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I was reading the last chapter of The Penultimate Peril, by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), and when I reached the end of that chapter, I couldn't understand what was the question which the Baudelaire orphans were asking themselves?

Richard Wright, an American novelist of the realist school, asks a famous unfathomable question in his best-known novel, Native Son. “Who knows when some slight shock,” he asks, “disturbing the delicate balance between social order and thirsty aspiration, shall send the skyscrapers in our cities toppling?” It is a difficult question to read, almost as if it is in some sort of code, but after much research I have been able to make some sense of its mysterious words. “Social order,” for instance, is a phrase which may refer to the systems people use to organize their lives, such as the Dewey Decimal System, or the blindfolded procedures of the High Court. And “thirsty aspiration” is a phrase which may refer to things people want, such as the Baudelaire fortune, or the sugar bowl, or a safe place that lonely and exhausted orphans can call home. So when Mr. Wright asks his question, he might be wondering if a small event, such as a stone dropping into a pond, can cause ripples in the systems of the world, and tremble the things that people want, until all this rippling and trembling brings down something enormous, such as a building. The Baudelaires, of course, did not have a copy of Native Son on the wooden boat that served as their new home, but as they gazed across the water at the Hotel Denouement, they were asking themselves a question not unlike Mr. Wright’s. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny wondered about all the things, large and small, that they had done. They wondered about their observations as flaneurs, which left so many mysteries unsolved. They wondered about all their errands as concierges, which brought about so much trouble. And they wondered if they were still the noble volunteers they wanted to be, or if, as the fire made its wicked way through the hotel, and the building threatened to topple, it was their destiny to become something else. The Baudelaire orphans stood in the same boat as Count Olaf, the notorious villain, and looked out at the sea, where they hoped they could find their noble friends, and wondered what else they could do, and who they might become.

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They are asking themselves if pursuing their desires ("such as the Baudelaire fortune, or the sugar bowl, or a safe place that lonely and exhausted orphans can call home") was turning them or had turned them into villains like Olaf, or something closer to it ("if they were still the noble volunteers they wanted to be or...it was their destiny to become something else"). At the end, having set fire to the hotel and fled from justice (and Justice (Strauss)), a form of "social order", they are figuratively and literally "in the same boat as Count Olaf, the notorious villain".

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