“Think Like a Man”: A Study of Gender in King Lear

Throughout King Lear, Shakespeare explores gender roles through his female characters and believes that women are incapable of having positions of power because they will become corrupt. Right at the beginning of the play, Lear’s youngest daughter, Cordelia, is banished because she goes against his word. Immediately it is clear women are seen as disloyal, and this same pattern is carried on later into the play, when Lear’s other two daughters, Goneril and Regan, betray him as well. Lear feels a deep hatred for his daughters, and although they are his blood, he cannot see past the fact that they betrayed him. He feels he has been emasculated by his daughters after giving them his kingdom, and feels threatened that his daughters have enough power to take away his dominance. This idea goes against stereotypical gender roles at the time, as women were expected to not be in positions of power at all unless accompanied by a husband.

At the time, and even today, women have to work much harder to be seen as authority figures. Because of the stigma that men are not supposed to show emotion, Lear’s daughters have to work to hide their emotions while surrounded by men, “It seemed she was a queen O’er her passion, who, most rebel-like, Sought to be King o’er her” (Act four, 14-16). Cordelia is pushed to “think like a man and not like a woman”, and act like a king, rather than a queen. Any shown emotion makes her seem weak, and in order to stay in power she must defy the stereotypical woman’s gender role.

This defiance of gender roles is also seen with males in the play as well. When France invades Britain, the Duke of Albany goes against norms when he doesn’t fight back against France: “France spreads his banners in our noiseless land, with plumed helm thy state begins to threat, Whilst thou, a moral fool sits still and cries” (Act four, 57-59). Instead of becoming aggressive and asserting power, Albany sits back and watches it happen in defeat. The word “fool” makes it clear his actions and emotions are highly frowned upon. Because he has failed to tae up the traditionally masculine role, Albany is seen as a feminine character in this point in the play as he is thinking with his emotions and not his head.

Gender roles are widely explored throughout the play, however it is clear Shakespeare believes women are inherently worse in positions of power than men are. Even when men slip out of their stereotypical roles, their actions are seen as feminine and therefore weak and frowned upon. This is an interesting play to read, especially now, because there is so much talk about women in positions of power in the world today. Many of the themes present in the play are still assumed about women and men today, and it just shows how much work needs to be done in todays society.

Contrasting Voices in “Small Worlds”

“Small Worlds” in Mac Miller’s album Swimming highlights the contrast between the way we view life and a deeper understanding of existence. Throughout the song, he leads the listener through his internal monologue and inner thoughts, using wordplay to convey his message that life is not always what it seems.

The first line of the song serves as a paradox:

The world is so small 'till it aint 

The verse contradicts itself by starting off first with the outlook that his individual world is small, and then directly stating that throughout life he has realized that this is not always the case. It takes the listener through an emotional journey into his mind and his paradoxical views on life. His words allude that although each person is wrapped up in their individual lives, we are all a part of something bigger and all have something to offer.

He then goes on to say:

Maybe dunk but i've never been tall
I might trip but I never fall

In this verse, Miller uses oxymoron by putting two contrasting ideas together to create a bigger picture idea. When he states “I might trip but i never fall”, he uses wordplay to contrast the idea that although he may struggle internally, he does not let it get the best of him. Using words such as “dunk” but “never been tall” and “trip” but “never fall”, he intentionally uses slang language to provide double meaning to his words.

Finally, he alludes to his use of drugs:

Don't want to grow old so I smoke just in case

This line shows his internal struggle with drugs and his use of them to make time stand still. This line fits into the rest of the piece by stating that although time never stops, he turns to other measures to make it appear as if it does. After struggling with drug abuse for many years, Miller tragically passed due to overdose. His words continue to be powerful after his death and inspire many.

The Other in Her Homeland

Throughout Exit West, Nadia makes multiple points to talk about how her womanhood impacts her experience in her community. Even before her move to her new land as an immigrant, she feels as if she is seen as something nonhuman. Right at the beginning of the book, Saeed asks Nadia why she wears a conservative and concealing robe if she’s not religious. To this she responds: “So men don’t f**k with me,”(Chapter 1). Ending the first chapter with those words highlights to the reader just how much Nadia must watch herself in her home country. Because she is seen as a target for men, Nadia is seen as the other, even before leaving her city to go to Europe. Her experience as a woman has already forced her to watch her back, so unlike Saeed, the switch to a foreign land does not make her feel much more different or exiled. Nadia already lives in fear of what people will do to her because of how she looks- she is already the other in her own land.

Meaning of Life in “The Stranger”

The story opens with Mersault, the main character, realizing his mother is dead. His tone is indifferent, as he seems he hasn’t processed his mother’s death: “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe. I don’t know. I got a telegram from home: “Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow…” That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday” (chapter 1) This quote highlights the lack of emotionality of the main character by showing that he believes death and life are not big deals, which is also seen later in the book.

In chapter 3, Mersault’s idea that life is meaningless carries over to his relationships. He becomes friends with Raymond, his employer, and states that he does things for him because there’s no reason not to: “I tried… to please Raymond because I didn’t have any reason not to please him”. Because Mersault does not see life as having a meaning, he blindly pleases people because he believes there is no reason not to. This idea is expressed again in chapter 4 when he is talking to Mari when she asks him if he loves her: “I told her it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so”. By stating that love doesn’t mean anything, he is again showing his nonchalant tone towards life that it is meaningless. If life does not have a purpose, neither does love or any other emotion in the human experience.

Judgement in “A Conversation about Bread”

“A Conversation about Bread” by Nafissa Thompson-Spires highlights the struggles of what it’s like being a POC while attending universities attended by mostly white people. The short story follows Brian and Eldwin as they interview as part of a project. During this interview, it becomes clear just how out of place the men sometimes feel, stating that they are constantly being watched and frequently being asked questions. Brian, who is in a wheelchair, states he is “more self conscious about his black maleness than his disability” (177). He says that he is constantly judged for his action just because of his skin color, just like his mother was while in college. Although the two men attend prestigious universities, they are still being treated differently, which just shows how prevalent racism is in the US. This short story brought attention to the every day things other people don’t have to think about, such as the “white gaze” (181).

Deserved Punishment or Criminal Behavior?

In the short story Escape from Spiderhead by George Saunders, Jeff, a convicted criminal, is forced to take drugs and engage in sexual activity as a test subject in a research facility. He must do these things as punishment for his criminal background, however as the story progresses it becomes more and more clear that the people in charge of running the facility are acting in similar ways as the “bad guys”.

In the story, the people in charge gave a test subject Darkenfloxx, a drug which makes you want to kill yourself. She had killed people in her past which had wound her up in the facility, however it begs the question of why they would risk her life just because of her past. Yes she had killed people, however testing this drug on her when it was unnecessary (and against her will) and killing her only makes the administrators murderer too. Punishment should be put in place for violent crime however the severity of the punishment dehumanizes the criminal. Jeff was dehumanized to a point where only in death did he finally experience true human emotion, stating: “no. This is all me now” (80). In the real world, the criminal justice system is very much like this. Of course in different cases different forms of punishment must be put in place, but by dehumanizing these people it is making them believe that they can be nothing more than what they were in their past.