The Power of Self Recognition in “202 Checkmates”

At the end of “202 Checkmates” by Rion Amilcar Scott, the main character of the story–a 12 year old girl–lets her father win a chess game that she could’ve beaten him at, even though he has won and gloated about it the other 201 times they’ve played. Throughout the story, she has been getting better and better at chess by learning from expert players at the park and studying the flaws in her father’s strategy. Her goal has always been to eventually beat him. At the same time, she’s been watching him struggle with unemployment, drinking, and marital issues, while using chess with her as an outlet/distraction from her problem. So, when she is finally poised to beat him at his own game–one move from winning–she decides to throw the game. She realized that he needs that win more than she does. He uses chess to maintain their power dynamic of FATHER/child, in order to comfort his own insecurities about his life and marriage. She is is growing out of that power dynamic, as she seeing her father’s issues and finds her own autonomy. But for her, finding agency and confidence doesn’t have to mean winning. Knowing that she can win is enough, because she is giving herself the recognition she needs, not waiting to get it from her. She outgrew his childish demeanor around chess, and she is willing to let him win the game in order to affirm to herself that she doesn’t need the that recognition to know that she won in the long-term.

The Secret Remains (A “The Secret Woman”)

“The Secret Woman,” is a short story following a man and his wife, who both lie to one another in order to attend an ball. Upon arrival, the man witnesses his wife engage with several men and women, cheating on her him.

The story is masterful, in that the lack of length the story contains forces the reader down a rabbit-hole of dissection of what’s already there. There’s so much to pick apart from the story off of such little content.

The narrative and dynamic between both the wife and husband creates a patriarchal binary between the man and woman, as we see the husbands attitude towards the wife do a complete 180 after seeing her self liberation at the party, introducing her as dainty and almost docile, and ending by calling her evil and black. Moreover, the husband initially lied to the wife which leaves readers uncertain towards what his intentions were at the ball in the first place.

The use of the wife’s costume also is a curious metaphor for the secrecy of the wife as I personally interpret it as a double meaning for the reader and the husband not entirely understanding the true identity of the wife. The story is all told through the husbands perspective, so we only ever get to his perception of his wife, when in reality, the wife may have been putting up a front for the husband the entire time, using her social life as a ways to reject/free herself from the binary.

Overall, the story definitely served as a change of pace from some of the other stories we’ve read whilst maintaining a lot of room to dissect, and discuss.

Manipulation of Power Dynamics in Good Country People

Mrs. Freeman's gaze drove forward and just touched him before he disappeared under the hill. The she returned her attention to the evil-smelling onion shoot she was lifting from the ground. 'Some can't be that simple,' she said. 'I know I never could.' (9)

We talk about power dynamics a lot in class, how they form, why they exist, and especially the effects they have on our society. But one thing we haven’t yet talked about is manipulation of these dynamics for personal gain. Manley Pointer in “Good Country People” fools both the simple, religious Ms. Hopewell, and the atheistic, educated Hulga through manipulation of power dynamics which the characters held, and both of their individual value systems.

Ms. Hopewell represents the stereotypical “good country people,” lacking higher education, being religious, hard-working, and disapproving of the modern, atheistic philosophy of Hulga. Pointer represents her idea of “good country people.” She says, “He was so simple…I guess the world would be better off if we were all that simple.” (9) Ms. Hopewell follows the Christian idea that simplicity and humility bring wisdom and holiness, and Pointer fully encapsulates the idea of simple, well-intentioned country people. It seems like she believes in a power dynamic of FAITHFUL/sinning (or something like that), with Pointer’s simple persona placing him on the faithful side along with Ms. Hopewell, and against the atheistic Hulga. This persona turns out to be completely fake, but it fooled Ms. Hopewell easily enough.

Hulga represents the well-educated, atheistic, modern person (generally). She acted very much superior towards Ms. Hopewell and her outlook on life. Hulga very much underestimated Pointer due to this haughty superiority over the “country people” around her. She believed her entire relationship with Pointer was governed by the SMART/dumb power dynamic, on which she was smart, while Pointer was simple. She thought she had all the control, even fantasizing about seducing him. But in the end, he flipped this dynamic on its head, she was the dumb one. He says towards the end “And I’ll tell you another thing, Hulga…you ain’t so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born.” (9) By completely reversing the power dynamic, he completely surprises Hulga (and probably all of the readers, too) and takes away all the control Hulga thought she had.

There is of course more going on in this story than what I’ve pointed out, I didn’t mention Hulga’s leg, or Ms. Freeman, or the contents of Pointer’s bag, or Pointer’s motivations, but this interaction is what I found most striking about this story.

Response to Benjamin’s “Bonds of Love”

Jessica Benjamin believes that love is facilitated through power dynamics in relationships. She explains many ways binaries can be seen in society and how the gender binary is the one that sets up the rest. Due to the fact that sex is the first indicator of who someone is when they are born, it sets people up to be seen as dominant or submissive in the gender binary and then in other ones as they grow up. She explains that one’s entire sense of identity is based on these binaries. These power relationships, whether binary or not, define people’s lives and make power central in everyone’s lives, ultimately contributing to people feeling like they lack fulfillment in their lives. She contradicts Freud’s ideas about one’s sense of identity revolving around their father’s role, also symbolizing society, law, and authority, in separating them from their mother. She argues that identity is found by making efforts to relate to others, rather than by separation but that society makes that difficult because of the way people are socialized. She explains that if people can accomplish this, mutual recognition is possible.

Benjamin’s theory can be seen across most aspects of life, from personal relationships to a global scale. In my life, it operates as all of my relationships feed into some sort of binary whether it’s the MALE/female one or something more specific like MOTHER/daughter. These all impact my ability to have autonomy and how I interact with others. According to Benjamin, if there wasn’t a difference of power in these relationships, I would feel like my life is more fulfilling. I agree mostly with this theory, lots of these binaries, especially more obvious ones such as gender and race can lead to a lot of oppression which is interwoven into all aspects of one’s life and can have many negative effects on someone’s life and their perception of it. Another example of this is binaries based on class, this can alter our perceptions of others and how we perceive our ability to impact their lives. Even if it is done out of sympathy, it can easily perpetuate the idea of dominance as we feel like their lives can be better because of our actions or charity.

The ideas of Benjamin and her ways of Power

Jessica Benjamin argues that the key to freedom is through intersubjectivity and those who seek powerful figures early on. She believes that the people who submit power as well as exercise the usage of power are more dominant. The struggle for power in most cases is between the father and the son and it resonates from that into real life situations. There are steps to show the structure of how power forms and the domination of power as well. Jessica firmly believes that opposite sexs have different sorts of power but that one always has less than the other in certain situations. In order to understand the split between femininity and masculinity there must be critics of the masculine side but also the feminine side. But then to also to be focused on the power and dualistic structure between the two major factors. The Binary usage between many ideas that she has is very important to look at comparing two different types of people and seeing what they can and what they cant do to show which one of them has more power over the other. Because there will always be leaders and there will always be followers.

Abused or Acknowledged: A Benjamin Application

I love movies, and recently, someone very close to me recommended that I watch the movie Whiplash. The film had been lingering on my mind for quite some time as it is critically acclaimed and has been mentioned by many friends and family as of late.

Upon watching, I couldn’t help but draw the similarities of the relationships of characters in the movie to the theories of Jessica Benjamin regarding power dynamics that involve a person subjecting another.

The movie follows Andrew Neiman, played by Miles Teller, a student of the most prestigious music university in the country, who’s obsessed with reaching a level of greatness through becoming a outstanding figure in the Shaffer Conservatory Jazz Band. Throughout the movie, Neiman endures forms of psychological and physical abuse from maestro Terence Fletcher, played by J.K Simmons in his goals to find and create the next great Jazz Musician.

Fletcher is seen practically torturing Andrew by throwing objects at him whilst playing, slapping him for missing tempo, and verbally insulting him time and time again for mistakes whilst playing. But this harm only reinforces Andrews obedience to Fletcher and motivation towards achieving his goal of greatness. Conversely, it allows Fletcher more opportunity to enforce his cruelty in hopes of achieving the goal of his own.

This relationship between the two creates an compelling power dynamic or teacher/student or conducter/musician that’s followed throughout the movie, and ends up resulting in an unforeseen conclusion to the twos relationship that begs the question on whether or not either Fletcher or Neiman achieved a level of Mutual Recognition.

In the end, Andrew plays a final time for Fletcher, disobeying his conducting and reversing the roles of the power dynamic in order to play the set on his own terms. At first, Fletcher doesn’t take kindly to this, mouthing silent threats to him in order not to provoke the audience, however, he eventually submits, and relishes in Andrews talent shining through. The conclusion seems lighthearted and displays the power dynamic fizzling into mutual recognition through Fletcher accepting Andrews rebelling, but it poses the question of the power dynamic being reinforced through Fletcher having his goal achieved of finding solace in Andrew being the next “great” so to speak and Andrew feeling as if he has achieved that status through the approval of his disobedience through Fletchers supposed smile in the final frame of the movie.

Mutual Recognition and Capitalism in America

The entire time I read Benjamin’s theory, my mind strayed to the capitalistic system within the United States, and how it might fit into her theory that both sides have to participate in order for a binary to exist. At first, I questioned if this system even had participation on both sides. How were lower or working class people supporting the system? Why were the supporting the system? Were they even aware of it, and if they were aware, why would they willingly support something that kept them financially oppressed?

I began to think about the history of the United States. Our entire country was built around an idea of independence, especially financial. For years, this idea developed and deepened until it became the backbone of the Republican party. On the surface, it makes sense. Keeping the majority of your hard earned money for yourself, by lowering taxes and putting personal gain ahead of community growth, a person should theoretically be able to achieve the ‘American Dream’ and become very rich. In actuality, this practice has protected the upper class, keeping them rich, while portraying themselves as people who worked a little harder to make a little more.

This is where the bonds of love come into play. By fighting for lower taxes, a working class person might believe they are on track to achieving the ‘American Dream’. The upper class, however, continues to prosper and get further ahead, deepening the wealth divides, often while encouraging lower economic class people to support this system. Both sides contribute and keep this system in place, creating an endless cycle of wealth disparity with no end in sight.

Benjamin’s Theory and Saviorism in America

In Bonds of Love, Benjamin elaborates on the mutual aspect of power dynamics that involve a dominant and submissive side, explaining that in order to fully access their productive potential, equality must be achieved. This can be observed in the typical American “savior” attitude. The United States and the majority of European countries are generally considered to be a part of of the “developed” world. Even in elementary school, I can recall presenters flipping through slideshows of malnutritioned children. “Believe it or not, this child in Africa is a kid – just like you!” From a young age, my peers – no matter our varied statuses in our own society – have been instilled with the suggestion that as a developed nation (superior, powerful), the rest of the developing world (inferior, helpless) needs our help. While this dynamic may seem one sided, as Benjamin explains, such power dynamics of superiority and inferiority are mutual, although not mutually beneficial. Current projects and foreign aid – while accepted – usually only serve to corrupt nations and provide them with what we think they need. Instead, according to Benjamin, these nations should be recognized as equals. Their decisions and policies should be acknowledged and aid should be considered in accordance with their that. The mindset of superiority and separation in many Americans must be broken down in order to identify equally with others. 

To what extent is domination enabled by both parties?

To understand this obscured question one must understand Jessica Benjamin’s theory on Mutal Respect & Domination. In Bonds of Love, Benjamin proposes a seemingly normal question: Why don’t we have gender equality when society wants it? Benjamin goes on to explain how gender stereotypes, binary norms, and expectations feed into this unnatural dynamic of Domination/Submission. Elaborating that when looking at identity most people look at negotiation and conflict which creates the unnatural power struggle. This idea leads to a controversial take on domination and submission. While it’s noted that this power dynamic is not only unnatural but unhealthy it’s also emphasized how in certain regards it is allowed. Benjamin notates how domination is a two-way street and in some capacity, the one being oppressed is allowing for the dynamic whether it be consciously or unconsciously. However, a possible solution is proposed and that solution is the concept of mutual recognition which essentially moves out of the binaries and deconstructs unnatural power dynamics through connection, understanding, and respect.

Where do I stand?

I feel that Benjamin has a very different and interesting perspective in regard to the power dynamics of society. While I agree to some extent that domination/submission bias is allowed by both parties, I also believe that there are instances where the dynamic is not allowed and happens forcefully. Of the aspects I agree with I have gained an understanding of how certain power dynamics are allowed like teacher/student and parent/child. The respect given to an extent is out of societal expectations, however, part of it is also genuine respect that is constantly changing through experiences. Benjamin’s ideas have led me to contemplate the idea of mutual respect and really work to get rid of those biases I carry whether it is something simple or complex.

An Analysis Of Jessica Benjamin

According to the philosophies of Freud a person has two distinct breaks in their childhood, one from their mother and one from their father. In Bonds of Love, Jessica Benjamin argues otherwise. Instead, she argues, this connective break does not factor into the need to connect to others but instead, the discovering of self in the connection to others. Benjamin expresses her belief that it is not a binary issue, disconnected or connected, but rather a need to have an almost paradoxical balance of interconnectedness and separation

I definitely understand her theory and definitely agree with her thinking. Broadly, as a theory built upon the theories of Freud, I think she fills in the holes of his theories and effectively stretches them to not only apply to men but to women as well. First of all, her analysis of the binaries that show up in human society is spot on, in my opinion, and I think the way that we not only put ourselves into such binaries but put others into those same binaries separates us from those we therefore characterize as “different” or possibly “less than”. While, as humans, we rely on and are evolved to need socialization and connection, it is also very important for us to see ourselves as individuals who do not belong in the same category as others.

We cannot all embody the same societal roles, therefore, we feel we must differentiate ourselves from others through binaries- man, woman, employee, boss. While that disconnection is healthy, we have too effectively separated ourselves from others and have lost the mutual recognition we crave. By living in and accepting such binaries we are distancing ourselves from the mutual recognition of “us” and “other”. I would take these lessons and urge others to at least consider and understand the binaries that are ingrained in society and try to go against the urge to follow them. While I believe it is impossible to fully separate ourselves from all binaries- society is too powerful and binaries are too ingrained in us to allow for such a separation- the closest we can get is recognizing and fighting against as many as we can.

The Old Blog is Dead! Long Live the Old Blog!

For many years, we used the Blogger platform for the AP Lit blog. Since it is owned by Google, it integrates pretty seamlessly with your Google accounts — which made it easy to use, in some respects — but it is a very limited and bug-ridden platform. So this year, we have decided to construct a new class blog from scratch using the most more powerful and stable WordPress platform.

If you are interested, though, in seeing what past AP Lit students have been thinking and writing about, feel free to wander over to the old blog.

old blog

Orientalism: Is Wakanda a Rogue State?

The MCU’s Black Panther dazzles moviegoers with its representation of a technologically advanced African power, but to what extent does it’s foreign novelty cover up its admittedly brutal nature.

The plot of the movie (Spoilers ahead) centers around the benevolent and super-powered king Tchalla of Wakanda as his throne is usurped by the cruel and malevolent Killmonger, who seeks to use Wakanda’s weapons to overthrow the world order. The central conflict and setting provide some interesting set pieces for fun superhero action, but it also begs the question: Is Wakanda an African North Korea?

Both countries are poor isolated nations with xenophobic streaks and hereditary monarchs which wield absolute power and supposedly have supernatural abilities. Everybody’s favorite ‘Glorious Jucheist Republic of Korea’ is also technologically advanced, at least according to government officials.

Killmonger is doubtlessly evil and vindictive, yet the reason that he poses such a threat is because in Wakanda democracy is tossed out in favor of trial by combat. Killmonger even finds allies in Wakanda nationalists who believe in militaristic interventionism not-at-all dissimilar to Kim Jung Il’s communist revolutionary network.

Why does Wakanda get off the hook? (Other than the fact that Black Panther is a superhero film)

One possible reason is that Wakanda’s existence is steeped in orientalism, or stereotypes about non-western countries. The music playing in the Wakandan setting is literally called “(Tribal music playing)” in the subtitles for Avengers: Infinity War.

The trial-by-combat that decides the Wakandan dictator is not portrayed as a gross betrayal of popular sovereignty but instead as a “Noble commitment to honorable traditions”. With enough bone necklaces and Nigerian accents even the most archaic government can become a proud tradition.

In a cinematic universe filled with realistic national governments led by pragmatic and greedy leaders, the African one (Wakanda) gets to be treated like some fantasy kingdom such as Camelot or Andor. (Which to be fair it mostly is)

Of course, this is an over analysis of what is supposed to be a fun movie, so take this with a grain of salt.

What do you think?

The Development from King to Person

Throughout the play, The Tragedy of King Lear by Shakespeare, the two characters that have always caught my attention was King Lear himself. At the beginning of the play he was very arrogant while asking his daughters pretty much, “Which one of you loves me the most for land.” This in itself shows the power craved Lear, as he banishes Cordelia for telling him she loves him as any daughter would love a father to which he says, “Here I disclaim all my paternal care, / Propinquity, and property of blood, / And as a stranger to my heart and me / Hold thee from this forever. The barbarous / Scythian” (I.i.125-129). Here Lear —after being told that his daughter only loves him normally— is very upset and gets rid of any connection between Cordelia and him even by blood. By this we can see that he is very self-centered and is upset that he does not have faked loved. However, as the play continues we see that Lear changes and is considerate of poorer people who must endure the raging storm. It is then that we see the formation of humanity in Lear, something we did not see previously. With the banishment of Cordelia, also, shows the lack of parental understanding or parenting in general, however, this changes around the end of the story Lear tells Cordelia, “Pray do not mock: / I am a very foolish and fond old man, / Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less, / And to deal plainly, / I fear I am not in my perfect mind” (IV.vii.68-72). We notice a major difference from the beginning to the end with Lear’s characteristics, such as taking accountability for his wrong doings and expressing his fear of going mad to Cordelia, which he would typically push aside exclaiming to the gods that he hopes he does not go mad. A representation of parenthood is expressed when Lear tells Cordelia, “No, no, no, no. Come, let’s away to prison. We two alone will sing likes birds i’ th’ cage. / When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down / And ask for thee forgiveness. So we’ll live, / And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh…” (V.iii.9-13). Lear, here, is completely willing to go to jail to be able to spend quality time with Cordelia as he possibly did not do before. This shows Lear’s change in perspectives as he is not wanting to talk to Cordelia and even willing to kneel and beg for her forgiveness, which a king, and definitely not King Lear from the beginning. I find the development of Lear’s character and the perspective shift he had because of his lost of control and power may illustrate how power, while it can be used for good things, it can corrupt someone.

Defiance and Acceptance: A Spectrum

Coincidentally, I just finished reading two works that oddly relate. Written by Erika L. Sanchez, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter directly references The Stranger. In a moment of betrayal, Julia (the protagonist) sits by the lake to read The Stranger in order to calm herself. Since she’s on a school field trip, her English teacher finds her to check if she’s ok.

It’s Mr. Ingman. ‘Hey!’ he says, and sits down next to me. ‘What are you reading now?’

I hold it up for him to see.

‘So, a light beach read?’ Mr. Ingman chuckles.

I nod. ‘I guess so.’

‘What do you think of it?’

‘It’s like nothing means anything. Nothing has a real purpose. I guess that’s how I feel a lot of the time. Sometimes I really don’t see the point of anything.’

‘Existential despair, huh?’

‘Yes, exactly.’ I smile.

(Sanchez, 2017, p. 132)

Throughout the book, Julia’s biggest hurdle is her strained relationship with her mom. Her mom is an undocumented immigrant while Julia is a second generation American. Julia’s story spectacularly paints the struggle of a cultural divide between Mexicans and Mexican Americans. What does this have to do with The Stranger and Meursault? Meursault is a perplexing character for most readers. Readers are challenged to understand his way of thinking because his thinking is unlike the common person. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter parallels with The Stranger because both of the central characters challenge the idea of “normal.” Throughout The Stranger, Meursault constantly proves to be different from every other character because his thinking and expression of emotions is different. He belittles every event to simplicity. Similarly, Julia is distinct from the other characters of the book because she is not the ideal Mexican, the ideal Mexican daughter. Be that as it may, Julia differs from Meursault because she challenges everything and she steps outside of conformity, while Meursault submits to conformity in almost every situation by being indifferent. I think this can still be leveraged to prove that both characters test the extreme ends of a spectrum on their societal norms.

The Stranger and No Longer Human

As I’ve been reading The Stranger by Albert Camus this last week or so, I have constantly been reflecting and comparing it to a previous book I´d read this summer, No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai.

Through further inspectional and revisiting of No Longer Human, I’ve found that the two books, especially the characters, are both opposites and somewhat parallel. 

The main character in No Longer Human, Oba Yozo, is a more sensitive and emotional person but feels no joy, only an overwhelming feeling of estrangement. While Meursault the narrator of The Stranger is very nonchalant and emotionally dull. However, both of these characters bring about a feeling of unease and emptiness to the reader. An aspect of these two characters that binds them together is their indifference to other people and life itself.

To grasp this better, the following are both books opening lines:

“Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.”

The Stranger

¨Mine has been a life of much shame. I can’t even guess myself what it must be to live the life of a human being. ¨

No Longer Human

Both these lines pull the reader in through uncomfortability, from the get-go they leave the impression of being an outsider and mentally peculiar, not being normal. 

The two books have the same destination, or rather these two characters have the same outlook on life but have different ways of getting there. I think this line from No Longer Human Shows their similar mental state well, “Now I have neither happiness nor unhappiness. Everything passes. That is the one and only thing that I have thought resembled a truth in the society of human beings where I have dwelled up to now as in a burning hell. Everything passes.”(169) Oba is a reflective person, Meursault just accepts his belief, “I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.”(122) Meursault feels too little and finds life meaningless and on the flip side, Oba Yozo feels too much, too inferior, that he finds life meaningless.  

 The approach to this mindset though is a stark difference, Meursault does not show or feel emotions. Oba cannot feel happiness, he is stuck in a deep depression to the point that nothing matters. By this same principle, Meursault sees nothing wrong with his nature, Oba understands that he is not normal, thinking of himself as other or not human, he’s a “clown”, acting in a way acceptable by society (laughing and joking around).

Both the Stranger and No Longer Human illustrate that life isn’t full but futile, by following abnormal figures through a span of time and observing the experience and insight they gain as rejects from society.

The Women of King Lear

The portrayal of women in Shakespeare’s King Lear at first glance seems very progressive. Once you start to read further you notice that the progressive nature of the women is only used to further the gender norms of the time. Goneril and Regan who are the most progressive female characters in the book are portrayed as villainous even though if they were men they would only be perceived as taking what’s theirs. On the last page of act 3, when the servants are talking about Regan and Cornwall, they say that they don’t care what they do as long as Cornwall advances in life however discussing Regan they say that women will all turn evil if justice isn’t swift upon Regan for what she has done. This discussion is very telling of the true nature of how women should be viewed in King Lear. One may argue that Cordelia is another strong female character in the play and I can’t dispute that however, she is not portrayed as progressive like Goneril and Regan. The one time Cordelia truly stands up for herself and speaks her mind she is ridiculed and disowned by her father. She comes back later in the play to help defend that same father who disowned her, once again serving the men of the play. She resumes her “rightful” place by her father’s side, respecting him as her better even though he was so awful to her. 

Family = Love? Maybe Not

Many characters in King Lear do not seek true love but only selfish and false representation of love. True love is unconditional and honest while selfish love is motivated by money, lust, or merely approval from others.

At the start of the play, Lear stages a love test. Lear tests each of his daughters on how much they love him. Opportunistic Goneril and Regan flatter him and he accepts this because he sees verbal love as true love. Lear rewards Goneril and Regan’s love for him by giving them land and wealth. This only enforces the idea that material things are not apart of true love.

The youngest sister, Cordelia, is not as eager to confess her love to her father.

What shall Cordelia speak? Love and be silent.

(Act I, Scene 1)

Cordelia makes it clear that she loves him, but she can’t put it into words. She knows that words can’t truly express true feelings. True love does not require mere words as a dedication to devotion. Unfortunately Lear does not understand that so he disowns her when she refuses to flatter him.

Soon after, Cordelia is to get passed off. She is expected to marry Burgundy or France. But now that she is disowned with no dowry or title, her status has decreased. Soon, Cordelia gets rejected by Burgundy because he only seeks authority and power from a possible relationship with her. But France steps forward and takes her hand because he understands the true meaning of love, which enforces Cordelia’s representation of true love.


Then arrives the second plot of the play – Gloucester and his two sons, Edgar and Edmund.

Gloucester makes fun of Edmund’s illegitimacy and refers to him as “whoreson” (Act I. Scene 1). Edmund is desperate to feel loved so he selfishly plots his father’s and Edgar’s demise to feel above from his title as a bastard child.

Edmund lies to Gloucester and puts Edgar against Gloucester. Gloucester is quick to accept these claims without any proof. Gloucester rejects Edgar the same way Lear disowns Cordelia. Gloucester then tries to execute Edgar while Lear banishes Cordelia.

While Lear and Gloucester reject their respective child that represents true love, they fall for the characters that represent anti-love. Goneril, Regan, and Edmund represent false love. They are only motivated by money, lust, or self-serving love.


Edgar and Cordelia are the epitome of true love. They are forced to suffer banishment, rejection, and Edgar has to disguise himself to remain loyal. Cordelia rushes to help Lear when she learns of his new state and Edgar kills Oswald to defend Gloucester. They consistently prove their love for their respective fathers despite when their respective fathers’s have casted them out.

At least in the beginning, Lear and Gloucester are similar to Goneril, Edgar, and Regan because they all represent false love. They all have flawed perceptions of love. Lear and Gloucester see true love as approval from others while the three antagonist are motivated by money, lust, and their self-serving nature.

But Lear and Gloucester are forced to confront their mistakes. They spend most of the play suffering and facing the consequences of their actions. Soon they learn that verbal love does not equate to true love. But that true love is more than skin deep.

The Evil Villian- A Strong Woman

Due to the circumstances of the patriarchal society that has been present in society for hundreds if not thousands of years, gender roles have always been a prominent underlying issue throughout history. Gender roles are prevalent in literature and are expressed in many different ways. Shakespeare explores the theme of gender roles throughout King Lear regarding women in power. The main idea of his argument is that women are incapable of achieving control on their own. When they do receive power, it will corrupt their judgment and ultimately bring their downfall as a person. So basically, women are not able to handle the responsibilities of leadership as well as men can. Shakespeare challenges the traditional gender roles of women in society while at the same time sticks to the societal norm in King Lear. He gives them power, whereas, in many novels, women aren’t even the chance to possess any ability. Still, once the power is given to the women of the story, he makes failure imminent for them, which causes him to fall back into the traditional norms of gender roles for women in power.

As seen in Shakespeares’ play, King Lear, Reagan, more so than Goneril, loses her morals while in a blood lust search for power. This can be seen when she orders to have Kent put into the stocks or orders to have Gloucester’s eyes ripped out. These events show her lack of morals as a woman in power, which furthers the theme that women cannot handle power. However, Regan’s actions also promote a feminist ideology. Reagan opposes the usual gender roles by representing a more independent and cruel female role.

The feminist theme is also seen at the beginning of the play when his two daughters, who later turn evil and turn against him, Goneril and Reagan, profess their love to Lear. While his third daughter, Cordelia, refuses to fuel his ego. Shakespeare’s action and character challenge gender roles, specifically during the period in which the play was written by having Cordelia disobey her father, therefore giving her independence. Her power furthers when she gets married and becomes the queen of France. Her other two sisters gain power from marriage as well by marrying the dukes of Albany and Cornwall. While this growth of authority for the women supports the feminist ideology, it also supports a misogynistic view. For the women to gain power, they had to get married and receive power from their husbands.

Shakespeare builds on gender roles throughout the play, supporting both the feminist view and the patriarchal view with examples throughout The Tragedy of King Lear. 

The Struggle of Being a Woman

Back in Shakespearean times, being a noble woman carried a lot of weight. Males sexualized us. We would have to look and dress a certain way. Our mannerisms mattered (even if they were not authentic). And last but not least, we were expected to be docile and follow the lead of the men in our life, especially our fathers.

The struggle of being a woman is very present in the play, King Lear, by William Shakespeare. In the play, King Lear’s daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia are expected to proclaim their love for their father in order to receive their inheritance. Regan and Goneril overexaggerate their love for their father, while Cordelia remains true to herself and does not blanket her father compliments in order to gain his favor. Because of this, she receives none of his power or inheritance, despite her authentic love for her father being more than her sisters’. This is just the first of many examples in the play, where the struggle of being a woman is very real. Non-submissiveness results in great consequences, as seen with Cordelia. “Fortunately” for her, the King of France decides to court and marry her, which means she will remain in nobility. This further exemplifies how difficult it is to be a woman because she must marry someone in order to remain above water. Without a noble man, she would have been nothing.

Later in the play, the portrayal of Goneril and Regan is quite dramatic due to the power that they hold. When Goneril requests that Lear downsizes the amount of knights that he brings, Lear exclaims that Goneril has a “wolfish visage” (1.4.325). In the play, women of power are frequently described as rabid animals. In this case, because Goneril was exerting her authority over her father, who distributed all of his power, she was bashed and described to be a wolf. Moreover, after abandoning their father. the Duke of Albany condemns Goneril and Regan when he states, “Tigers, not daughters, what have you performed?”(4.2.49). By describing them as tigers, he is emphasizing that they are acting wild and animalistic.

Even more, the fact that the females in the story act out of control when in power plays on to a theme that we as women cannot hold power without being ruthless. In reality, women can act and rule in a very normal way. The chaos in King Lear does not serve as a proper example of women in power, but does emphasize the many bad perceptions of women. In this modern day and age, ruling as a female is still quite difficult. It is nice to think that progress is still happening. With Kamala Harris as the first female vice president of the USA, we can clearly see change and understand that females are very capable of leading. There is still hope for future women in power.

Bread

In his essay “Canon Fodder” written for The Washington Post, Viet Nguyen discusses race in terms of the exclusive and predominantly white literary canon taught in curricula. He concludes his writing by saying, “the culture that produced the canonical greats also produced mass slavery and colonization that killed millions. Both Shakespeare and slaughter are part of Western civilization. Can we recognize both these faces of the West? Not if we read only Shakespeare.” (38) The attention he draws to the binary between the WHITE writer and not necessarily white reader (as literary audiences are arguably one of the most diverse populations out there) is also applicable to the binary central to the story “Conversation About Bread” in which Eldwin and Brian are anthropology majors discussing the implications and expectations that go along with being either a black writer or black reader. At one point, Brian asks, “Like why would you want to tell this story about a bunch of black Southern guys discovering bread anyway? What purposed does it serve unless it’s to show yourself as somehow better than them?” (92) Theirs is a tricky line to traipse as too much attention to a specific story like this could present as a patronizing piece of writing. However, ignoring little details in favor of coming across as less ‘superior’ risks ignorance and insensitivity. Thus, it is vital to strike a balance between the two.

It is also important to note that just as there is diversity between cultures and races, there is diversity between the individuals in every culture and race. Additionally, the common binary oppositions the mind is often drawn to are not any more prevalent than those that are more complex, crossing the dividing lines between people that make one group the ‘other’. For example, in the short story, there are several instances in which the binary of WHITE/black is noted (i.e. the white woman in the library). While this is the expected and easiest to observe, there is also a binary between the two men as one is a black writer and the other a black reader. It can even be shown that there is a binary between the men as both black readers and writers versus the white canon under which they are learning. So essentially, the argument could be made that even Brian and Eldwin are looking at themselves and the bread story through a ‘white’ lens.