Comparison of Child of God and Hamlet - Comparison Essay Example

Comparison of Child of God and Hamlet

Introduction

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     Within the realm of literature, there are some works that have such an impact, that not only are they revisited and treasured throughout the generations, but they are emulated as well. An excellent example of this can be found in the classic work of William Shakespeare, Hamlet.   Not only has this work been analyzed, studied and cherished for over half a millennium, but it has also inspired other works that borrow from its theme to create an entirely new, powerful work.  Such is the case in Child of God, Lolita Files’ modern tale that uses elements of Hamlet in a creative, entertaining and powerful way.

     This research will specifically use one element of both of these works, the Ophelia character, and offer insight about the comment each author is making about the human condition through the Ophelia character.  Upon conclusion of the research, a clear relationship between the Shakespeare’s classic and Files’ contemporary treasure will be made clear.

Ophelia as Depicted in Hamlet

    Hamlet is a complex combination of characters that are seemingly thrown into tragic circumstances without much preparation for what lies ahead.  Of all of these characters, one of the most interesting, yet almost one dimensional, is Ophelia.  She, in fact, contributes to the tragic elements of Hamlet through her own inability to overcome the obstacles that are thrown in her way, so instead of becoming a tragic heroine, she becomes simple a tragic figure, based on a few key facts from Shakespeare’s work: Ophelia’s youth contributes to her vulnerability, as well as the fact that her mother is dead, depriving her of the one elder who could give her the best advice to use as she grows into womanhood.  Perhaps because of the absence of her mother, her father and brother take steps to shelter her from the outside world.  Spending her time sewing and picking flowers, she lives in this sheltered world until the death of her father drives her to insanity and loose living, bringing everything that she had to a crashing halt.

     What is seen in Ophelia as created by Shakespeare is a woman who tries desperately to escape from her family’s tragic legacy and form her own future, but is challenged on all sides by circumstances that she cannot control but tries desperately to defeat.  The worst of these, in the end, is the infirmity of mind that ravages Ophelia in a way that no remedy can cure.

Ophelia in Child of God

     Ophelia, the character in Child of God, is something of a free spirit, choosing to stray from the support system of her family. This departure is set into motion from the opening passages of the work, as Ophelia’s infant son is killed in a tragic house fire.  Instead of withdrawing into a self imposed exile, Ophelia starts out on a quest to break free from a family legacy that she does not fully understand, but understands enough of it to realize that she needs to escape it.  When she takes the time to learn more about her family traditions she uncovers scandal and heartbreak, including illicit love affairs.  Ultimately, Ophelia finds the love that will save her and bring her to the normalcy that she craves, but along the way, she is forced to confront the strange legacy that has come to her as a member of her unusual and scandalous family.

     Files’ Ophelia is a character that seeks to form her own identity and develop her own life and sense of worth, but has to overcome a tremendous amount of inherited emotional baggage of sorts to make that possible.  Therefore, what is seen in this character is the embodiment of the classic quest that many go through- the jumping of life’s hurdles to reach a better state of life.

The Two Ophelias in Comparison

     When Shakespeare’s and Files’ Ophelia characters are compared there are some areas of similarity and some differences, but both contribute to the depth of the characters and the works in which they appear.  Of course, the Ophelia of Hamlet was inspired by the Ophelia of Child of God, but as will be shown, is not a carbon copy nor a parody, but in some ways can be seen as a disciple or even a tribute.

     First, there is a striking similarity between the two Ophelias in terms of a massive tragedy that shaped both of them from an early age, whether they realized it or not.  For Shakespeare’s Ophelia, the absence of her mother from the beginning of her life may not have initially made it apparent to her that something was amiss, but this fact erupted in her life as she grew older and affected not only her relationships with other people, but most certainly contributed to the mental illness that plagued her.  This illness may likewise have been inherited in some aspects from her mother, but since she never knew her mother or much about her emotional makeup, this is purely speculation, but is entirely possible nonetheless.  For Files’ Ophelia, the tragedy of losing her own child in infancy, especially in such a violent and abrupt way, undoubtedly set her on a tragic beginning to her adult life, but from the positive point of view, this tragedy seems to have motivated her to gain what she sought from life.

     One area of difference between the Ophelia characters is the element of isolation, which is to say that Shakespeare’s Ophelia is someone who is kept away from the challenges of life by her father and brother, seemingly trying to protect her but sheltering her in opposition to her best interests.  Files’ Ophelia is someone who boldly breaks free from the virtual prison of her family’s tragic and twisted legacy to ultimately achieve the goals in life that she wishes.  In this respect, both characters have dealt with the issue of isolation and the burdens of a legacy that they cannot change, but can attempt to overcome.

     For both of these characters as well, the burden of their somewhat tarnished family reputation threatens to destroy both of them from an early age.  Both of these women were forced to deal with rumors about their relatives, the actual indiscretions of family members, etc., with all having the same impact-adversity to overcome and an unfairly inherited reputation to dispel.

     Lastly, the matter of gender is something that is an important element of both characters.  Both Ophelias grew up in times when women, simply because of their gender and society’s perception of gender roles, were seen as inferior and subordinate to men.  Therefore, both women had to contend with disadvantages simply because they were women.

Conclusion

     Literature, if nothing else, is a study of the human condition.  This is seen in abundance in the characters of Ophelia that are depicted in the works of William Shakespeare and Lolita Files respectively.  Therefore, in conclusion, one can fairly say that these two characters, although separated by generations and the mists of time, both are illustrative of the quest to realize one’s destiny which, whether successful or not, is an essential part of the human experience.

Works Cited

Files, Lolita. Child of God. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: Signet Classic

 

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