One’s future is not determined by chance or fate, but ultimately by the choices one makes. If a high school drop-out chooses to go back to school and earns a diploma, academic and employment opportunities arise as a result. That is a positive choice that has affected the future and direction of that person. If one decides to commit a crime the most likely consequence is prison and separation from society and family. That choice has a negative consequence that affected the person, victim, society, and his or her family. In American History X, Derek’s choices have directly impacted the way he sees the world, his attitude, and his family. In Panos Ioannides’ “Gregory,” the choice the narrator makes not only alters the course of his life but the other soldier’s lives as well. It is important that one considers the outcome of each decision carefully because the choices one makes in life have either a positive or negative consequence that not only affects their attitude and their paradigm, but other people as well.
The narrator in “Gregory” reveals the effect that his prior decisions, the execution of prisoners, had on him. “The first time, I remembered I vomited, the second time I got sick and had a headache for days. The third time I drank a bottle of rum. The fourth, just two glasses of beer. The fifth time I joked about it” (Ioannides 422). The narrator is saying that at first, this was a hard thing for him to do, but after making the decision to follow through with the murders, it became a normal process. Even though the soldier was given the order to execute the prisoners, it was his choice to act them out. The result of his actions affected him physically and mentally. The negative effect of the decision changed his attitude and the way he viewed the world around him forever. It affected the other soldiers because he was the one chosen to do the job. Therefore, they did not have the same feeling of guilt as he did.
In American History X, Derek blames his father’s death on the blacks in the neighborhood where his father was shot fighting a fire. The choices Derek makes after his father’s murder greatly affect his paradigm and attitude toward minorities. This profoundly affects Danny and seals his fate. After his father’s death, Derek takes over as the man of the house, and Danny seeking direction and guidance, follows Derek blindly. The effects of Derek’s choices manipulate Danny to choose a negative attitude toward non-whites. Derek blinded by anger and hatred over his father’s death, develops a negative attitude that influences the choices he makes, and ultimately affects his brother’s destiny.
Gregory, The hostage in Ioannides’ essay, becomes comfortable and believes that his new friend, the storyteller and his executioner, will not cause him any harm. Gregory decides not to escape when the opportunities are presented. Gregory’s murderer, the narrator in his mind, belittles Gregory for his inaction, “… you are going to pay for your stupidities wholesale. Because you didn’t escape the day the sentry fell asleep, because you didn’t escape yesterday when we sent you alone to the laundry—we did it on purpose, you idiot! Why didn’t you let me die from the sting of the scorpion?…it’s all your fault, nitwit” (Ioannides 424). The narrator and the other soldiers befriend Gregory and gave him several opportunities to escape, but Gregory decided not to run away. The narrator feelings are revealed when he questions why Gregory saved his life. It is ironic that Gregory’s life is ended by the man whose life he saved. The decisions Gregory made affected the soldiers that he befriended and had a negative and final impact on his life.
Danny’s father in American History X made decisions that affected others around him. Danny looked back into time to reflect “why it went they way it did, and why it all started” (American History X 1998), meaning when hate started to take over his family. Their father’s decision to convey his racist beliefs to them, planted the seeds to his family’s demise. At family dinners the father expressed his biased views on Affirmative Action. Danny exposed the truth, despite what his brother thought, that the detriment of his family began long before their father died. The result had a damaging influence on the attitudes and choices of himself and Derek. The death of their father was the catalyst for the beliefs they held toward minorities and the evolution of their blinding anger. As a result of Danny’s father’s choices, the mixture of hate and anger had a fatal impact on him and his family negative consequence on which ultimately led to his brother’s incarceration.
While in prison Derek starts to understand how his mistaken beliefs have misled him and destroyed his family. Derek learns some hard truths about life from a black inmate, Lamont, and from Dr. Sweeny, the principal of his old high school, who takes a special interest in him. He realizes that the choices he made: to hate, to kill, and to “be pissed off”, have affected his attitude and the way he viewed the world. After three years in prison, Derek emerges with a desire to change attitudes; he tries to prevent his younger brother from going down the same wrong path and finds his words are not enough.
Derek’s new point of view is revealed when he speaks to his brother, “Danny. It’s wrong and it was eating me up, it was going to kill me. And I kept asking myself all the time, how did I buy into this shit? It was because I was pissed off, and nothing I ever did ever took that feeling away. I killed two guys, Danny, I killed them. And it didn’t make me feel any different. It just got me more lost and I’m tired of being pissed off, Danny. I’m just tired of it” (American History X 1998). Derek is saying life is too short to be “pissed off,” and nothing he did relieved the pain he held about his father’s murder. Derek decides to save his brother from making the same mistakes that he did.
In “Gregory” and American History X, death was the result of the choices the narrator and Derek made. Not only did their choices have an impact on other people, it affected them personally. The death of Gregory filled the narrator with guilt. The same can be said for Derek after the death of his brother. These feelings change the characters’ attitude toward the choices they make and prove it is important that one wisely consider the end result of the choices they make.