Power and Disempowerment of Charcters in Othello and the Bluest Eye

April 15, 2018 Cultural

Power is the possession of controlling and commanding an individual/s. The assertion of power over others allows an individual to gain a level of authority or position in society. Thus creating the continuous cycle of disempowerment, where people always feel the need to have domination of power over others. Power ultimately leads to disempowerment with the transformation of an individual to the stereotypical views of society.

This concept of power is explored in both ’Othello’ a play written by Shakespeare in the Elizabethan period and in Toni Morrison’s ‘The Bluest Eye’. The Shakespearian tragedy, establishes Othello as articulate, charismatic and self-assured. Othello exerts power in the means of military command. He has the power of heroic achievement and storytelling that makes him one of the “three great ones of the city”. However, it is suggested that even though Othello posses military and personal power, they are not able to surpass social acceptance in the Venetian Society.

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This racial and social context is also evident in ‘The Bluest Eye’ with the central character, Pecola like the character Othello, believing that in order to transcend the racial barriers and obtain social acceptance, she must achieve the cultural ideal. Often, black people depicted as stock villains and of lower class, Shakespeare challenges stereotypes with his depiction of Othello as a man of stature and a hero to Venetian society. He also presents the isolation and vulnerability associated with the Moor’s colour in a white society.

This is evident with the use of animal imagery to convey immorality, almost bestial desire, and illicit passion, “Even now…an old black ram is tupping your white ewe”. Iago also plays on Othello’s ‘exotic’ image and the highly sexual stereotype it comes with. He also plays on Brabantio’s misgivings about Othello’s colour and outsider status. Iago makes Othello sound like a devil, with his lust, indiscretion, and strangeness to Venice. Throughout ‘Othello’, it is evident that among other reasons, Iago’s racism is a source of hatred of Othello.

In an attempt to undermine Othello and his power, the society of Venice begin to demonise and vilify him with various derogatory terms such as “thick lips” and “fowl thief”, in order to instil a sense of savageness and brutality in Othello which all Moors were viewed as in the Venetian Society in that period of time. In this instance, Othello’s personal power of charisma and self-contained nature comes into effect and is able to dissolve but not eliminate any racist and superstition insinuations made towards him.

This is justified with his calm and confident nature when remarked as having used black magic on Desdemona and “enchanted” her to fall in love with him. Shakespeare suggests that initially Othello possessed military and personal power and surpassed society’s expectations of a Moor. As the play progresses, Othello’s over-confident and self-assured nature gradually deteriorates as he begins to internalize the racist conventions of the Venetian Society which portray him as a social and racial inferior.

This presenting Othello’s vulnerability to insecurity. Essentially Othello’s marriage to Desdemona – discouraged in Venetian society; provides a catalyst for the disempowered antagonist Iago. With Othello’s weakness being his love for Desdemona, Iago is able to use Othello’s internal vulnerability and insecurity by deviously suggesting Desdemona’s infidelity. With the portrayal of the handkerchief being Iago’s ploy to usurp power, it presents displacement in Othello’s character and power which eventually evolves into a form of uncontrollable jealousy.

It is evident from Act 1, that Iago is the ‘dark’ character within the play as seen by admitting that his nature in not at all what it seems “I am not what I am”. He also uses language such as “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve” to convey his heart is false, and his shows of emotions are falsified. Iago is a very good judge of human nature, and easily able to manipulate people in ways that will benefit him most. His cleverness is a source of wisdom in the play and his knowledge is able to set chaos into motion. Ultimately, Othello’s lack of knowledge allows his passion for Desdemona and jealousy to confuse him.

In accepting Iago’s deceptive speculations of Desdemona’s infidelity, he begins to transform to the stereotypical views of a Moor. This self-destruction resulting from his own personal weakness. Similarly, Toni Morrison’s ‘The Bluest Eye’ explores the concept of a person’s power being largely undermined by society’s stereotypical model of the ideal. In the novel, Pecola, the protagonist, persistently strives to achieve this cultural model; eventually allowing her identity to deteriorate – much like Othello’s character. This is evident through her unyielding but yet absurd desire for ‘blue eyes’.

Toni Morrison instils the notion within readers that ‘blue eyes’ fair skin, ‘blonde’ and ‘cu-ute’ are the values entrenched in society’s stereotypical model of the ideal. This is conveyed with the images of the ‘blue-and-white Shirley Temple cup’ and the ‘big, blue eyed baby doll…what every girl child wants’, portraying this model of identity and power in white society. Pecola, however, is characterised as ‘black’ and ‘ugly’ – the complete opposite of what is accepted by society. Therefore, Pecola’s identity is oppressed by society’s prevailing culture of white supremacy.

It is evident in ‘The Bluest Eye’ that beauty and the ideal model of beauty in white society is greatly associated with power. Toni Morrison presents the pressures that black people felt to live up to white society’s standards of beauty to be accepted and noticed in society. In the novel, Pecola presents her passionate desire to have blue eyes with her worshipping of the beautiful, ‘white’ icons of the 1940s. This is justified with her actions of buying ‘Mary Janes’ at the candy store, in order to admire the picture of the blond-haired, blue-eyed girl on the wrapper.

Ultimately, in the end, Pecola is driven to delusion that she in fact has blue eyes. This self-destruction – much like the character Othello, inevitably caused by the pressures to conform to the ideals of white society; Pecola seeing no other option, embraced it. Both ‘Othello’ and ‘The Bluest Eye’ reflect the idea of power initially possessed and eventually resulting in disempowerment, but also the similar racist and social context in societies, where individuals are often pushed to conform to stereotypical ideals of that society.


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