There Will Be Blood

June 2, 2008
By
The dogged pursuit of the American Dream is destructive through any path; whether the pursuer fails or succeeds, the lifelong attempt strips an individual of his or her identity, uproots his or her integral beliefs, and ultimately alienates or destroys those in the way of the dreamer. There Will Be Blood shows the damage the Dream inflicts through its main character, Daniel Plainview, and his foils Henry Plainview and Eli Sunday.

Henry lacks the ruthless ambition that makes Daniel successful and has been reduced to “just trying to survive” after failing at his attempt at the Dream. He says, “Working and not succeeding- all my failures has left me…I just don’t…care.” Henry is likeable- he’s hardworking, kind, and cares about Daniel- but he has no clear personality like Daniel or Eli do. He rarely speaks, except to answer Daniel, and when he does, his voice is a monotone. He has failed at the traditional Dream, and the hardships brought on by his failures have left him hollow. Henry no longer has the capacity to adjust the Dream to fits his own life, so he latches on to the dream of a dead man- Daniel’s real brother. By assuming the brother’s identity, Henry completes the process of losing his own. Henry is farther along the American Dream path than Daniel; he is glimpse of what could happen if Daniel were to fail.

Eli is a different type of foil than Henry; he is just as manipulative, violent, and ambitious as Daniel, and their only significant difference provides a more thorough view of Daniel, setting the scene for his fall. I thought that Eli might descend into a caricature of a charismatic, fraudulent preacher, but he’s a fully developed character whose ongoing rivalry with Daniel form the backbone of their story. From their first meeting at the Sunday Ranch, they try to outmaneuver each other to get the best deal for the land, and their conflict escalates from there. Daniel’s baptism exemplifies no on ly Eli’s vengeful nature, but the ability of this foil to bring Daniel’s guilt to the surface. Eli says, “I have abandoned my child! Say it…say it!” and forces Daniel to reply, “I’ve abandoned my child! I’ve abandoned my child! I’ve abandoned my boy!” Daniel had never shown any guilt about sending HW away after he became deaf until Eli wrenched it out of him at the baptism. The scene showed Daniel’s strong remorse and guilt at what he had one and without it, an important aspect of his character would be lost. He also furthers the development of Daniel’s antipathy towards other people that Henry began: Daniel kills both men who claim him as a brother.

Eli’s other role is to be a foil to his brother Paul, who went to Daniel in secret to tell him of the oil in their town. Because he sold out his family and community, Paul gained then thousand dollars and started his own oil company, while Eli tried to make it on his own and fell into debt so severe he had to ask his rival for help. He through that because of his cunning and intelligence, God would guarantee his success a, and he had me convinced of his inevitable success as well. However, none of his predictions come to fruition; he suffers just as much as those whom he feels aren’t worthy of God’s help. He loses money and loses faith, so he confesses his need to Daniel in a scene that mirrors the baptism. In this “baptism,” the church is bowling alley, Daniel is the preacher, and blood that soaks the confessor at its close is literal. During the bowling alley baptism, Eli says, “I’ve let the Devil grab hold of me in ways I never imagine! I’m so full of sin,” to which Daniel replies, “The Lord sometimes challenges us doesn’t he?” Daniel is clearly in charge and is taking his vengeance of the man who humiliated him. Eli has lost his zealous faith, which was his path to the American Dream. Without his stronghold, he is laid bare before Daniel, who can finally triumph over him by destroying his status as a prophet. First, he continues his mimicry of the baptism by eliciting a confession from Eli. He forces Eli to say, “I am a false prophet. God is a superstition,” in the same theatrical way he was forced to confess to abandoning HW.

Daniel’s most important relationship is not with his foils, but with his son HW because despite the tangible success that Daniel has achieved, his alienation from HW renders his capture of the Dream useless. The moment HW becomes deaf, Daniel’s dream begins to fall apart. Daniel never bothers to learn sign language because it would force him concede to the reality that the dream he had could never be achieved. Instead, he sends HW away because a sick child wouldn’t inspire the same trust in him from landowners as HW had before. When HW comes to talk to him as an adult, he tries to crush him by siphoning his guild and disillusionment in a barrage of insults. The end of their close relationship signals the death of the American Dream for Daniel. He is rich, he controls all the surrounding oil fields, and hi will defeat his last obstacle and rival; he didn’t realize until too late that his relationship with his son was the foundation of his dream and when that fell apart, it all would. His lifelong chase after American Dream ended in wealth, but caused him to destroy the relationship that was his foundation, and the Dream destroyed him.





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AlaskaFrost This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 26, 2012 at 11:24 am
Wow this is interesting! I never thought about this!
 
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