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The Fig Tree Dichotomy: Pursuing Passion or Pragmatism

By Victoria Ormiston

Contributor


Recently, I came across a trend on TikTok. No, it wasn’t anything self-deprecating or cringy. It was an actual trend that made me think. To give you some context, around 56,000 people have posted videos to the sound of a woman narrating an analogy about a fig tree, from Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” (1963). Each video starts the same. The first slide is usually a picture of the person who posted the video, and the second slide is a generic picture of a fig tree. However, each fig in the picture is embellished with text that represents a different career aspiration or life goal the individual has. 


Furthermore, the interconnection between fig trees and career aspirations may seem out of the ordinary for those who are not familiar with the analogy being referred to. So, to explain it briefly, in Sylvia Plath’s novel, the main character, Esther, expresses her vision of a metaphorical fig tree that represents her life and the different aspirations she has. In essence, this analogy refers to the dichotomy of having to pick between what you love and what is realistic. It animates the feeling of longing for things that are simply unattainable and unsustainable. That being said, the online TikTok trend rips this analogy out of the book and transcends the barriers of literature by using it to reflect on our possible paths.


While I enjoyed going through the rabbit hole of posts and watching each individual discuss their aspirations for the future, I started to notice something. Each fig tree was decorated with goals of becoming artistic directors, models, poets, authors, writers, musicians, and dancers, whilst also having more conventional careers like lawyers, teachers, scientists, paediatricians, and psychologists. Each caption was fabricated with the similar sentiment of really wanting to pursue one career, while simultaneously fearing the financial consequences of those actions - wishing that we could have many lifetimes to pursue and achieve as many things as possible.


Via TikTok


That being said, this trend also reveals the desires of the human species. It exemplifies our willingness to pursue dynamic careers that entertain our curiosity and push us to be creative, instead of having to work nine to five jobs, seven days a week, in plain grey office buildings. As a species, we yearn to have our minds fed and freed from the shackles of capitalism and the corporate economy. Yet, our institutions make it increasingly difficult to save ourselves from capitalism by divesting from the art programs and career sectors. In turn, this discourages children, students, and even adults, from following their desires because they are repeatedly shunned from ever thinking about it, being told it would ruin their life. So, instead, we put up constraints and pick careers that we think will make us happy, while also making us money. But don’t be fooled; the path to making these rational, yet heartbreaking decisions is monumentous. 


Though those decisions are infuriatingly difficult, they are also necessary. As described by Esther in the last lines of the analogy, “She saw herself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because she couldn't make up her mind which of the figs she would choose. She wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as she sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at her feet” (Plath 73). The closing remarks of this analogy marks an important realisation: that, yes, this decision is hard, but it must be done. It is not just something we can hit the snooze button on or pretend to forget about. Life does not wait for us.


My interest for this topic sparked while I was reflecting on my own fig tree. Moreover, as I carefully picked what each fig would represent, I found myself re-discovering career options I had once suppressed. One could say my fig tree is a copy-pasted version of the other fig trees growing in TikTok’s forest. Though, I would say it is quite complicated. One branch leads to a life on the stage, choreographing different numbers relating to social justice movements. Another one leads me to constantly travelling and speaking on different human rights issues. The other gives me the chance to fight for immigrant rights. Another branch gives me the opportunity to change the system on a federal level. So many beautifully unique branches that lead equally lead to fruitful figs. Yet, I cannot bring myself to pick one.


Though I am in my second semester at Dawson, this is something I dedicate a lot of brain space to, often barging into my teachers’ offices seeking a spark of inspiration. Yet, everytime I talk to them or to university students, my fig tree only seems to blossom. Although I have yet to choose my fig, many graduating from dawson this semester will soon have to. So, my best advice is to follow your intuition and choose a fig that makes you feel like life is worth living. 

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han gu
han gu
Jun 25

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