The Exploration Of Human Experience In The Works Of Peter Skrzynecki And Shakespeare

The need to conform is driven by the innate struggle to escape humanity’s indoctrinated fears. Reinforced by the paradox of individual desires and external pressures, the conformation to societal values dictates how we react with texts and is a dominant aspect resonating within the human experience. Igniting a revolutionary perspective; Peter Skrzynecki’s 1971 reflexive poem “Feliks Skrzynecki” (FS) challenges coerced submission through the complacency of the freedom of difference. Similarly, “The Merchant of Venice” (MOV) (William Shakespeare, 1596) reinforces how societal and inherent values govern the human experience. Asserting the subconscious fear and rejection of difference, Shakespeare affirms our value of conformity in society. Through the struggle of accepting ‘the other’, both texts reinforce the anomalistic fears that characterise our underlying motivations.

Conformity marks the submission of self-autonomy to the supremacy of societal values. Consequently, the collective is able to dictate the experiences of the individual through their oppressive power and ability to proliferate inherent fears. Through the symbolism of society, Skrzynecki reveals how “a crew-cut, grey-haired department clerk” simulates the belief in his superiority due to racial inequality, despite his lower-class employment. Hence, Skrzynecki reinforces the inherent societal value of self-superiority and how that compels us to disparage others. Further asserting the power of societal expectations, “did your father ever attempt to learn English?” exposes how he, as a symbol of society, can’t comprehend the desire to be different when there is a supposed way to belong. As a result, Skrzynecki affirms that the collective perspective of conformity is not only preferable, but an expected component of everyday life. Where Skrzynecki fixates on racial difference and the assumption of self-superiority, Shakespeare reinforces the similar notion of the power of societal values through the oppression of difference. Through cumulative detail, characterisation dichotomies between Gentiles and Jews position ‘the other’ due to the propagation of collective societal values. The repeated antithesis of “devil... scripture”, “evil soul… holy witness” and “villain… smiling” challenges the integrity of Shylock due to his positioning as ‘the other’. This characterisation of ‘the other’ is further reinforced through Shylock’s soliloquy “I hate him for he is a Christian”, and allows Shakespeare to reinforce that “hate”, and other values, are based off collective beliefs; not from individual experience. Hence, both Skrzynecki and Shakespeare assert that the individual lens we bring to texts and experiences is driven by the societal collective, and how maintaining an individual perspective is a perpetuating struggle in the human experience due to our inherent fears.

The inescapable fear of isolation that society has imposed on individuals coerces humanity to conform to the restrictions of the collective societal perspective. Consequently, the expectation to succumb to cultural norms encompassing race and religion is a prevalent aspect resonating within the human experience. The innate fears and experiences with prejudice, marginalisation, and isolation further reinforce the need to become accepted within the collective majority. Both Skrzynecki and Shakespeare elucidate the underlying fear of difference that causes humanity to simultaneously reject difference in oneself and repudiate others. Through the personal voice and reflexive tone in FS, Skrzynecki reflects the individual struggle of isolating oneself from your heritage in order to belong in society and conform to the societal milieu. Skrzynecki utilises the Historical Allusion “further and further south of Hadrian’s Wall”, to further justify the ultimate rejection of self-identity, in the pursuit to become “civilised”. Hence, Skrzynecki asserts the intrinsic drive to conform in the attempt to be liberated from isolation or rejection. Although Skzrynecki affirms the inherent need for civility, it is not until Shakespeare’s assertion of our common humanity when our assumptions of the inequality due to difference is challenged. Cumulatively, the metaphorical motif of “blood” coalesces ‘the other’ and society through this commonality that all humans share. This protest is furthered through Shylock’s rhetorical speech “if you prick us, do we not bleed?”, where Shakespeare challenges the powerlessness of ‘the other’ whilst exposing the transcendental struggle of escaping the collective fears. However, through the lens of the Elizabethan contextual values, it is the only unification of society and ‘the other’; thus reinforcing the need to reject difference. Consequently, both Shakespeare’s ambiguity and Skrzynecki’s historical references reinforce that the lens in which we view texts, shaped by societal constructs, resonates with our contextual indoctrinated values.

The restrictive nature of our indoctrinated fears ultimately causes us to conform despite our underlying search for happiness and freedom. Hence, the paradoxical relationship between succumbing to society’s external pressures and fulfilling the intrinsic desire for happiness is a perpetuating struggle in the human experience. Although Skrzynecki reveals the complacency of resisting conformity through the happiness of Feliks, he also asserts how the persona conforms despite being aware of the happiness of escaping societal restraints. Thus, the ineluctable need to conform and belong dominates the desire for happiness and freedom. Metaphorically, the motif of Feliks’ garden connotes the renewal of self-identity when liberated from societal influences. The reflexive commentary “Happy as I have never been” further asserts how humanity can’t attain happiness within the confinements of conformity. However, Skrzynecki justifies the deploring rejection of heritage through the inescapable fear of isolation. The physical barriers of “bordered by golden cypress” emphasises the inability to coalesce with society. Hence, Skrzynecki reinforces the universal drive to conform despite our ability to be content when liberated from societal restraints. However, where Skrzynecki expounds the complacency of isolation from society, Shakespeare ignites a challenging perspective to reaffirm our assumption of the oppression of difference. Through dialogue, Shakespeare positions Shylock as ‘the other’ with the consistent marginalisation by the Christians. Furthering this characterisation, Shakespeare alludes to the societal value of Anti-Semitism through “suff’rance is the badge of all our tribe”, to reinforce that the repercussion of difference is “suff’rance”. Hence, Shakespeare asserts a challenging perspective to Skrzynecki. Where Shakespeare reinforces our assumption of the struggle of difference, Skrzynecki exposes that difference causes freedom from the constraints of society. Consequently, the conflicting stances throughout the two texts reveal the inconsistencies in human nature. Although these perspectives oppose, they both assert the paradox of attaining happiness when strained by societal values, and the possibility of complacency when isolated from these restraints.

Both Shakespeare and Skrzynecki reinforce the enduring struggle to escape indoctrinated fears, resonating through MOV and FS. Although both texts are composed in different eras, they assert the transcendental societal values that drive humanity to conform despite the underlying search for freedom. Through the proliferation of inherent fears, the supremacy of the collective reinforces our assumption of the oppression of difference. Hence, the expectation to succumb to societal pressures is both a prevalent and conventional construct in society. However, the anomalies that resist conformity are able to obtain complacency through liberation from the restraints of societal values. The paradox of the enduring and inconsistent values in the human experience is asserted throughout both texts, affirming the abyssal extent that the exploration of human experiences reinforces struggle. 

16 December 2021
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