Helena: A Character Perspective
Discuss the idea(s) developed by the text creator in your chosen text about the conflict between choosing a personal desire and choosing to conform. (January 2011)
Link to the evidence list (mind map):
“O spite! O hell! I see you are all bent
To set against me for your merriment.
If you were civil, and knew courtesy,
You would not do me thus much injury.
Can you not hate me, as I know you do,
But you must join in souls to mock me too?
If you were men, as men you are in show,
You would not use a gentle lady so:
To vow, and swear, and superpraise my parts,
When I am sure you hate me with your hearts.
You both are rivals, and love Hermia ;
And now both rivals to mock Helena.
A trim exploit, a manly enterprise,
To conjure tears up in a poor maid’s eyes
With your derision ! None of noble sort
Would so offend a virgin, and extort
A poor soul’s patience, all to make you sport.” (3.2.145-161)
Helena. Out of the many characters, she is undeniably the most persistent and strong headed. A strong desire to fulfill her ambitions regardless of the consequences of her actions, no matter how much she is hurt in the process. It is as if she’s unable to detect the thin line between cherishing another and respecting one’s own identity. This constant struggle of her desires and self respect is universally applicable. Someone like Helena – borderline annoying in her ways to gain Demetrius’s love, is typically an individual I try to avoid. However, I realized any desperate individual pursuing blind, unrequited love would commit similar actions. Everyone has the potential to be driven insane due to chasing unachievable desires, but not many find the courage to continue this “chase” after repeated rejection. Interestingly, Helena’s actions are what most people wish to do, but refrain from, in order to appear socially acceptable and sane. Furthermore, Helena’s persistent inner conflict of choosing between pursuing her love for Demetrius – her personal desire – or to conform to what is considered socially acceptable, and terminate the seemingly irrational and “crazy” chase, is a tragically beautiful topic to discuss. This prevalent theme is carried through even when Demetrius is poisoned with a love spell – through her entire pursuit, even she is in disbelief that Demetrius would ever like her back, accusing him of mockery. With that said, through the character of Helena in William Shakespeare’s comedic play A Midsummer Night’s Dream the inner conflict of choices between personal desire and societal fulfillment is amplified when the theme of love is present. To you the reader, I hope to lead you on a journey through Helena’s struggles and through them, I hope you’ll be able to unwind parts of yourself and realize how alike we all are in the face of love.
Creative Piece (#1)
As a collective whole, each individual has the responsibility to display empathy towards another’s situation. With this being said, we all have the capability to display wholehearted empathy or a complete lack of it – the way one chooses to go about this reveals deep insight to one’s character.
Thus, in Helena’s case, Demetrius displays a complete lack of empathy towards her feelings and disregards her actions as an nuisance. Through this, it is demonstrated that due to Demetrius lack of desire to understand Helena’s feelings, he is vividly angry and annoyed – trying to get rid of her as one would with a pest. However, it is extremely ironic how, through his mad endeavor to claim Hermia’s love (a hopeless case), he is unable to notice that the way Helena acts towards him is the exact same way in which he is acting. Furthermore, a part of Helena’s chase is due to his constant neglect; the more Demetrius pushes her away, the more she is willing to push back – to think, if Demetrius were to become more understanding and take things from Helena’s perspective, it may have changed the novel around.
The beautifully painted image below shows a distorted and warped image of a man, clearly in some form of distress – mostly one of annoyance. Firstly, the twisted facial structure forms deep indents within his face to mold frown lines, for instance, above his forehead – clearly showing signs of frustration. Furthermore, the overall asymmetry of this portrait sets a mood of chaos – it is not as graceful on the observes eyes; for example, his eyebrows, eyes, nose, lips, and hands are all twisted. Also, the vivid colour of red normally symbolizes extremes, with emotions such as “danger, anger, or frustration”. Compared with the other colours, the stripes of red “pop” out immensely in the image, this further adds to the overall effect. Through the structurally chaotic nature of the painting, the reflection of the mans anger and annoyance is heightened – wonderfully encapsulating Demetrius’s feelings towards Helena.
Artwork credit: http://www.emptykingdom.com/featured/nikos-gyftakis/
Creative Piece (#2)
I propose a question: have you ever felt a frustration and concern burning within you, during times in which you’re unable to actively help a friend who is clearly in need? When you are not able to influence their thinking and actions because they are so blinded by their passions and ambitions? Don’t get me wrong, this need for action may lead to a good outcome, however, when you know that the path they are going down is distinctly dangerous, and yet, you are in no position to help them. Frustrating right? That feeling is reflected in Hermia’s thoughts towards the actions her close friend, Helena, is partaking in.
Through this letter, I wanted to establish a strong sense of Hermia’s genuine concern towards Helena, seeing as she is unable to sleep at night due to this issue; her empathy towards Helena’s current situation, by bringing up her personal struggles; and the strong, binding bond between them, in a sense, if Hermia is unable to persuade Helena, no one else can. I had loosely based this letter on a conversation the two women had at the beginning of the play,
“Her. I frown upon him; yet he loves me still.
Hel. O that your frowns would teach my smiles such skill!
Her. I give him curses; yet he gives me love.
Hel. O that my prayers could such affection move!
Her. The more I hate, the more he follows me.
Hel. The more I love, the more he hateth me. “ (1,2,194-99)
In this passage, Helena is awfully jealous of how little effort Hermia puts in, and yet, as a result of that, Demetrius pursuits her even more. Shortly after this conversation, Hermia entrusts Helena with the information that Lysander and her are running away the next morning. I had written this creative piece taking place during the night before they had planned to escape, almost as a warning that Hermia never said – but should have.
I have some thoughts troubling my mind these past few nights, and seeing as the waves of drowsiness have not yet consumed me, I wanted to feed you some nimble advice. On the topic of Demetrius, I am aware of his affection towards me, and I can humbly say, I do not feel the same way. I have tried to avoid his presence, even neglected it, yet I am unable to shake him off. Because of our lasting friendship and my inability to directly influence the situation, I want to tell you a little something about self respect.
Helena, seeing as I know you inside out, you can’t fool me. I’ve seen the way that Demetrius treats you – with such disrespect! That man is a cow! I beg you to offer yourself kindness and love in the sense that you stop pursuing a man as disgraceful as him before you and rather, have enough dignity and respect for yourself to step away from this situation.
Let me tell you, I too, have been in the same place once – trying to attain love from a man that clearly despised me, we both went in circles. It was nauseating. I was constantly afraid of his judgement: he would have terrible moods, switching on and off; the brightness so blinding, and the darkness so illuminating.
I was constantly sick with worry as to which part of my body he would poke and prod at. As time wore on, my resiliency and tough skin thinned out, every morning, putting on a mask to show the world that I was okay. I would plaster a smile on my face and smile. Smile so my friends and family wouldn’t be concerned for me, for I didn’t want to burden anyone with my problems.
It was when I no longer recognized the woman in the mirror, and the mess I’d become, that I realized, in a relationship, I should never have to sacrifice my respect for myself and demise my importance to elevate another. No matter who it is – for a man, my family, or any individual in general.
Seeing as Lysander and I are fleeing this spiteful place tomorrow morning, I do not know when I’ll see you next; therefore,I beg you to heed my advice for I don’t wish for you to go down the same path as me. And please remember: you should always place the respect towards yourself before anyone else’s.
Goodnight my friend.
Through demonstrating the perspective of two opposite ways in which empathy was directed towards Helena: one with a lack thereof and one with a abundance thereof, it can be said that Helena was deceived by her own inner conflicts, becoming ignorant to others perception of her. First, she may be understanding of Demetrius’s true feelings towards her, however, she is unable to comprehend that the love she pursues is hopeless. Even when spoken roughly to, she chooses to place the importance of her irrational feelings above all else. As shown through the painting, this induces Demetrius’s increasing annoyance towards her. Secondly, once again, she blindly follows the love she has for Demetrius and disregards the factual information presented to her by Hermia. Even as Hermia told her of her inaction and his blind pursuit, Helena still chooses to follow her emotions above rational thinking. In my creative response number two, Hermia’s empathy derived from their long friendship evoked her to write a letter to Helena the night before she flees to the forest – in a sense, it was a letter containing advice which would have been helpful to Helena. In connection with the prompt and my thesis, it was significant to reveal the empathy of other characters and how this sheds truth on Helena: although she may be oblivious and horrendously love struck, we must keep in mind that she is facing her own inner conflict of choosing to conform or to remain faithful to her ambition. Sadly, as shown, if an individual is not observant and clear minded when one faces inner conflict, this can bring about discord with the relationships established.
Ah, unrequited love. I have seen too many movies, TV shows, novels, etc… based on this very topic. In general, it is all very cliche – a main character is hopelessly “in love” with another character, this leads to an entire plot line revolving around the main character pursuing him/her, then *gasp* some dazzling event happens and their crush likes them back. Finally, they live happily ever after, the end!
However, in real life, it is rarely as smooth and almost never ends with a “happily ever after”.
Although the way this “perfect” ideal plays out is extremely annoying, and pushes us to become ridiculously idealized in term of romance – it is necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have something that sheds more light on the reality of love; however, the certainty of events in these plot lines – to be able to know what happens next – balances out much of the uncertainty rooted in everyday life. This is a sort of escape; just as the characters in the play had escaped into the forest, our own imagination in the face of love may be our greatest weapon for the inescapable disappointment of real life. In other words, a coping method!
In terms of myself, as much as I find these cheesy romance productions annoying, as I’ve stated above, I still thoroughly enjoy them. It is not just the predictable plot line; rather, they fulfill my ever wandering imagination, providing a space for my creativity to roam.
So, with all that being said, I apologize to all the friends that I’ve forced to sit and watch “rom-coms” with –
but truthfully, I’m not actually sorry.
Insight Paragraph and Conclusion
Through A Midsummer Nights Dream, a comedic play written by William Shakespeare, the playwright amplifies the actions an individual takes when blinded by attraction towards another, resulting in inner conflict between personal desires to pursue ones ambition, or to conform to societal expectations – to hinder one’s pursuit. As demonstrated through the character of Helena, her conquest to attain unrequited love is initially seen as pointless – to pursue a man that will never love her back. Even through her passion and perseverance, this ambition of her’s seems incredibly unrealistic. The unreturned affection towards her is blatantly obvious, however, Helena is unable to let go of her ideals due to her mistaken love; as a result, this fuels her inner turmoil. Furthermore, as shown through the varying degrees of empathy displayed by characters such as Demetrius and Hermia, an individuals inner conflicts can reflect back in terms of their social relationships. In Demetrius’s case, Helena’s blind pursuit of his love propelled him to increasingly develop a constant annoyance and anger at Helena, perhaps this was also a result of his inability to understand Helena’s emotions, further alienating her in his mind. In Hermia’s case, she was empathetic towards Helena’s feelings due to their longstanding friendship. Once again, however, Helena’s ignorance as to how her emotions affect others lead Hermia to mistaken her true ambitions – and not saying as much as she could have. Then, through Helena’s desperate pursuit, the one turning point in which Demetrius finally notices her – under the influence of the love potion – she is unable to accept the reality of her situation, accusing Demetrius of “mockery”. This incident further aggravates Helena’s inner conflict, as shes questioning the authenticity of Demetrius’s confessions. This goes to show that even after an individual receives the love they’ve so blindly chased after, they might be in disbelief due to one’s unresolved inner turmoil. Finally, Helena hesitantly accepts Demetrius confessions, trusting his truth – it took perseverance for both Helena and Demetrius to convince one another of their love. In the end, the universal truth is that love is incredibly delicate and complicated, due to the fact that both parties has a beating heart which can switch at any moment; however, it is even more complicated when one adds in love potions and supernatural. And, perhaps it is not the outcome of Helena’s romance that was the lesson – her eventual fulfillment of her ambitions, living happily ever after – but her unshakable zest for what seemed like a hopeless pursuit.