Envisioning the Future through the Past: Analyzing How Gloucester and Lear Couldn’t Foresee their Ends

The sense of sight is quite interesting in that people have a sense of control over it. Sounds exist and we can block them out or not. You are constantly feeling everything you interact with. To not smell is to avoid breathing; to not taste is to deter the intake of nourishment. Sight however is constant and yet we have the ability constantly alter our focus and intended objects of perception. We as people decide to do a quick look, a casual glance, a deep observation, or even a Luigi death stare as we will our eyes to see our surroundings.  It’s no wonder why the symbolism of sight is so powerful in literature, specifically William Shakespeare’s King Lear. While the character of Gloucester is more prevalent in this theme, I wish to also analyze how the eponymous monarch also fails at perceiving the world around him.

King Lear’s trajectory as a protagonist is one that follows a reverse “rags to riches” story. At the twilight of his life, he has achieved success in all facets of his life. A warrior king who has made it to old age is rare in this time as war, betrayal, and even disease could easily cut down a ruler in his prime. This widower has found love, power, and glory and so wishes to pass on these honors down to the next generation; thus, further assuring the survival of his legacy. The problem being that Lear is blinded by the accolades of his past and fails to see possibilities of how such a transfer of power could cause more harm than good. To put it simply, Lear believes his own hype and can’t believe that Cordelia wouldn’t follow suit in the praise off he had orchestrated. Blind with rage at Cordelia’s refusal, the old King banishes her, not knowing that he has inadvertently knocked the first domino in a series of events that will spell the fall of House Lear.

Secondly, we have Gloucester, a man who has undying loyalty for his king but whose values towards his sons change at the drop of a hat. Gloucester remains stalwart to the past rulership but becomes easily confused towards the future whenever conflicting information arises. While he takes preference towards Edgar when it comes to status and legitimacy, the moment Edgar starts with his fake news tactics the title of favored son changes hands. While we as readers witness how the revelation of truth comes at the cost of his actual sight, Gloucester continues to be gullible as Edgar uses fake voices and trickery to keep him alive and well. The truth remains elusive and only two things remain constant for the Gloucester family: we must remain loyal to Lear and Edgar was the nice one all along. Both sons take advantage of this to further their own causes and implement their own visions of the future. Since their father has no foresight, he resembles Aaron Burr’s convictions of standing for nothing and falling for everything.

Both versions of sight for these characters revolve around misrepresenting the past as reflections of the future. This brings to mind how we look “forward to the future” and “back to the past” but that is not the case for the whole world. Laura Spinney reports on how the Aymara Native American group living in the Andes mountainscape see the future as behind us and the past in front of us. The logic behind it simple, we know the past, hence we have seen it; the future is unseen, hence beyond our line of sight (aka behind us). On the other hand, Anil Ananthaswamy explores how a tribe in Papua New Guinea refers to the past based on their geography. For the Yupno people, they see the world much like their island in that they see the source of life as the river and its origin lies in the top of the mountain. Hence, regardless of where they are on the island, to speak of the future revolves around referring to the coast and the past is always seen as the central mountain. Both of these perspectives in regards to the past and future can be applied to these two lords.

Lear confuses the past and future, assuming that the world as it was should continue. With each daughter’s apparent betrayal, his notions of the space-time continuum become altered and slowly unrecognizable. For Gloucester, the past remains in the origins (the mountain) of loyalty to the King and that at least one kid should love him. As murky and winding as the future may be, he looks back upon these truths to maintain some form of stability. The problem lies in that these perspectives blind towards the reality that the readers and the rest of the characters see so clearly. Kent and the Fool clearly notice that something is amiss while Goneril and Regan figure out that Edmund has sinister plans for all in his way. It is not until they lose everything that Lear and Gloucester can understand the precariousness of their situation and barely make amends for their mistakes by the end of the story. By placing their past in front of them, they were blocking their own sight of what would come to be and ultimately permit/push along their downfalls.

 

 

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21428675.400-time-flows-uphill-for-remote-papua-new-guinea-tribe/

 

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2005/feb/24/4

 

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I Would Die for Sex: Exploring the Importance of Sex in Oscar Wao

Odds are you have seen some variation of Family Feud clips wherein the current host, Steve Harvey asks groups of people to determine the answers given by groups of 100 people polled on multiple topics. Many of these clips are hilarious in their own right but one in particular caught my eye, a group of men were tasked with figuring out the answers to what would guys do for sex. The answers are quite encompassing of particular gender roles though one stands out above the rest, the one that no one was able to guess: “I would die for sex”. The audience laughs, Steve Harvey can’t believe someone would even suggest it and then lo and behold it’s there.

Video here

That answer comes to mind whenever I ponder about the finale of Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life. This novel which I love to hate has been part of my classes for some time though I remember being mesmerized by this text as a student. With every new reading I see how the younger version of me was so much like the protagonist and just how clueless I was to what actually mattered in life.

Oscar as a kid seems to be “normal” according to the Dominican standards set upon him by his family. However, as puberty set in you see how the long-awaited expectation of engaging with the ladies needed a plan of action. Oscar was good at planning, or rather he focused on the planning knowing full well that the execution would probably not pan out. In many ways, he played out the ill-conceived definition of insanity and hoped that this next random attractive female within his vicinity would react positively to his cringe inducing pick up lines. Interestingly enough, whatever minor depression ensues after each rejection is brushed off with the new hopes of another lady passing by. We do see Oscar going off the deep end when it comes to the lady friends he had kind of a chance with but never really took off.

With the closest thing he had to a high school sweetheart, Oscar confessed his love for a woman who already had a boyfriend (even if he was super abusive) and he was let down as gently as possible. Still, our protagonist went out of his way to face the bad guy because he saw it as a heroic duty. In Oscar’s world of fantasy, to defeat evil is to obtain love and by facing Manny he could do just that, though who know what would have happened had he actually appeared on that rainy night. Later in college, Oscar spent lots of time with La Jablese and thought there was a real chance at there being an actual relationship with her. Rather than going into Batman brooding vengeance, he goes full Hulk rage and starts flailing violently everywhere and getting him labeled as even more of a freak by the college community. This failure and stigma lead Oscar towards leaping, not just as a way to end the misery but as a way to showcase just how much he cared about her.

That’s the problem with Oscar and in large part with several aspects of toxic masculinity. Oscar’s infatuation with the ladies is one that leads to him pledging his allegiance to anyone who gives him the hope of a chance at a physical relationship existing. His loyalty is so unflinching that he considers it an honorable sacrifice for the sake of love. In other words, he would die for sex. The ending provides a silver lining in that it shows that Oscar learned that the little things about love were more important than the sex that Yunior and society keeps telling him that he needs to have. However, he didn’t have to die for Ybon to feel that with her or anyone else. Perhaps it is that same level of sacrifice that gets him so emotional towards the previous ladies of his desire. He was willing to die for them and that somehow wasn’t enough to get them interested. He never quite figured out that loyalty can be offered but it can be rejected as well. All the good intentions in the world don’t stop it from being creepy. Had Oscar lowered sex and love from the idealized pedestal he built on his own then maybe he could have changed his ways and lived the good life that Yunior and Lola were able to build as they each continued on their own path. Much like a soldier with the fatal combo of patriotism and a death wish, he died for an ideal he could have better served had he not been so gung ho about his “need” to love and be loved in return.