Good evening senior students my name is Angelique Dumas, I would like to thank all of you for the invitation to speak at today’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas in front of such a diverse audience. Today I will be presenting a ted talk exploring the ideas of Power and People but also the interaction between them. I will elaborate on this via the use of two reference texts; the power of one written by South African- Australian author Bryce Courtenay and William Shakespeare’s sonnet 94. These texts serve as exemplary examples of texts that truly embody power. Abraham Lincoln suggested that “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character give him power.” I suppose this quote is subjective, right? This statement draws multiple parallels with both the power of one and Shakespeare’s sonnet 94 in the likeness of concepts. In all three the axonal idea is the inheritance of power, hence my use of them to explore this idea. Power is a subjective entity, it is entirely dependent on the wielder to place into action ideas concepts and policy. We see this every day, believe it or not; you, me, everyone around you has had power, will have power, does have power. Your ideas, political status, education, nationality, race are all personal experiences but all shape what concept of power you inherit. I am of the opinion that power is, in its’ purest form, something you inherit from history but also something influenced by experiences.
Within both the power of one and Shakespeare’s 94th sonnet, the idea of the privileged people in society inheriting the responsibility to power is a focal point and central theme. In the power of one, there is a particular emphasis placed upon the social discrepancies between Afrikaners, the English in South Africa and the Zulu peoples. this is seen very clearly in Maria’s funeral scene. Maria’s father who has a very pro Afrikaner view throughout the entire film, becomes enraged at the fact that P.K is at his daughter’s funeral, the same response is seen when the Zulu community is also present. This is a true representation of the idea of inheritance as mentioned earlier; Maria’s father has inherited the preconceived ideas or social constructs from his upbringing. Similarly, he attempts to do the same with Maria however, she is growing up in a different time period to him and the definition of justice is changing. Thus, he is unsuccessful in his attempt to dominate with his inherited power. The cinematography of this scene is particularly intelligent in the fact that all three levels of the hierarchical segregation are present at once; this is used in conjunction with Zulu soundtrack relating to unity. Additionally, the cinematographer has used multiple long shots to represent the broadness of this issue and the fact that it involves everyone. This is particularly well done because it embodies the idea of power being a volatile entity.
Similarly, I can draw comparisons between the power of one and Shakespeare’s sonnet 94 in the fact that both are attempting to achieve the same thing, the idea that power is as inherently dangerous as the wielder’s intentions. In the 94th Sonnet, Shakespeare suggests to us that when given power, the mentality of people changes. This is superbly demonstrated in the following quote;
“They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing, they most do show,”
One again we see the appearance of the central theme, being an inheritance of prejudice or societal power. Shakespeare being the literary genius that he is, says something huge about society when he writes “They that have the power to hurt and will do none”, he suggests that power is having the authority or ability to harm but consciously deciding not to. This idea is not exactly contemporary, Shakespeare’s 94th sonnet only serves to exemplify this. If the idea is not new, then once again we can see that hierarchical privilege is historically what has driven these societies.
So, I ask you ‘What has changed?’
The answer; Our society has seen an enormous shift from being a segregationally classed society to being one which endorses progressive ideas and encourages people to speak and listen. But what is to come of it if our ideas are only to be further shifted to the waste bins on our desktops or thrown like rubbish into the trash, contributing to the substantial carbon footprint our generation gets blamed for. Not much, but the woes of teens aside, we see that this is once again NOT A NEW ISSUE. The idea of inheritance is also evident in Shakespeare’s 94th Sonnet. Frequently within this piece, Shakespeare uses personification to embody a lily, which he later states will fester to a nasty smell. This is almost representative of a life and inevitable death situation. Almost cyclical much like the idea of power inheritance. It is suggestive that power stems from the strength of the wielders intentions in conjunction with the integrity of their morals. It calls to question the fact that power inheritance is the office intern of power related issues.
Shakespeare’s work is not exactly what you’d call new, is it? So, if Shakespeare could see that inherited privilege is an issue; why hasn’t something changed? I suggest to you that it is largely due to power. Ah, yes how extraordinarily ironic. Power is the entity which necessitates change but also negates it. Alas, though ironic it is true.
I’ll just draw your attention to a parallel scene to the 94th sonnet within the power of one; the scene in which Maria confronts her father about the prejudicial views he has shown towards the English and the Zulu people. Ultimately, she does pay the price for her actions in her death however, when she attempts to change the deep-seated ways of her father she plants the seed of an idea in the minds of the Afrikaners. She is representative of true power not inherited power. Throughout the dinner scene the lighting is fairly dim or sparse. This demonstrates that the candles that are allowed to burn are the ones that have already been lit or made by a particular candle-maker. In the proceeding scene there is rain almost suggesting that the rain has doused the old flames and is lighting new ones through education. Continuing with my analogy, Maria in her own way is almost a candle-maker herself, she allows the Afrikaner high class to see that in a world where there is equity there is success through her words and actions. In other words, she is making her own candles and lighting them. In the film this idea is cleverly alluded to when they flash to P.k and his accomplices teaching young Zulu people to read and write English. This demonstrates that change can occur when education is given. Thus, we see that change occurs when people have the ability to do nothing but instead do something.
I suggest to you all that drawn from the examples given today; power when independently founded leads to change and inherited power often does the opposite. The idea of power inheritance vs. the acquiring of power is not a new issue but I do believe that it is one we need to see a lot more talk about and an effort to minimise its’ effects. Education is the way to change the world, power just helps us do it. And with that, I’ll leave you with a question; “How do you think this will happen, how do you propose we do this?” What matters is coming together as a society and solving the jigsaw puzzle of life with equity. No more cutting the pieces to make them fit and no more pieces that end up under the couch. A society is only as strong as the sum of its parts. Thank you, very much senior students, goodnight.