Goneril and Regan may have daddy issues, but they make some good points

King Lear begins with Lear offering to divide his kingdom between his three daughters. This situation positions Lear as a benevolent character, a caring father offering to pass his rule along to his daughters. However, before granting his daughters his kingdom, Lear proclaims, “Interest of territory, cares of state–/ Which of you shall we say doth love us most,/That we our largest bounty may extend” (I. i. 55-57). Thus, the story begins with Lear pitting his daughters against each other, as they compete to proclaim their love for him. It can also be inferred that this is not the first time in Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia’s lifetimes that he has forced competition between them. Goneril and Regan proclaim their love dutifully; however, it is revealed that even though they succeed when Cordelia refuses to compete at all, they were never meant to. Both profess their love for Lear, claiming that they love him more than their husbands, themselves, and everything else in the world. Yet, even before hearing Cordelia speak, Lear states “our joy [referring to Cordelia]…what can you say to draw/A third more opulent than your sisters?” (I. i. 91, 94-95). Then, Lear later tells Kent, “I loved her [Cordelia] most and thought to set my rest/On her kind nursery” (I. i. 137-138). It is clear that Lear never intended for Goneril and Regan to succeed, content with the idea of giving a greater portion of his kingdom to Cordelia. When Cordelia fails (twice, as Lear even gives her a second chance) and Lear’s narcissism forces him to exile her, Lear is left with Goneril and Regan as a second choice.

Now, we don’t know what Lear’s past with Goneril and Regan may be, but based on Lear’s actions in the first scene, it is likely the two grew up second best, neglected by Lear. Is it truly that surprising that two people who grew up in a household where they likely held little to no power immediately become power hungry when given the chance?

As the story continues, Goneril and Regan finally assume their long awaited positions of power. However, quickly into their reign, Lear makes clear that, though he has given them his kingdom, he will continue to rule over them as king and retain his power. This is not the deal Goneril and Regan were promised. Goneril asks the servant Oswald, “Did my father strike my gentleman for chiding his Fool?” to which Oswald replies, “Ay, madam” (I. ii. 1-3). In response, Goneril begins a small soliloquy, expressing that she is tired of her father’s subversions. While Goneril’s anger and treatment of Lear, are far from just, Lear refuses to compromise with her, exacerbating the situation. When Goneril offers him 50 knights as opposed to 100, he refuses, eventually resulting in Goneril and Regan revoking all of his knights (II. iv. 300-302). Lear’s unwillingness to compromise is eventually what results in him wandering around in the storm as Goneril and Regan offer him places to stay, but tell him he cannot bring his entourage. Instead of potentially compromising, or showing any willingness to work with them at all, Lear proclaims, “And let not women’s weapons, water drops/Stain my man’s cheeks./No, you unnatural hags,/I will have such revenges on you both” (II. iv. 318-320). And he heads into the storm.

As the story begins when the power struggle begins, it is difficult to truly assess the dynamics between Goneril, Regan, and Lear before the power struggle. Only the first act can really give insight into that. But, the first act tells us that Goneril and Regan are second best and thus less powerful than both Lear and presumably Cordelia. Then, the second act also allows us to infer that Goneril and Regan are not entirely ruthless. They do originally attempt a compromise regarding Lear’s knights, Lear just refuses to accept, behaving rather like a child in a grocery store. So, Goneril and Regan carry on with their lives and leave Lear behind in the storm. But, Lear could’ve stuck up his own bargain. As a matter of fact, especially as the parent in the dynamic, he should have been able to do so.

Later in the story, there are also parallels drawn between Goneril, Regan, and Edmund. As we know from Act 1, Edmund’s hatred towards his father stems primarily from his father’s mistreatment of him because he is a bastard child. Gloucester even refers to him as a “whoreson” (I. i. 24). Thus, perhaps this is another clue that like Edmund, Goneril and Regan also dislike their father due to mistreatment. While this doesn’t necessarily make their actions against Lear right, it explains some of their motives. As Lear is stubborn, power-hungry narcissistic, and easily driven to seek vengeance, the same things can be said about Goneril and Regan. They likely got a fair amount of their traits from Lear himself. Thus, though Goneril and Regan are flawed characters, they are as flawed as Lear himself. Though they are responsible for their own actions and certainly are not the heroes or idols of the story, Lear is hardly a hero either. Rather, Goneril and Regan are just representations of Lear’s failures as a king and as a father. Lear is who stands in his own way, both the protagonist and antagonist of the play.

“this is me trying” to Get an A from Mr. Heidkamp

Taylor Swift entered a new era with her first Indie/Alternative album Folklore, released in July 2020, just eleven months after her hit pop album Lover. Up until the release of her newest album Evermore, Folklore was arguably Swift’s most lyrical album. Folklore’s 9th track “this is me trying” exemplifies this well through Swift’s masterful language and story telling abilities.

“this is me trying” utilizes a variety of literary techniques including metaphor, double entendre, hyperbole, anecdote, and repetition in order to embody a feeling of helplessness and struggle. However, it also has an underlying uplifting message: despite the struggles the speaker has undergone, he/she continues to try.

While it is unclear who the speaker of “this is me trying” is, it is clear that the song embodies the feeling of trying as hard as possible and yet still appearing to fail. The song opens with the metaphorical lines, “I’ve been having a hard time adjusting/I had the shiniest wheels now they’re rusting,” indicating that the speaker is someone who is not only going through an adjustment period, but also has fallen a long way from who they used to be. The speaker again references his/her past glory with the double entendre 2nd stanza line “So I got wasted like all my potential,” and the 2nd stanza hyperbole, “I was so ahead of the curve, the curve became a sphere.” Thus, Swift paints a picture of a speaker who, in the past, had been a successful high achiever, but after a shift in his/her life, falls from the pedestal he/she had once been on.

Then, “this is me trying” continues on, referencing an audience that the speaker refers to exclusively as “you” throughout the song. The audience is first referenced as the speaker explores the imagery of pulling his/her car off to the side of the road and contemplating following his/her “fears all the way down,” indicating that the speaker was considering suicide. However, the speaker then states, “And maybe I don’t quite know what to say/But I’m here in your doorway.” Thus, the audience is someone the speaker turns to in a dark period in his/her life. The audience is referenced again in the 3rd stanza as the speaker utilizes metaphorical language, “All I want is you/You’re a flashback in a film reel/On the one screen in my town.” This further develops the audience as someone who is no longer in the speaker’s life, though the speaker cannot stop remembering him/her. The words, “one screen” indicate that the speaker is forced to watch the audience as there is nothing else to watch on the only one screen in the town that is the speaker’s mind. The word “flashback” furthers this but also adds that the audience disrupts the speaker’s life, despite being gone, as flashbacks are sudden and disruptive to a person. Finally, the image of a film reel gives the indication that the speaker is trapped in the spherical film reel, his/her thoughts of the audience repeating over and over again. This also parallels Swift’s earlier line, “The curve became a sphere.” Therefore, the speaker may feel trapped and helpless to the audience, just as he/she did to the achievement curve of academia.

Given the extended metaphor of the audience being a flashback the speaker is forced to watch, it is also possible that the first stanza is a flashback, rather than an actual event in the song.

The 2nd stanza is primarily anecdotal, telling readers about the speaker’s past life. It tells readers more about the audience as we learn that the speaker was told the reason for his/her failures was entirely mental, that the speaker struggles with anger and feels regret for his/her anger, and that the speaker previously turned to alcohol to cope with issues in his/her life. The 2nd stanza includes 2 double entendres that further emphasize the speaker’s alcoholism. The first, “So I got wasted like all my potential” is likely a play on the phrase, “you’re wasting your potential.” Therefore indicating that the speaker turned to alcoholism after “falling behind the curve.” The second, “Pouring my heart out to a stranger/But I didn’t pour the whiskey” is a little different. This double entendre is the speaker telling the audience that though he/she is upset, he/she didn’t succumb to alcohol, talking to a stranger instead. This furthers the speaker and the audience’s relationship as the audience is clearly aware of the speaker’s alcoholism and might have attempted to help. The 2nd stanza is also the only one that doesn’t directly mention the audience, mentioning a stranger instead. It is possible that the 2nd stanza is a flashback, like the first, and the stranger is the audience before the speaker met him/her. Thus, the 3rd stanza is the only one that occurs in real time.

To summarize a bit, the 1st stanza is the speaker turning to the audience to cope with suicidal ideation, the 2nd stanza is how the speaker and the audience met, the audience helping the speaker through his/her past that influenced his/her alcoholism. The 3rd stanza is the only stanza that is not a flashback. It references the damage done to the speaker by the audience leaving.

Now, the chorus of the song is what changes tone. While all this is happening, the chorus sings,

I just wanted you to know
That this is me trying
I just wanted you to know
That this is me trying

At least I'm trying

The line, “At least I’m trying” occurs first after the speaker doesn’t pour the whiskey and then repeats again after the speaker reminisces about the audience. Not pouring the whiskey felt, to the speaker, like a small victory. Thus, the speaker begins to take pride in trying.

After overcoming suicidal ideation and alcoholism, the speaker reassures him/herself that he/she will overcome his/her longing for the audience as well. Thus, the song ends on an optimistic note, that even though trying is sometimes all one can do, trying is something anyone can do.

Therefore, Swift utilizes figurative language and story-telling to both deepen the experiences of readers as well as expand them. Readers begin to understand, on a more three-dimensional level, the feeling that trying is all someone can do. But, readers also delve into new experiences as Swift creates two characters and tells a story between them that brings readers into a new reality.

We Can’t Accept Global “Otherness” Until We Accept Our Own

The first step to achieving mutual recognition with a global “other” is to stop seeing them as an “other.”

Even when helping other countries or refugees, there has almost always been an ulterior motive or a dissenting party. A country may help an “other” during a war, only to expect payment back. A country may take in refugees for a period of time, but then stop when someone with a different view takes power. America broke the frontier of science by landing on the moon, only to prove that Americans were better than Russians. We broke the boundary between Earth and space just to place a stronger boundary between us and Russia.

Of course, lots of us do set down boundaries. We help refugees, we do things for the sake of goodness, we aid other countries, we go to space for the sake of discovery and for humanity. But far too many people are so tied up in their belief of clinging to artificial boundaries, that it’s unrealistic for humanity, at this point, to exist as just humanity. For now, we are fragments of humanity.

Hopefully, someday, we will be able to defeat the idea of an “other” entirely.

But for now, as an American, even just looking at our country, we can see it riddled with “otherness.” How can the entire world come together when a singular nation can’t? America isn’t the only one like this either. Across the globe, we’re not only divided by continent and by country, but by race, religion, gender, sexuality, and economic status. So how can Americans embrace the British, Russians, Indians, Pakistanis, the Japanese, etc. if Americans can’t even embrace Americans?

Your Own World

There’s no denying that our world is built atop social constructs and false systems. It makes no sense for values such as justice and love to have existed before humanity created them. Love doesn’t even have a true universal definition, so how can it be a concrete thing? Almost every person will give a different definition of what they think love is, and what they think of love is entirely based upon the love around them. It’s hardly even their own opinion.

However, if we assume that because we created the ideas of love, relationships, being a “good person,” happiness, etc. that they are not real, what is left?

We can argue that all social constructs hold us back. They limit our experiences, and in many ways, I agree with that. As society has grown, we’ve created rules that if aliens were to study our planet, they would look at in utter confusion. As we discussed in class, why must certain people dress a certain way? Or, why must we go to school for 12 years and then go on to college and potentially even graduate? What is money? What is God? Why is our world the way it is? Who decided these rules? What purpose do they actually have?

You can only reach radical subjectivity by acknowledging that our world does not operate in a sensible fashion. Things happen without reason. Even if you believe in a higher power, you must wonder how that higher power came to be? Why does the higher power not end suffering? Is a higher power who sits there while the world burns below them truly the benevolent higher power the people believe in? Why do people believe in a benevolent God at all?

Even God is not sensible.

But after you acknowledge that things happen without sense, that the world around you will act without logic, and that you are merely a grain of sand in a desert, you realize that you can act however you wish.

In doing so, you can choose to forego all previously learned constructs. You can believe that nothing is real. You can live in perfect nihilism.

Or, you can choose to make your own world. If nothing matters, can you not be your own teacher, your own government, your own prosecutor, your own God?

Thus, can you not choose to believe in nothing and everything at the same time?

If nothing is real and nothing matters, can you not choose to believe in your own versions of love, justice, and happiness? It doesn’t matter if you do or not.

Superiority in “Good Country People”

In Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Good Country People” the phrase “good country people” is repeated throughout the story. It is introduced as a descriptions of the Freemans and why Mrs. Hopewell kept them around: “The reason for her keeping them so long was that they were not trash. They were good country people” (1). While O’Connor doesn’t connote that “good country people” are bad people, by instituting the distinction between Mrs. Hopewell (the person who hired the Freemans) and the Freemans, O’Conner demonstrates that “good country people” are inferior. Then, as the story shifts to Hulga’s perspective, Hulga makes it clear that she too looks down upon “good country people.” O’Connor states, “Joy [Hula] had made it plain that if it had not been for this condition, she would be far from these red hills and good country people “(4). These two quotations infer that the Hopewells believe “good country people” to be inferior to them.

However, as part of his ruse, Manley Pointer introduces himself as a “good country person” (6). This then leads to Hulga’s desire to seduce and shatter Pointer’s innocence (which she believes he has because of his status as a “good country person). Nevertheless, Hulga doesn’t succeed and as Pointer steals her artificial leg and runs, she cries, “aren’t you just good country people?” (14). She is in disbelief at his crime because she believed herself so superior.

Thus, O’Connor concludes her story with the notion that no person is superior to the other. Hulga believed herself morally and intellectually superior; however, in the end, it was revealed that she wasn’t.

“Escape from the Spiderhead” and Humanity

“Thus every human is worthy of love”
“That’s all just pretty much basic human feeling right there” (70).

“Escape from the Spiderhead” contains many themes, but among all those, is the grand theme of “What it means to be human?” As Jeff watches Heather struggle with her dose of Darkenfloxx, he monologues that every person is worthy of love, to which Verlaine replies that he believe that feeling is common among all people. Since Verlaine is a reputable scientist, it can be inferred that he is a knowledgeable source. Thus, all people feel that others are worthy of love. Therefore, George Saunders introduces the concept that despite all our flaws, people are inherently good.

This claim is then supported again in the final moments of the story as Jeff formulates his plan. Having witnessed Heather’s fate, Jeff seeks to save Rachel, which he does by killing himself (77-79). Though Jeff’s fate is grim, his suicide can be seen as more of a sacrifice than a surrender. This is ironic because Jeff is a convicted killer. Yet, he is willing to give his life to save another person. In addition, Rachel is also far from a “good person”; however, Jeff still sacrifices his life for her, believing the she is worthy of saving despite her flaws. Therefore, Saunders continues his assertion that people are inherently good, even if they have committed past mistakes. He also states that being a “bad person” does not necessarily mean that one is not worth saving.

Meanwhile, the scientists, Abnesti and Verlaine are presumed to be “good people” and they certainly believe themselves so. Yet, they administer the drugs that result in Heather’s and presumably others’ deaths. This indicates that the line between “good” and “bad” is far more blurred than one may believe and societal position has nothing to do with morality. For instance, a criminal may be more human than a brilliant scientist. However, even so, Abnesti and Verlaine do commit acts of kindness (though many are arguably for manipulative reasons) and presumably have lives outside of the Spiderhead with families. Thus, they are not entirely “bad” people either.

Therefore, Saunders asserts that to be human is to have empathy and care for others; people are inherently good. There is no societal position that determines humanity; a person is not any less human because of their crimes or flaws.

Humanity is determined not by society, but by each and every individual.