Cultural Context: Influence of Authority

Cultural Context: Influence of Authority

I’m not Scared

Individuals do not respect figures of authority in the text, emphasized by the breakdown of the parent-child relationship which conventionally centers on the child’s respect for their elder. Michele’s father attempts to cement his and other adults’ authority so as to keep control his son, however Michele does not consider matters so simplistically, symbolized by his excessive focus on the supernatural, folk tales about werewolves and witches and rumors about madness. This is shown in his perception of Filippo’s situation; while it is plainly obvious that Filippo is being kept kidnapped Michele can see nothing sinister about his fellow ten-year-old being chained in a hole by an abandoned farmhouse, nor does he apply any context in an effort to make understanding of it. Michele’s father soon tells his son ‘Stop all this talk about monsters… monsters don’t exist. It’s men you should be afraid of, not monsters’ in an effort to make his son realize that he must understand his world and respect its authoritative figures. Michele soon understands that this refers to his father, one of those who has kidnapped Filippo; however he does not fear his father and therefore disregards his orders. He continues his visits to Filippo so as to bathe him, restore his sight and reassure him that his mother’s appeal on television is proof of her love for her son. Indeed, it can be speculated that when Michele’s father shoots his son that this is symbolic Michelle’s rebellious nature; despite Michele calling out and addressing his father, he did not obey his instructions previously and hence must be show the gravity of such disobedience.

The Old Man and the Sea

Santiago’s repeated confrontations with the sharks and the marlin can be read as challenges to authority as these take place in the oceanic realm where such fierce and large creatures are dominant forces. The description of Santiago’s traveling further out than normal indicates a realization that he is a world that is not his own and that he is a visitor here, as well as the presentation of the sea-creatures as belonging to this place; ‘The old man knew he was going far out and he left the smell of the land behind and rowed out in the clean early morning smell of the ocean. He saw the phosphorescence of the Gulf weed in the water as he rowed over the part of the ocean that the fishermen called the great well because there was a sudden deep of seven hundred fathoms where all sorts of fish congregated’. He also realizes the power of this place, indicated when he presents the sun as part of this place and remarks of its blinding rays, ‘All my life the early sun has hurt my eyes… In the evening I can look straight into it without getting the blackness. It has more force in the evening too. But in the morning it is painful.’ However, despite his realization that he is a visitor and respecting the power of this place, Santiago challenges the animals that dominate this setting, such as catching and refusing to free the large marlin which pulls his boat far out into the gulf, and his stabbing of the shark with the dagger that he fashions from his oar. The old man attempts to justify his challenge by declaring that everything is sinful and that killing is a natural way of life which  in part excuses his actions, despite not having any rights in this space; he therefore believes that he should not worry about his actions towards the beings that reside in this place, ‘Perhaps it was a sin to kill the fish.. But then everything is a sin. Do not think about sin. It is much too late for that and there are people who paid to do it. Let them think about it… everything kills everything else in some way.’

Macbeth

In the play authority is not revered, evidenced through the lack of respect for the king of Scotland. In the world of the play the king was God’s representative in the kingdom, divinely chosen to implement the natural order of things, whereby all in the kingdom acting according to the king’s wishes and commands which reflected those of God. However at the start of the play there is already opposition to the king’s rule by the traitorous thane of Cawdor; Duncan realizes this, evidenced when he laments upon the ‘absolute trust’ he placed in the thane and remarks of how he was deceived, saying ‘There’s no art/ To find the mind’s construction in the face./ He was a gentleman on whom I built/ An absolute trust’. In this same scene Macbeth also shows his lack of devotion to Duncan, as the witches have awoken his ambition and instilled in him a desire to be king, which overpowers his sense of loyalty. Therefore, while Macbeth tells the king ‘our duties/ Are to your throne and state, children and servants,/ which do but what they should by doing everything/ safe toward your love and honor’ he in fact is already thinking about how he can become king. When all others leave the scene he remarks ‘The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step/ On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap,/ For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires;/ Let not light see my black and deep desires’; the Prince of Cumberland refers to Malcom, who Duncan has just announced will be heir to his throne, and who Macbeth now realizes is an obstacle to his desire. Needless to say, Macbeth’s later act of regicide is further evidence of a lack of respect for authority in the play.

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About the Author

John Ryan

John has a Masters in Modern English Literature and is the founder of RyJoLC, an educational consultancy based in Dublin that provides English language and curriculum resources to educational institutions worldwide.
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