealed in the book of Genesis, God initially created man without a suitable companion. All the other creatures had mates, but for man no mate was found.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. And the man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place. And the LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man   (Gen 2:18-22 New American Standard Bible).

The creator recognized that man needed companionship, and then He set about helping man come to the same realization by giving man the task of giving names to the rest of creation. Through this process, man would notice that he was the only living creature without a compatible mate. Fostering this desire in man was God’s intent. Then, when man’s complement was fashioned, he utters what must have been the first love song, whose lyrics were born in the human heart:

And the man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.” For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Genesis 2.23-25).

According to the record of the book of Genesis, sometime after this grand finale of the creation, humanity fell in sin. It has been impossible for man to recover the purity of love’s passion first experienced in the garden. Evil marred sexual expression, causing it to slip into the tawdry and hedonistic headlines of an overly sexualized culture’s news coverage.

In spite of the shame that sin introduced into the realm of human sexuality, intimacy, and passion, humanity continues to hunger for love and sexual fulfillment in physical intimacy and connection. The ancient texts of love poems relate that longing in even the earliest of manuscripts. The pursuit of passion and pleasure grace each pen-stroke. In “Last night, as I, the Queen, was Shining Bright” these steamy words comprise three lines:

“While we by the moonlight indulge our passion,

I will prepare for you a bed pure, sweet, and noble,

Will while away the sweet time with you in joyful fulfillment” (Damrosch & Pike, 2009, p. 42).

This oldest of ancient texts reveals a depth of passion that breaks through the expectation of a utilitarian love and romance that offer a glimpse into the often erotic passion that hungers to recapture the purity of those garden days.

Shamhat unclutched her bosom, exposed her sex, and he took in her voluptuousness.
She was not restrained, but took his energy.
She spread out her robe and he lay upon her,
she performed for the primitive the task of womankind.
His lust groaned over her;
for six days and seven nights Enkidu stayed aroused,
and had intercourse with the harlot
until he was sated with her charms (The Epic of Gilgamesh).

There is much affection and commitment demonstrated in some of the ancient texts. Consider this line from “The Voice of the Turtledove Speaks Out,” as the lovers offer this intimate and romantic sentiment. “We said: I shall never be far away from you while my hand is in your hand, and I shall stroll with you in every favorite place” (Damrosch & Pike, 2009, p. 44).

Evidence of humanity’s drive for passion and pleasure, while often graphically recorded in literature, is also found in relational science and personal experience. Thought some may deny the validity of this claim, man longs for more than just the sexual pleasure that physical love provides. There is a drive for intimacy and connectedness that is occasionally disguised, or overshadowed, by the seedier pursuit of lust. Man, as well as woman, wants to be loved. As one author related, the way that God designed and created the first couple illustrates this idea (Bonheim, 2014). The writer commented that Eve was not created in the same way God created Adam, perhaps as evidence of God’s intent to reveal in their marriage union His intentional design of love itself. Fashioning Eve from components taken from Adam illustrates the physical and emotional elements of romantic and committed love between man and woman. Regarding the unique design of the romantic and sexual union of man and woman Bonheim writes,

“that love is created of two beings, connected from the start. Just as man was created in

the likeness of God, Eve was created from the body of Adam, holding within her flesh

the divine love that had been issued to humankind by the Creator” (Retrieved 3/20/14).

Humanity continues to strive for social connection, relationship, and love precisely because we have been designed and created to love and be loved. Man may find himself captured or captivated by this lifelong pursuit.

The Pursuit of Power and Position

In addition to man’s drive for physical pleasure and intimacy, there is also captivity found in the climb up the various ladders of human experience in the pursuit of power and position. This is not always a bad thing, as most understand that it is honorable and acceptable to seek promotion in a place of employment and to want to better oneself in their position in life.

However, there are some considerations, especially along the way, as people seek position and power in less than honorable means. One such example from literature comes in The Odyssey, as Telemachus voices his disgust with regard to the suitors who sought his mother’s hand, and his father’s throne.

“Look at them over there. Not a care in the world

Just lyres and tunes! It’s easy for them, alight,

They feed on another’s goods and go scot-free—(Odyssey 1:185-187).

Each of these suitors sought what they had not earned, and were unworthy of by their own lack of merit. Day after day, they invaded the home left unguarded by Odysseus, who was himself captive on a distant island. They devoured Odysseus’ goods while they occupied his house, and sought to occupy both his bed and his throne. These men were driven by a desire for position, but were seeking the easy means of achieving power. Like vultures picking at the remains of carrion left wasted on the side of a highway, these interlopers were scavenging whatever scraps they could from Odysseus’ stores. Unwilling to hunt for themselves, they chose instead to steal.

Indeed, in the experience of humanity there have been myriad men and women who have earned power and position through diligence and hard work. Whether in the realm of business or politics, these people demonstrated their worth and justly earned their advancement. Frequently, these leaders sought office not merely to impress people or find ease in life, but to make life better and to set an example.

In The Analects Confucius alludes to the difference between people who aspire to position and power for honor and those who do so for recognition. “In old days men studied for the sake of self-improvement; nowadays men study in order to impress other people (Analects 14:25).” The irony of Confucius writing “in the old days” makes this record almost comical, since it was written two millennia ago. What he says, in essence, is that people who studied for honorable reasons did so to bring wisdom and knowledge to their positions of leadership. Unfortunately, as “The Teacher” laments, more people were seeking wisdom and understanding for profit than for provision.

Peace Versus Power, A Counter Balance

Literature, particularly that of The Medieval Orient, counters the primary premise put forth here of humanity’s drive for position and power by alluding to people who sought to escape the responsibility and prestige that positions of power might offer rather than aspire to it. This shift in man’s priorities was due, in part, to the increasing realization that the morality of society was decaying and becoming increasingly corrupt, and this was evident especially in the leadership and nobility. When faced with this decaying morality in society and corruption among its leaders, coupled with the reality of increased conflict and disunity among people, the people sought refuge by retreating from positions of prestige and power, in favor of a simpler and more ordinary life (Damrosch & Pike, 2009). Rather than power, they pursued peace.

“Don’t take the big carriage:

You’ll just get dusty.

Don’t ponder a hundred worries:

You’ll just become ill.” (Damrosch & Pike, 2009, p. 12).

The above poem echoes the sentiments of the Biblical passage:

O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
From this time forth and forever (Psalms 131: 1-3).

Positions of power and prestige may indeed bring fame and fortune, but they also bring significant responsibility. These writers determined that the best course for them was to deny the drive in favor of serenity. However, as Kamo no Chomei’s notes in his essay, “An Account of a Ten-Foot-Square Hut” (Damrosch & Pike, 2009), the shift in pursuit from power and position to peace is not without its difficulties and challenges. His essay describes how one man, disenfranchised with life because of natural disasters, famine, and man’s inhumanity toward man, retreated to a simple 10×10 foot hut and awaited the promised rebirth into the Buddhist heaven that awaited those who had released all attachments in the world and were experiencing that powerful peace and contentment. However, as Kamo no Chomei relates, the release of the attachments of one world, that of the capital, was simply replaced by the attachment and pursuit of the tranquility and pleasure of his tiny retreat. He discovered that the drives and pursuits of humanity still exist, even though they may be slightly shifted.

The Pursuit of Purpose

Why are we here? From the beginning of humanity, man has sought to understand his purpose and the reason that things happen as they do (Warren, 2002). The religious declare that man is here for God. The humanists counter that man exists for man. The fatalist laments that there is no purpose or reason, rather man lives and dies, the end—although this lack of purpose actually becomes a purpose.

Literature has also offered an answer to man’s historic pursuit of purpose. As with the various philosophies and theologies of the world, Literature’s response has varied in relation to era and age, as well as the variety of writers who have given their answer to the quest.

In The Odyssey, it appears that man’s purpose is to serve as fodder for the entertainment of the gods. Humanity blames the gods for their ills, even when the actions of men are truly at fault. As the following passage illustrates, however, man may blame the gods, but is often their own carelessness that leads to their torment.

From us alone, the say, come all their miseries, yes,

But they themselves, with their own reckless ways,

Compound their pains beyond their proper share (Odyssey 1:38-40).

The example given relates to the actions of the sailors traveling with Odysseus who had killed and devoured the prized cattle of the Sun.

“the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,

The blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun

And the sungod wiped from sight the day of their return (Odyssey 1:8-10).

The poets and wisdom writers of The Medieval Orient would report that man’s purpose is the pursuit of wisdom and peace. Confucius’ opening statement in Analects record the following from the Chinese Master: “To learn, and at due times to practice what one has learned, is that not also a pleasure (Analects 1:1). Confucius would also write, regarding the pursuit of man’s purpose, “Learn as if you were following someone whom you could not catch up, as though it were someone you were frightened of losing (Analects 3:17).”

The pursuit of wisdom as an understanding of man’s purpose, according to Confucius, would result in strong moral and ethical conduct (Kyung, 2004). Many texts contained lessons for developing moral values and conduct. The Bible, the Koran, and myriad other religious writings offer teachings in upright living according to their standards. The Fables of Aesop and children’s fairy tales provide morals and instruction for living.

Confucius’ teachings provided lessons that not only imparted instruction, but offered models and advice. In the Analects he said, “When one comes to knowledge but does not sustain it through ren (this is love or the ideal conduct), he is sure to lose it. (Analects 5:33).” Gaining knowledge and understanding alone, therefore, was not sufficient. Rather, he would state that a person achieves his or her ideal state by putting into practice the knowledge acquired by living in accordance with it (Kyung, 2004). In modern phrasing, man’s pursuit of purpose would ultimately reveal that he must “Use it or lose it.”

A person’s pursuit of purpose can be summarized in the simplest, yet most difficult question to ever parted ones lips. “Why?” From the repetitive chattering of a toddler tugging at pant legs it may be little more than a nuisance. However, from the mouth of one suffering in grief it asks a question that often remains unanswered.

In the poetic record of an experience, which sounds very much like that of Job in the Bible, Anne Bradstreet pens her emotions and anguish at the loss of their home in the poem “Upon the Burning of Our House, July 10, 1666.” Though she does not write the question directly, a reader can readily recognize that the query is, nonetheless, present, ready on the threshold of her lips, as “to my God my heart did cry to strengthen me in my distress.” So much like Job, she too notes that she

“blest his Name that gave and took,

that lay’d my goods now in the dust:

Yea so it was, and so ‘twas just.

It was His own: it was not mine;

Far be it that I should repine.”

Far more often, in times of sorrow and grief, man begins to search for purpose and reason as he seeks an answer to why things have happened in this way or that. In recent experience, one can look to the events of September 11, 2001 to find a nation of shocked citizens all pondering the same thing, “What was the purpose of this? Why did God allow this to happen? Why?”

Man pursues purpose, and often that pursuit only reveals more questions. Solomon, the world’s wisest king, considered life and called it “vanity, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1.14). It can be assumed that he had faced the “Why?” question in his life. He concludes his journal of his own pursuit of purpose with these words:

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

Finding Purpose in Pain

It is often the most difficult and trying experiences of life that reveal man’s purpose. For example, the heroes that humanity heralds are often only heroes based on their self-sacrifice. They gave for the sake of others. In The Epic of Gilgamesh it is learned that the purpose of Enkidu, the man once wild and dwelling in the forest with the animals, would be to protect Gilgamesh.

“The one who goes on ahead saves the comrade,

The one who knows the route protects his friend,

Let Enkidu go ahead of you;

He knows the road to the Cedar Forest,

He has seen fighting, has experienced battle.

Enkidu will protect the friend, he will keep the comrade safe (Gilgamesh, 3:4-9).

Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, Holman Christian Standard Bible). Enkidu demonstrated this sort of love for his comrade, Gilgamesh. Ultimately, regardless of personal strength an heroism, the former man-beast would die as a result of his exploits with Gilgamesh. Perhaps, as this text illustrates, the answer for man’s pursuit is love for others. After all, the Bible states that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10.27, NASB).

If loving God and loving your neighbors is the ultimate purpose in life, then one of the world’s contemporary heroes, Todd Beamer, captured that life purpose, albeit through his own sacrifice and death.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Todd Beamer boarded a plane bound for San Francisco. Beamer had no idea that he would soon face a terrible challenge and have to make a critical decision that would result in a high cost, but an even greater value in terms of innocent lives spared.

Shortly after takeoff, hijackers took that flight and three others. The hijackers flew two of those planes into the Twin Towers in New York City. A third crashed into the side of The Pentagon in Washington, DC. It became clear that Beamer’s flight would be used as a weapon against people somewhere on the ground. Determined “not be pawns in the hijackers’ suicidal plot” (McKinnon, 2001) Beamer, along with the other passengers on the flight rose up and fought the hijackers. All that we know about what happened inside the plane is that the aircraft, most likely aimed at a target in Washington, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, killing everyone aboard. Beamer’s last recorded words on a call from the plane, “Let’s Roll!” captured the nature of a hero’s heart, overflowing with love for unknown neighbors on the ground below, and gained the attention, and affection, of the world.

The pursuit of purpose is a life-long occupation, and there are many facets, differing based on each individual. The journey to discovery provides clues along the way, for the one who will seek with open eyes and open mind.

Pursuit of Paradise

Another pursuit that both captures and captivates humanity is the pursuit of paradise. Religions, cultures, and generations may use different terminology, but the pursuit is the same. Each seeks what some refer to as heaven, or eternal life, some ethereal place that is beyond the temporal earthly realm. In his pursuit, man longs for the answer to the question recorded in the Gospel of Luke: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10.25, HCSB).

As with the previously referenced pursuits, this hunt for heaven and immortality will be different for each person based on theology, philosophy, and experience. As such, one finds the content of literature divided based on the context of the author and the place and period of the writing.

Before considering the pursuit of paradise and immortality, one must first recognize that man is mortal and come to grips with that mortality. T. S. Elliot reflected on his mortality by referring to the brevity and fragility of life in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” He writes, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” (v. 51). This is a clear reference to the shortness of life. He chooses one of the smallest of utensils as a metaphor for life’s brevity. He also writes, with regard to the vanity of man’s attempts to prolong life:

“But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed

Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in on a platter,

I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter:

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold m y coat and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid” (vv. 81-86)

Indeed, death is the constant companion of the mortal. Because of that awareness, man seeks the assurance that there is something beyond this life. The pursuit of paradise is, in some way, man’s final attempt at prolonging life, but in a perfect and eternal way.

If they do nothing else, religious texts certainly have the mandate of providing instruction related to how a person can achieve eternal life, heaven, Nirvana, or whatever other terminology is used. However, they do not have the mandate to be similar to other religious writings, and so there are wide ranging descriptions of the eternal dwelling places and the requirements for reaching them. For monotheists, such as Muslims, Jews, and Christians, heaven is the dwelling of God, and the ultimate goal of the followers of the teachings in their hallowed writings. Though their image of heaven may be common, the path to paradise is not. Even among their adherents, there are differences of doctrine related to how one may gain immortality.

Heaven is not a subject limited to just sacred texts. In ancient stories, writers and their readers viewed heaven as the dwelling of the immortals. Based on the imagery of The Odyssey and Aenid, narratives written to an audience of polytheists, one might consider the mysterious kingdom as some sort of hall where the gods sit around devising schemes to torment or benefit humanity. In the end, death would lead to a decision on a person’s eternity made by the gods based on the conduct and heroism exhibited during their life.

For writers in the Oriental tradition, paradise might be found at the end of a mysterious path nestled in the peach blossoms as it was for the fisherman in “Peach Blossom Spring” by Qian. Although he had discovered a hidden path to paradise, he left and returned to his life. When he attempted to revisit the hidden valley, he discovered he was unable to locate the path and could not return.

For some, as Li Bo shares, paradise is found in the beauty and majestic serenity of the mountains:

“They ask me why I live in the green mountains.

I smile and don’t reply; my heart’s at ease.

Peach blossoms flow downstream, leaving no trace—

And there are other earths and skies than these” (Damrosch & Pike, 2009, p. 93).

If it is true that troubles in life can occasionally cloud ones view of their eternal goal, this may explain the struggles of faith that beset Anne Bradstreet as she penned the letter “To My Dear Children.” In the letter, she chronicles some of her struggles with faith in light of the conditions and experiences she has had in the world. However, she closes with words indicating that, though her faith may at times waiver, her eternal home is still secure.

“Return, O my Soul, to thy rest, upon this rock Christ Jesus will I build my faith, and if I perish, I perish; but I know all the Powers of Hell shall never prevail against it. I know whom I have trusted, and whom I have believed, and that He is able to keep that I have committed to His charge.”

Man’s pursuit of paradise, in whatever form that may take, has the potential to consume him. The danger could be that people are so focused on the pursuit that they forget to live while they are alive, and may miss the target for which they aim. Perhaps it was the brevity of life and the vanity of being too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good that Tao Qian was thinking of as he wrote in “The Return”:

It is all over—

So little time are we granted human for in the world!

Let us then follow the inclinations of the heart:

Where would we go that we are so agitated?

I have no desire for riches

And no expectation of Heaven.

Rather on some fine morning to walk alone

No planting my staff to take up a hoe

Or climbing the east hill and whistling long

Or composing verses beside the clear stream:

So I manage to accept my lot until the ultimate homecoming.

Rejoicing in Heaven’s command, what is there to doubt?

The Pursuit Proceeds

Throughout life, man pursues pleasure, position, purpose, and paradise. These pursuits have the potential of holding man captive or leaving him captivated. While this is not an exhaustive work on the subject, it provides information on these pursuits as revealed in literature and experience and provides some definition and application to the knowledge of the pursuit.

Not everyone will find what he is searching for in life. For example, those fortunate enough to find love, passion, the pleasure of physical intimacy with a beloved spouse, the pursuit may be captivated, and fulfilled. Others, however, may search for these things their whole life, but never find what they long for most. Often their hunt for love is fruitless because they fail to comprehend what real love is.

This theory is true of all man’s pursuits. It is difficult to discover passion and love is one does not know the definition of real passion and true love. The same may be said of position and power, especially if the seekers motivation is selfish and self-serving. One who is pursuing purpose may never find it if they fail to notice the indicators along the path of their life that would help them in defining their own purpose. The pilgrim in search of paradise might miss the pathway if they do not take the time to be cognizant of what is happening in life, and follow the current, often in an opposing direction, of the flow toward eternity.


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Damrosch, D. & Pike D. L. (2009). The Longman Anthology: World Literature. (Vols. A-F,

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McKinnon, J. (2001) The phone line from Flight 93 was still open when a GTE operator heard Todd Beamer say: ‘Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.’ Printed in the Post-Gazette. September 16, 2001. Retrieved from:

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Warren, R. (2002) The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth am I here for? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


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