University School - Hunting Valley
Instructor: Scott Boehnen
Love and Money in The Merchant of Venice
Love and Money in The Merchant of Venice
In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Bassanio's pursuit of wealth from his relationships clashes with Antonio's pursuit of love and companionship in his relationships to create the central conflict of the play. The lack of money between the two men puts a strain on their relationship, but the self-sacrificial nature of their love prevails over the pitfalls of greed for wealth. Antonio sacrifices his wealth and well-being in order to help his dear friend Bassanio in times of need. When Bassanio reveals his latest endeavor to court Portia and inherit Belmont's fortune, Antonio does not hesitate to stake his life on a loan to support Bassanio. Following the motif of self-sacrifice for one another, Bassanio is willing to give his own life before Shylocke should lay a hand on Antonio. During the court scene, Bassanio says, "The Jew shall have my flesh, blood, bones, and all / Ere thou shalt lose for me one drop of blood!" (4.1.114-115). However, Bassanio's love of money is what got the duo in a dangerous legal situation to begin with. But with these selfless showings of their mutual friendship, Antonio and Bassanio's relationship wins out over the conflicts that money incites.
The exchange of wealth is an essential part of Bassanio's relationships throughout the play. Bassanio has borrowed money from Antonio on numerous occasions. Although the strength of their relationship can be shown in the court scene in the play, a crucial aspect of their relationship is Antonio providing money for Bassanio's endeavors. In a similarly pecuniary manner, Bassanio's primary motivation for courting Portia is to inherit her family's large estate. Though Bassanio and Portia develop a deeper relationship throughout the play, their relationship is established on the basis of Bassanio chasing money. However, Bassanio's relationship with Antonio varies from his relationship with Portia in its self-sacrificial nature. It is shown plainly that Bassanio holds his relationship with Antonio in higher esteem than his relationship with Portia when Bassanio gives up his wedding ring to Portia disguised as Balthazar. Bassanio is prepared to sacrifice his marriage in order to honor the man who saved Antonio. The self-sacrifice and exchange of money between Antonio and Bassanio serve to show the strength and mutualistic nature that their relationship possesses.
The exchange of wealth is an essential part of Antonio's and Bassanio's relationship throughout the play, but Antonio's giving of his wealth is an effort to sustain his homosocial relationship with Bassanio. Antonio's intrapersonal conflict that is introduced at the beginning of the play is simply that he is sad. Antonio expresses that he is not worried about his wealth that is out at sea, so Salarino and Solanio deduce that he is troubled by love. It is likely that Antonio is worried about his relationship with Bassanio. That is why Antonio continually gives up his money to Bassanio. Bassanio himself expresses that he is deeply indebted to Antonio for all of the times Antonio has funded him. He says, "But my chief care / Is to come fairly off from the great debts / Wherein my time, something too prodigal, / Hath left me gaged. To you, Antonio" (1.1.134-137). The transfer of wealth is both out of love for Bassanio and in order to keep Bassanio close to him. Bassanio is "gaged" to Antonio, he is both obliged to pay Antonio back and to stay close to him. Referring to Bassanio's efforts to court Portia, Antonio's funding of Bassanio is paradoxical. Antonio spoils Bassanio to keep him close but personally funding Bassanio's endeavor to find a wife would achieve the opposite. Shakespeare does this to show how, although Antonio loves Bassanio and their relationship, he wishes for Bassanio's happiness over his own.
Antonio's support of Bassanio pursuing Belmont is the ultimate act of self-sacrifice in their relationship. By funding Bassanio's trip, Antonio effectively gives his blessing for Bassanio to leave him behind. He gives up their homosocial relationship for Bassanio's sake. Due to the closeness of their relationship, it is likely that Antonio has realized how much Bassanio lusts for money. Bassanio would be much happier with the endless riches and beautiful wife that the Belmont fortune could provide for him. However, Bassanio shows some resistance to Antonio's cause. Bassanio's act of self-sacrifice in giving up his wedding ring to Balthazar to properly honor Antonio's freedom shows that he values Antonio over Portia. But at the end of the play, Antonio returns the ring to Bassanio; reaffirms Bassanio and Portia's relationship; and makes Bassanio swear to never forsake his wife again: Bassanio: Pardon this fault, and by my soul I swear I never more will break an oath with thee.
Antonio: I once did lend my body for his wealth, Which but for him that had your husband's ring Had quite miscarried. I dare be bound again, My soul upon the forfeit, that your lord Will never more break faith advisedly. This is Antonio's final act of self-sacrifice in his relationship with Bassanio. Shakespeare has Antonio personally give the ring to Bassanio instead of Portia. He does this to symbolically show Antonio choosing Bassanio's happiness and well-being over his own by physically giving up Bassanio to Portia. Shakespeare makes the point that the self-sacrificial and loving nature of Antonio and Bassanio's relationship has remained even in the face of struggles with money throughout the play. Ironically, Antonio's last act of self-sacrifice is giving up that relationship for Bassanio's benefit.
The central conflict of the play is resolved: Bassanio succeeds in courting Portia and claiming her inheritance, thus solving the conflict with a lack of funds for Antonio and Bassanio; Portia's legal assistance allows Antonio to walk free from Shylocke's shackles; Portia and Bassanio's marriage is mended. However, Antonio's intrapersonal conflict with his inexplicable sadness remains. Shakespeare tends to end his comedies with joyous marriages and happy endings. At first glance, The Merchant of Venice would be a comedy as it ends with joyous marriage and no deaths. However, our protagonist is still unresolved. Since Antonio's sadness at the beginning of the play is caused by his love for Bassanio, Antonio sets up a tragic ending for himself by giving up Bassanio. Although Antonio's selfless act sets up a comedic resolution for many side characters of the play, Antonio himself is left behind, still burdened by his conflict. In this way, Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice ends as a tragedy.
Strength vs. Freedom in Things Fall Apart
Strength vs. Freedom in Things Fall Apart
In Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart Okonkwo is portrayed using sympathetic characterization, while in Orwell's Shooting an Elephant, Orwell portrays himself using unsympathetic characterization. Although throughout the story Okonkwo is shown as a senselessly violent and toxically masculine figure, in the end, these traits are tied to his poor relationship with his father. Okonkwo's father, Unoka, was described as extremely unambitious and unaccomplished as a man. He was lazy, held no titles, could not provide for his family, was scared of war, and was in an abyss of debt to his other clansmen. Okonkwo's hypermasculinity can be attributed to the disdain he felt for his father. In an effort to differentiate himself from his father, Okonkwo falls into the other extreme of the masculinity spectrum. This is exemplified through Okonkwo's relationships with his sons. As Ikemefuna is killed, as Nwoye grows up to choose his path, and as Umuofia is taken over by the white Christians, Okonkwo is forced to recognize his powerlessness as a father and as a man. In Okonkwo's eyes, he is no different from his father because he has no real power. While Okonkwo's methods of compensation for his fear of being an effeminate man are besmirching of his character, the self-realization that he has failed to deviate from his father's course of life and his eventual suicide ultimately leads the reader to sympathize with Okonkwo's situation. On the other hand, Orwell is aware of his powerlessness but still believes himself to be better than the Burmese people. Even as an officer in a position that should hold power over the subjugated Burmese people, Orwell finds himself unable to make his own decisions in the face of the mob. With the brutality that Orwell commits to the elephant, and with the racist remarks that he makes against the Burmese, the reader is led to view Orwell unsympathetically.
Okonkwo's insecurity in his power and masculinity is exemplified through his relationships with his sons, Nwoye and Ikemefuna. Although he is still a young boy, Nwoye has taken no interest in Okonkwo's masculine work. Okonkwo is harsh on him as he still hopes to turn Nwoye into a strong figure in the village like himself. Unlike Nwoye, Ikemefuna has the strong, masculine, and ambitious traits that are valued by Okonkwo and by their culture. As a result, when Ikemefuna joins Okonkwo's house he is quickly liked. Over three years, Okonkwo and Ikemefuna grow to have a father-son relationship. However, the village decides that Ikemefuna may be a threat to their security in the future, so they decided to kill him. Okonkwo's fear of being seen as weak by his village leads him to join the men in killing Ikemefuna. It is also due to this fear that Okonkwo deals the decisive blow on Ikemefuna: "Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak" (Achebe, 61). In his pursuit of strength, Okonkwo goes so far as to kill his son. Ironically, by choosing to kill Ikemefuna in order to appear strong, Okonkwo diminishes his strength and value to the village. The culture of Umuofia is one in which one's power and influence are passed down through having strong sons. By killing Ikemefuna, Okonkwo has lost his strongest son and alienated the other, Nwoye.
As a result of Ikemefuna's killing, Nwoye converts to Christianity and abandons his name. With this, Okonkwo loses any remaining hope that he had for Nwoye growing up to be a strong member of Umuofia. When Nwoye decides to join the Christians in Umuofia, Okonkwo ponders on why Nwoye had grown to be so unmanly, "But Nwoye resembled his grandfather, Unoka, who was Okonkwo's father. He pushed the thought out of his mind. He, Okonkwo, was called a flaming fire. How could he have begotten a woman for a son?" (Achebe, 153). Okonkwo sees the same effeminate and unambitious qualities that his father represented in Nwoye. Through this direct comparison, Achebe makes it clear that Okonkwo has had the same effect on Nwoye as Unoka had on Okonkwo while he was growing up. Okonkwo was ashamed of his father's ways and fell into hyper-masculinity as a result. As a father, Okonkwo is violent and unaffectionate. Nwoye sees these qualities in the same way that Okonkwo saw his father, revolting and shameful. Okonkwo's brutality towards his own family is already off-putting, but with Ikemefuna's killing Okonkwo and Nwoye's relationship becomes irreparable. In the same way that Okonkwo grew into violence and masculinity due to his father's effeminate nature, Nwoye seeks to escape Okonkwo's violence and hyper-masculinity through the peaceful and pacifistic ways of the Christian church. With the losses of Nwoye and Ikemefuna, Okonkwo's once-great strength has plummeted. He is powerless as a father, and with the rising popularity of the Christians, he is powerless as a member of his village. In this sense, Okonkwo has become the same as his father whom he spent his entire life trying to separate himself from. The combined losses of his sons, the loss of his village to the Christians, and the loss of his own sense of power drive Okonkwo to suicide. As shameful as suicide is to the people of Umuofia, Okonkwo's suicide gives him an almost courageous end, as he is sticking to his cultural values instead of succumbing to the influence of the Christians. Achebe uses Okonkwo's fall from grace and courageous end methods of sympathetic characterization by leading the reader to pity him.
Unlike Achebe's characterization of Okonkwo, Orwell convinces the reader to dislike his character in Shooting an Elephant using unsympathetic characterization. Orwell's characterization is his description of the elephant while it is dying reveals his brutality and serves to villainize his character, "He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had paralyzed him without knocking him down" (Orwell, 278). Although the elephant is previously shown to be terrorizing the villagers, the description Orwell offers makes the elephant seem innocuous and frail. As Orwell repeatedly shoots an already defeated animal in the throat and heart, his character's reputation is deteriorated in the reader's eyes. In addition to the description of the elephant's butchering, Orwell's comments about the Burmese people also destroy his reputation in the eyes of the reader. His comments and thoughts are demeaning of the Burmese, and he constantly puts himself above them because they are not British. In the beginning of the essay, while describing his occupation, Orwell writes, "All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought tof the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny… with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts" (Orwell, 273). In calling the Burmese people "little beasts" Orwell does not acknowledge them as human beings, and he even admits to his violent thoughts against them. The violent and inhumane tendencies that Orwell uses to portray his character in the shooting of the elephant and of his general interactions with the Burmese people make him an antagonistic and unsympathetic character.
While Okonkwo and Orwell differ in their sympathetic and unsympathetic characterization, their respective writings, Things Fall Apart and Shooting an Elephant, share a common theme of tyranny, strength, and their relationship to personal freedom. Having strength is the ability to express one's freedom, but in both of these writings the pursuit of strength proves to restrict one's freedom instead. Okonkwo's pursuit of strength in Umuofia leads him to kill Ikemefuna. Although Okonkwo had grown to view Ikemefuna as his own son, his greed for strength obscured any choice he had to avoid killing his own son. Instead of granting him strength within the village, Okonkwo ultimately pushes the rest of his family away with this act. Similarly in Shooting an Elephant, Orwell's pursuit of strength takes away his freedom to make his own choices. Orwell seeks to prove his authority by dealing with the elephant, but once he asks for the rifle he realizes he really has no choice in the matter. Before encountering the elephant, Orwell thinks, "I had no intention of shooting the elephant — I had merely sent for the rifle to defend myself if necessary" (Orwell, 275). Later on, after encountering the elephant, Orwell reacts, "And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly" (Orwell, 276). Although Orwell did not want to kill the elephant, he had no choice if he wanted to prove himself to be strong to the Burmese. Having strength is the ability to express one's freedom, but in both of these writings the pursuit of strength proves to restrict one's freedom instead.