Compelling texts draw in the responder to confront new ideas regarding the inconsistencies within personal and collective experiences. The Merchant of Venice depicts the struggle of the individual against the imposed obligations of society, while To Kill a Mockingbird, explores the human morality where the distinction between right and wrong can be seen.
Throughout The Merchant of Venice, assumptions of women having less power than men are accentuated through gender barriers in the renaissance period, and how fate and destiny are the anomalies of human experience. This is evident in Portia’s reference to fate, ‘the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father’ (Act 1 Scene 2). Portia’s destiny is determined by her father’s will of her marrying the man who picks the right casket out of the three chests, showing the anomaly of passing one man’s control to the next while Portia is seen as an object. “As from her lord, her governor, her king. Myself and what is mine to you and yours is now converted” (Act 3 Scene 2), when Bassanio marries her, it draws the assumption that Portia remains at the mercy of men. Yet, this assumption is challenged in the courtroom (Act 4 Scene 1), where Shakespeare ignites ideas of the portrayal of women. Portia disguises herself as a male lawyer, becoming the hero as she emphasises the quality of mercy within the courtroom. As a woman, Portia is submissive and obedient; as a man, she demonstrates her intelligence and brilliance as the judge. Portia, the same person is now empowered by dressing as a man. This affirms how a woman with great intellect can accomplish tasks, even those that were regarded as a man’s job. During the final scene, Portia makes sure that Bassanio knows of her alter ego, ensuring that he gives her the ring, to later prove that she was the judge who saved Antonio’s life, showing that in this situation, she is in control over fate and destiny. Shakespeare represents the inconsistencies of human nature through portraying women as powerful characters who overpower men and defy the expectations of their time, ultimately positioning the audience to challenge their own understanding of women and their capabilities. The quote “You would not have parted with the ring. What man is there so much unreasonable” (Act 4, Scene 1), suggests a tone of strength and courage in Portia’s voice as she stands up to her husband, which very much defies the stereotype of women in the 16th century as being obedient. Shakespeare’s use of dramatic form and irony serves to awaken the numb judgements of his audience, emphasizing women should be perceived equal to men.
Harper Lee challenges cultural assumptions stemmed from society’s dogmatism of the individual experiences by revealing alienating assumptions of conformity in society and the injustice of minorities in which self-preservation has to be upheld in order to conform. One depiction of human experience is in the way in which minorities deceive and condemn for self-preservation. Mayella Ewell demonstrated self-preservation when she claimed to be raped by Tom Robinson, a black man. Atticus’s rhetorical question, “What did your father see in the window, the crime of the rape or the best defence to it?” brings attention to the real truth in which Mayella’s falsifications are trying to hide. The result of her tendency to self-preservation in order to refuge herself and her father, challenges the assumption that humans are naturally truthful, compassionate, and kind-natured. The film depicts Tom as an unfortunate scapegoat of a flawed legal trial that “has relied instead upon the testimony of two witnesses whose evidence has not only been called into serious question on cross-examination, but has been flatly contradicted by the defendant.” reveals the anomaly of the desire of doing the right thing can collapse when individuals are influenced by a mob mentality instead of their own assumptions and the paradox of human experience where humans contradict their own values to protect their reputation. Even if the jurors wanted to say that Tom was innocent, they would’ve faced the people of Maycomb and be shunned for letting a black man go, therefore Harper Lee effectively exposes human behaviour through the conformity of society.
Shakespeare and Harper Lee challenges both the conformity of society and the injustice for minorities through the inconsistencies in human behaviour and motivations that drive the responder to confront new ideas regarding the inconsistencies within personal and collective experiences.