The Shift of Power in “The Secret Woman”

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette’s short story “The Secret Woman” tells the story of how dishonesty between a husband and wife can lead to a shift in power because of a shift in perception. In the opening of this story we see the husband lying to his wife explaining that he is unable to go to the green and purple ball because of a patient he has to take care of. In response the wife tells her lie, telling him that she is too shy to be able to go to the ball and put herself in front of a group of people. This promotes the idea that she lacks courage and depends on him, seeing this in the way she made her husband think that she was against the idea of the party.

“As for me.. Can you see me in a crowd, at the mercy of all those hands..” (Pg. 328).

Despite their lies they end up at the ball, just not together. When he first sees his wife he doesn’t think that it’s her, under the impression that she wouldn’t be there. Once he realizes that it is in fact his wife he follows her and notices the way she is projecting herself, surprised, rolling her hips and dragging her feet. Once following his wife, we see that he looks at her more of an object that her own person.

Once seeing his wife for who she truly was, flirtatious, secretive or promiscuous, the way he described her shifted.

“She laughed, and he admired her narrow face, pink, matt and long, like a delicate sugared almond…” (Pg. 327).

This quote shows the way the man viewed his wife in the beginning but once he saw that she was actively choosing this for herself the way he saw her shifted, shown by the stark contrast in how she was described in the end.

“[T]he monstrous pleasure of being alone, free, honest in her crude, native state, of being the unknown woman, eternally solitary and shameless, restored to her irremediable solitude and immodest innocence by a little mask and a concealing costume” (Pg. 331).

Her freedom was shocking to him because of who he thought he had known her to be, once he saw that she was in power of her own situation, her own person, he didn’t really know how to deal with it. In the end I think he may have felt unsure of himself in the end, now seeing her at this party he wasn’t sure of his role in their relationship anymore, because he realized his role was always fake and apart of her lies.

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.

Power in Society

Everywhere you go, there is going to be an imbalance in power. This is the way society has been constructed from day one. Tensions are created between different ethnicity’s and genders based on individuals getting the false sense that they are somehow “better than others” based on them having more power. In the play, we see how the power Lear has is immense, but easily thrown away. His own daughter stole the throne from him and take it as theirs. Power causes a great divide, because people will often do anything the can to obtain it.

Power has only increased for the people that posses it as time has gone on. With technology being such a prominent facet in our everyday lives, the power you have can seem bigger than ever with the ability to reach countless people. Too often, however, power is used in the wrong way. Goneril and Regan loved the power Lear had more than him himself. Because of this, they stole the thrown from him. Being someone in power has its positives and negatives in society. Power can easily be abused, and those not in as much power could easily abuse the power of others. Needless to say, power creates a lot of issues in modern day society, and in King Lear.

Who Makes Justice

In King Lear, Lear is the man with all the power to begin with. From the time the reader saw him with everything, he was not a great or admirable man. Lear was quick to anger, impulsive, and the opposite of smart. The only reason his subjects listened and obeyed him is due to the fact that he held all the power. Defying the King could mean losing your life, land, or family. King Lear deals out his sense of justice when Kent, his loyal advisor defies him. At the beginning he could do anything he wanted with no consequences and didn’t hold back.

As Lear deligated his land to his daughters, his power dwindled. He could no longer deal his sense of justice with no council. Goneril and Regan held all the power and almost all of Lear’s former followers left to serve the strong. The daughters proceeded to make their own dealings and pass their own sentences on people. Justice gets dealt by the people who hold the power. It is always the people who win and can do the real damage that make justice. In most wars, the victor has been on the side of justice, but it is not because justice prevails. Rather the winner is justice and no one could defy them.