Strategic Love

King Lear loves to be loved. He views love as respect and having the respect of others gives him power. Throughout the play, Lear comes to terms with the fictitious nature of Goneril and Regan’s love.

In the first scene of the play Lear asks his daughters to profess their love to him in order for him to decide what land they get. Right from the beginning, we see the allocation of value onto love. Love is no longer an emotion but a commodity. Exuberant confessions of love are worth more than true, simple familial feelings. Goneril and Regan are aware of the power that their love has, the value that their father has placed upon their answers. They claim that their love for Lear is “Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty, / Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare, / No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honor; / As much as child e’er loved” (I.i.62-65). Lear’s two eldest daughters have taken the world he created, a world where love can be converted to power, and used it against him. Lear has set himself up for betrayal.

Cordelia, on the other hand, does not use love, or performative love, as means for strategically gaining power. She refuses to play her father’s game and continues to treat love as an emotion felt towards another. “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave / My heart into my mouth. / I love your Majesty / According to my bond, no more nor less.”

Retrospectively, this act is foreshadowing of her sisters’ betrayal. Lear, upon hearing Cordelia’s refusal to boost his ego with over the top declarations of love, sees it as disloyalty and over reacts by not giving her any money or power. Goneril and Regan are prepared to take advantage of Lear and his definition of love. That is why they are able to lie, exaggerating a love that is already barely there. Cordelia tells her love as it is and proves herself to be the more loyal daughter.

Did You Leave Your Room Tidy?

In her song, “Last Words of a Shooting Star“, Mitski ponders her own existence and if her life was fulfilling. This is my favorite song from her third studio album Bury Me at Makeout Creek. The song provides the experience of facing death and deciding whether or not to fight it.

The song starts with the narrator on a plane that is hit with turbulence, where she is forced to come to terms with her possible death. This near death situation leads her to reflect on her own life, including how she planned to die. She admits in the song that she wanted to “die clean and pretty.” This alludes to the fact that she has thought about her own death before. If she were to die on the plane, it would be easier as she would not have to worry about planning it all out.

There are many moments in the song that use multidimensional language that expand the experience of the narrator and trap the audience in her world. The line that stands out to me the most is, “I am relieved that I’d left my room tidy.” Out of context, this line can be interpreted very literally. The narrator cleaned her room that day and that gave her a sense of relief. Cleaning is good for the soul. However, in the context of the song that deals with imminent death, the line can interpreted as a quiet submission to this fate. If she is going to die, at least she is going knowing that she left her world the way that she wanted it to be preserved. Preserved as a perfect image of who she was. This line is repeated multiple times throughout the song, emphasizing how important the image she left behind is to her sanity. Her tidy room provides a sense of comfort, because that will be the image people will remember when they think of her. “They’ll think of me kindly when they come for my things.”

The narrator evaluates her past love interests while facing death. Her evaluation seems to prove that dying on the plane would not take her away from much. Her past relationships would haunt her as unfulfilling. “And you’d say you love me and look in my eyes/But I know through mine you were looking in yours” Eyes can be interpreted in many different ways. They can be anatomically interpreted as the part of your face that gives the gift of sight. In romantic songs and movies, looking into someone’s eyes is seen as the romantic gesture that symbolizes connection and love on an intense spiritual level. Eyes are the windows to the soul, a vulnerable look into your own humanity. Mitski flips this assumption using the eyes as a way to reveal vanity and one sided relationships. The mirror-like quality of her eyes shows signs that there is a lack of connection and love that could leave her generally unsatisfied with her life.

“And did you know the liberty bell is a replica/Silently housed in its original walls.” Mitski uses a metaphor to expand on the feeling of emptiness. The narrator compares herself to the liberty bell. This metaphor expresses the feeling of not fitting in your own body. She feels as though something has changed within her. She is a replica of herself trapped in her original body. On the outside she looks the same, but on the inside there is something missing. This feeling, as expressed through the metaphor, causes her to feel out of place in her own existence and to not feel frightened by the prospect of her own death.

By the end of the song, the narrator has sufficiently evaluated her life and came to terms with the possibility of dying that day. She realizes that she would be ready to die. “So I am relieved that the turbulence wasn’t forecasted.”

Finding Security

In Exit West, Hamid toys around with the idea of what makes people feel safe, secure. The protagonists of the novel, Saeed and Nadia, find themselves in constantly changing situations. They see their home dissolve into violence and war, they try to seek asylum in western countries, and they have to support themselves when separated from everything they once knew. How can they feel safe?

When in their home country watching it fall apart around them, they find a sense of security in each other. Saeed, Nadia, and Saeed’s father are living together, protecting one another. They developed a close-knit family that trusted each other and depended on each other. This is demonstrated when Saeed’s father asks Nadia to “remain by Saeed’s side until Saeed was out of danger.”(97). In their home, where windows were dangerous and doors were a luxury, they were each others only source of protection and the sentiment of safety.

After immigrating through the doors, Saeed and Nadia are not free of problems. They are faced with racist, xenophobic acts from natives and the constant fear of not knowing what comes next. They are still not safe. Nadia’s method of combating the uncertainty is finding a sense of normalcy. In Marin, she does this by sharing a joint with Saeed, something they shared before they immigrated. Saeed found a safe haven through prayer. He began to pray more often and when he did “he touched his parents, who could not otherwise be touched…”(202). Praying provided a connection to the people he loved and lost, who also happened to be the same people who made him feel safe. Religion also lead Saeed to find communities where he felt he could belong. In London, he became a part of a house that was inhabited by people from his home country. The familiar food, language, and prayers drew him in. “It made him feel a part of something.” (152). Saeed must have realized how being a part of a religious community made him feel safe, because in Marin, he finds the preacher and quickly became a part of that community.

Hamid understands the importance of security when escaping trauma and how everyone’s needs when it comes to security are different. This is illustrated by Saeed’s praying and his commitment to religious communities and Nadia’s desire to relive the happier memories of their past.

Existentialism and Gender Identity

Existentialism is a theory that emphasizes the importance of free will and determining your own fate. A fate that is not determined by social constructs such as family, love, religion, and gender. Existentialists believe that society should not restrict an individual’s life or actions and that these restrictions inhibit free will and the development of that person’s potential.

When it comes gender, society usually puts emphasis on the MALE/female binary. We are socialized through our families, our education, and the media to believe that certain characteristics make up these two genders. This binary that is forced upon us in not an accurate representation of our community as gender is a spectrum and not everyone’s gender identity matches with their birth sex.

However, how a woman looks and acts is drilled into our brains since birth. Society sets standards. If you meet them or rebel against them is theoretically your own choice. Rebelling against society’s standards is easier said than done. With our constant exposure to the portrayal of gender whether through the people we interact with the movies we watch, at some point both working to fit the stereotype and working to defy it, our choice is not purely our own.

As a young woman, I have debated this choice. Do I stray from the mold? Is it even my choice?

From a young age, I identified as a “tom-boy”, which is the six-year-old versions of refusing stereotypical gender roles. I would not let an article of pink clothing touch my body, because it was too “girly”. Later, I choose to reclaim this “femininity”. I wore pink. I did my make-up. I thought it was my choice to reclaim these “feminine” habits. However, through the view point of existentialism, this choice was not free will. It was heavily influenced by society and its archaic gender roles.

Mutual Recognition and Being an Ally

The Black Lives Matter movement has been in the spotlight the last couple of months, after the murder of George Floyd. It has sparked waves of activism as seen through the protests and sharing of information on social media platforms that work to battle police brutality and the systemic racism that our country was built upon. It has also served as a time to remind white people of their privilege and how they can acknowledge that privilege to be ally to the black community.

There are many characteristics that come to mind when we talk about being an ally; empathy, support, decentering yourself, and listening. Most of these qualities are required to be a good ally. However, I am going to take an anti-empathy stance.

Empathy is the ability to understand someone else’s feelings, understand their situation. In the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, the white population can not possibly understand what it is like to be Black in America. We can educate ourselves, listen to Black voices, and support Black-owned businesses, but we will never truly be able to empathize.

Jessica Benjamin, a psychoanalyst, coined the term mutual recognition. Mutual recognition is recognizing the humanity in another person while they recognize your humanity. Your individualism feeds off of these interactions with others. The theory of mutual recognition can be used to explain how to be a good ally, without claiming to understand.

Recognition does not require understanding. Recognition requires accepting the humanity of the movement and listening to the voices that lead it. We, as white people, are able to check our privilege while recognizing the trauma that Black bodies have faced and are continue to face in our country. We show our support by applying Benjamin’s theory, to view the Black Lives Matter movement as a living, breathing, human demand for change.

Do Our Stories Accurately Represent Us?

An event that happened in your past can determine your future. It can shape and change how you present yourself to the world and your personality. But, do the stories of one’s past reveal a window into their true characteristics and more importantly their humanity. The George Saunders story, “Escape From Spiderhead”, provides insight on how our rhetoric and the stories we tell reflect on us.

George Saunders, in “Escape From Spiderhead”, creates a vivid world that explores power dynamics and how the backstories of characters are curated to feed into these dynamics. In the short story, Abnesti, a warden-like character, has drilled a handful of stories of his life into the mind of the protagonist, Jeff.

Jeff knows that Abnesti has children and he knows the names of his children. Abnesti provides these details to show the audience he is not a bad person. He even asks Jeff the rhetorical question, “Am I a monster?” (68). Abnesti has created a three dimensional portrayal of himself to Jeff. He is a good guy, a father, but this is his job.

While Abnesti has created a humane image of himself, he goes out of his way to selectively chose bad stories that he tells about the “criminals” in Spiderhead. An example of this is when he gives Jeff a file of Rachel’s criminal acts. These acts include going “to jail for drugs”(74) among other crimes. This strips Rachel of her humanity. The backstories used for Abnesti versus Rachel illuminate the power Abnesti holds over her and the other “criminals”. This causes Abnesti to seem like a real human while those under him aren’t. Backstories can lift up those in control while degrading the powerless.