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 ENG 4U0

2018-01-15

 

The Understanding of Humanity Through Characters in King Lear and A Farewell to
Arms

            Humanity can be defined as the quality of
being human, by which humans are distinguished from other creatures for their
compassionate, sympathetic, or generous behavior. Although this is
true, being human does not necessarily mean that an individual possesses the
characteristics of humanity. In the novels, King Lear and A Farewell to Arms, characters and symbols are used in order to generate
an understanding of humanity, proving that some humans possess the same
characteristics as the rest of humanity, yet some do not. Examples of this are revealed
in both novels through the use of betrayal, sympathy, and lies told by loved
ones.

            In King Lear, Lear is betrayed by his daughters, Goneril and Regan,
who deceive Lear in order to have the one thing they have always wanted; his
kingdom. Goneril and Regan desperately crave the power their father possesses
to the point where they decide to banish him from his own Kingdom, leaving him
to fend for himself in a harsh storm. At this point in the novel, Shakespeare
demonstrates that Goneril and Regan have lost their sense of human nature, by
using symbols and dialogues through characters. Goneril and Regan’s association with animals reflects
on their ferocious animal nature, their absence of human nature, and their
unnatural unkindness. Lear’s tone of voice when speaking about
his “pelican daughters” (3.4.73-81) reflects
their control over him. He is joined by Albany, who recognizes the cruelty of
the two daughters as inhumane, calling them “tigers, not daughters” (4.2.30–32).

This animal imagery advocates that Goneril and Regan have the characteristics
and behavior of what an animal would, rather than a human. Through these
examples, it is evident that not all humans possess human nature, as Lear’s
daughters go to the extreme length of betraying their father to receive the
throne. In A Farewell to Arms, Ernest
Hemingway offers a different perspective on Humanity. Mr. Henry, the main
protagonist is betrayed by his wife of five years when she commits adultery
behind his back. To add to the already bad news, Henry discovers that his wife,
Catherine was not having an affair with just anyone, but it was with Mr.

Henry’s brother, Philip. Henry is emotionally shattered by the news and remains
silent to his wife, to the point where she leaves him. Although Catherine had
betrayed him once, she later left him without an apology, committing the
ultimate betrayal to Mr. Henry. Here, Ernest Hemmingway displays Catherine’s
lack of human nature, as her actions reveal her true colours, which are against
society’s norms.

            Sympathy
is a major theme in King Lear, reinforcing the hope in humanity late on during
the novel. Throughout the play, it is shown that impressions of each character
change, particularly in the development of sympathy for Lear. Lear’s flaw at
the beginning of the play is that he values appearances above reality. He wants
to be treated as a king and to enjoy the title, but he doesn’t want to fulfill
a king’s obligations of governing for the good of his people. He is a selfish
man who demands praise, but as the play develops, we see change in Lear’s character,
making others feel sympathy for him. Lear goes from being a powerful King with
everything he could wish for to a deranged old man that just desires love from
his daughters. When Cordelia realizes this during the final act of King Lear,
she says “O, my dear father, restoration hang, Thy medicine on my lips, and let
this kiss, Repair those violent harms that my two sisters, Have in thy
reverence made.” As she bends over to revive Lear with a kiss, Cordelia reveals
that she has a kind and forgiving personality, even after her father unfairly
banished her. The sympathy shown for Cordelia’s dying father reinforces the
hope in humanity for people in the kingdom, by singling out the difference
between what is ethical and what is deemed as unethical. After a whole play of
wrong doing and inhumane actions, Cordelia does what is right, mending the broken
relationship with her father. A similar predicament is demonstrated in A Farewell to Arms, When Henry is consoled by Catherine’s friend, Jenn. After the news of Catherine’s
affair spreads, Jenn is the first person to visit Henry despite her close
relationship with Catherine. At Henry’s house, she converses with Henry, saying
how Catherine was “out of her mind” to do such a thing to him (P.114). Although
Jenn has been Catherine’s closest friend for years, she does what the average
human would do, which reflects on the topic of human nature. One could say that
Jenn is just doing the right thing, and her sympathy contradicts the
non-existent human nature of Catherine.                                                                   

Throughout both novels, we see
the destruction of relationships due to lies told by loved ones, which leads to
the questioning of humanity. Deception and lies are what makes King Lear a tragedy. The play is a
result of the consequences triggered by lies and falsehoods that were told in
Lear’s family.  The first instances of
deception occur in the first scene of the first act. Lear intends to divide his
kingdom amongst his three daughters and will give the greatest portion to the
daughter who has the most love for him. Cordelia is the only daughter who
speaks plainly and honestly. Goneril and Regan deceive everyone with their
speech about how much they love their father and how they would do anything for
him, yet in truth, it is discovered that they only exaggerate in order to obtain
Lear’s kingdom and banish him. These lies told by Goneril and Regan were
frowned upon by everyone in the kingdom as they deceived their own father,
which is out of society’s norms. It is not in society’s typical behaviour to
commit such an act, and sets the tone for the novel being a story about
betrayal, lies, and deceit; three things that are against human nature. In A Farewell to Arms, Catherine continues to lie to her husband’s face about her affair,
although he secretly knows about it. When her husband, Mr. Henry discovers
this, he becomes quiet and talks much less than he usually does. Henry’s silence confuses
Catherine, leading to her uttering the words “Is it something I did?” That
particular line in the novel shows that Catherine continues her life leading a
lie, not knowing that Henry knows the truth. Ernest Hemmingway uses this to
show the lies that go on in everyday relationships and situations, further
enforcing the theme that not all humans possess the characteristics of
humanity.                                                                                                    

In Conclusion, although
humanity can be
defined as the quality of being human, not every human possesses those certain
characteristics. The qualities of humanity include features such as compassion,
sympathy, and generosity. This is shown in the novels, King Lear and A Farewell to Arms through themes
such as betrayal, sympathy, and lies told by loved ones, which are used in
order to generate an understanding of humanity. These topics and themes
discussed through various symbols and characters prove that some humans possess
the same characteristics as the rest of humanity, yet some do not.

 

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