Power and Corruption

Perhaps the most obvious theme of King Lear is that power corrupts. In the story, the only three characters left standing at the end are Kent, Edgar, and Albany. They are also the only characters, besides Cordelia, who are not corrupted by power. Whether driven to betrayal or madness by power, the death of all the characters who fall victim to that fate sends a strong message about the consequences of power.

The case of Edmund is one of blatant betrayal in the ambitious quest for power. He betrays his brother, and then his father, all in his efforts to gain the status he is denied as a bastard. After tricking his father into believing Edgar has betrayed him, and Edgar into thinking his father is after him, Edmund makes clear his desire for power in his monologue of thought;

A credulous father and a brother noble,

Whose nature is so far from doing harms

That he suspects none; on whose foolish honesty

My practices rude easy. I see the business.

Let me, if not by birth, have lands by wit.

All with me’s meet that I can fashion fit.

Edmund’s desire for power and status outweighs his familial duty and decency of spirit, and he suffers the consequences, dying at the hand of the brother he betrays.

Lear is someone else who meets their end because of the corruption of power. As king, he has all the power one could dream of, and yet, he loses it all, along with his life, because the power drives him mad. At the beginning of the story, there are already signs of instability in Lear’s behavior, but the true catalyst of his mind going into chaos occurs with the actions committed by his daughters. Being so used to power, Lear is unable to deal with situations in which he has none. Perhaps the most impactful example in the story is when his eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, both declare that they will not permit him to have an entourage if he wishes to stay with them. This occurs after Lear has already divided up his kingdom between them, believing their false words of love and respect. In response to the betrayal by his daughters, and in his own madness, Lear runs out into a storm. When asked by Kent to enter shelter from the storm, Lear replies,

Thou think’st ’tis much that this contentious storm

Invades us to the skin. So ’tis to thee.

But where the greater malady is fixed,

The lesser is scarce felt.

In other words, Lear claims that the harm placed upon him by his daughters outweighs the possible harm that could be done to him by a storm. When Goneril and Regan try to reduce Lear’s power, he sees it as a sign of betrayal. The value he places on power and “excess” is so great that his daughters trying to take them away is too much for him to bear.

These are just a few examples of characters in King Lear that are brought down by their desire for power. The moral of the story being that those who want power should not have it, for it can only lead to destruction.

Death is not the End of Life

The song “Year of the Young” by Smith & Thell was not made as a part of any album, but rather as a single ode to those the band had lost. The band has publicly stated,  “Last year, we and those close to us lost several young friends and loved ones due to tragic circumstances. Our private lives were hit by one sadness after another.” This happened at the same time their music was gaining popularity and their careers started taking off. They were experiencing success after success, but at the same time losing those they loved. As the band was preparing to celebrate the new year, they felt they needed to write a song to mark the end of 2019, or as they called it, “The year where we got all we ever wanted, but felt we lost all that we ever had.”

The theme of this extremely poignant song is that a person is kept alive after death by those they leave behind; they are kept alive by those who remember them, perceive their spirit in the world, and honor their beliefs. This song speaks to every person who has ever lost a loved one, telling them that just because that person is dead, does not mean they are truly gone. The words of the song itself greatly enhance the power of this message.

Oh, this was the year of the young.

This is the title line of the song, and it ends every chorus with a bang. It is a powerfully written line, every one-syllable word fitting together, with alliteration connecting the words even further. However, the true power of the line comes from the meaning of the title phrase. The song is about the loss of not just loved ones, but of young loved ones, of people who have barely lived. The phrasing of “year of the young”, rather than “year of the dead”, not only indicates that the people the band lost were in their youth, but serves as a way to commemorate their youth, so that they would never be forgotten. To me, it seems similar to the Chinese naming of each year after an animal, such as the “Year of the Dragon”, in that the band is marking the year for all time and giving it meaning.

I’m the trees, I’m the birds
I’m the soft stars that shine at night

These lines have a lot going on. The use of first person in the context of the song refers to the person who died, making them the temporary speaker. In these lines, this person is telling those they left behind to look for them in nature, to keep them alive by seeing them as a part of the world. This fits with the message of the song by implying a form of reincarnation; it says that the dead come back to life in their loved ones’ perception of the world.

I won’t remember you died
I will remember you lived

In these lines, the speaker is speaking to those they lost. It implies selective memory, but in a deeper sense refers to what the speaker is choosing to focus on. The interesting thing about these lines is they say that the fact someone has died is not really important. It fits with the message of the song because it relates remembrance to life, and that memory is what keeps a person alive, even after they have died.

The “Global Others” Conundrum

In Exit West, Saeed and Nadia become immigrants, leaving their war-torn country. In other words, they become “global others”. These “global others” are often seen as the unwanted members of society, and many don’t see them as people at all. The irony behind this is that there isn’t much separating them from everyone else. What makes someone a “global other”, as opposed to someone else, is simply where they were born and the conditions they were subjected to. Discriminating against and ostracizing the “global others” is not only harmful to the victims of that treatment, but also to the perpetrators of it. Those that treat “global others” negatively limit their worldview and also set a precedent for how to treat all future “global others, maybe including themselves. Who can say what the next war-torn or hunger stricken nation will be? Who can say who the next “global others” will be?

Not to get political, but with our current President, the next “global others” could have easily been us Americans, the same Americans that make up a nation doing its best to keep “global others” out. If we keep others out when they need help, who is going to let us in when we need help? Many Americans would and have denied this as a possibility, claiming to be a superior nation. They would say that “global others” exist because their nations were poorer (spoiler: the United States owes a lot of money), or that their nations were not as sophisticated as our own. Exit West does a good job of displaying just how incorrect this is throughout the novel. When introducing Nadia’s character, it described her “sitting at her desk at the insurance company, on an afternoon of handling executive auto policy renewals by phone, when she received an instant message from Saeed asking if she would like to meet” (23). Nadia lived a normal life, one that any American woman might live, working a modern-day desk job and texting a crush on her cellphone; she had all the resources and capabilities we would consider important to lead a successful life in the United States, only she was not born in the United States, she was not raised in the United States, and unlike those of us that were born and raised in the United States, she was forced to flee a war zone.

The Importance of Ambition

Throughout the entire first part of The Stranger, the thing that sticks out to me the most is how Meursault views each situation he is placed in with what I would describe as nonchalance. I have found that, in most stories, there is almost always an end game for the protagonist; there is always some ambition that is striven for, whether it be based on personal gain, the defeat of a greater evil, emotions, or the betterment of society. However, in this story, it would appear as though Meursault has no end game. When his boss offers him a job in Paris and he says he doesn’t care either way, his boss tells him that he has no ambition. To me, this indicates that Meursault’s lack of ambition is part of the theme of the story. To have an antagonist who doesn’t have an ambition, who doesn’t truly desire anything, makes for an intriguing read because you can’t see the ending. When you have a main character like Mearsault, who isn’t driven by any one thing, it can be almost impossible to predict his actions. For instance, when he shot the Arab man at the end of Part 1, it wasn’t an act of revenge, but rather a kind of instinctual response to his exhaustion and disorientation. As the narrator says, “everything began to reel”. What I think Part 1 is trying to express is the danger of the unpredictability that occurs when a person has nothing to drive them, or to ground them.

Inevitable Monolith of a Story

I thought that the theme behind Conversation About Bread was interesting because it applies to everything that we read or watch on TV. It questions whether it is possible to write a story about race, class, religion, gender, etc., without creating a monolith out of the group being discussed. One of the short story’s main characters, Eldwin, worded it best; “Didn’t every story provide a narrow representation at best and fetishize somebody at worst?” This was the epiphany that Eldwin came to toward the end of the story, after realizing that he couldn’t write his friend Brian’s story without also writing the story of every other black kid from the South.

If you look closely, you can see this issue in every TV show, movie, novel, or short story that focuses on the issue of a power binary. Everyone experiences different things, so everyone has a different story. Yet, when someone introduces a story about an individual, it is often generalized and applied to an entire group. This is because each reader views each story from a different perspective, and thereby gains a different interpretation of it. In my opinion, the issue is not necessarily with the writer in the creation of a monolith, but with the reader.

Escape From Darkness

To me, one of the biggest themes of the story is morality. The people being experimented on are criminals, but they are still being tortured, emotionally and physically. At the end, Jeff is asked to give the scientists permission to put someone through extreme pain. He is hesitant to do it, but he finally gives in. When it kills her and he asked to do it again to someone else, he refuses, ending his own life instead. It’s a very dark story line, but a very important one because Jeff finds a way to escape from the darkness of the power binary he is in. The story ends with Jeff’s final thoughts; “I was happy, so happy, because for the first time in years, and forevermore, I had not killed, and never would.” He finds joy in his own death because by finding his humanity, he is able to escape.