The idea of “hubris,” apparent in Percy Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias,” forms a connection between “Ozymandias,” William Shakespeare’s play, “Macbeth,” the novel “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding and Bryce Courtenay’s “The Power of One.” All four texts incorporate a significant idea of hubris.
In “Ozymandias,” Percy Shelley incorporates alliteration, personification, and an adjective to draw attention to the visage’s “sneer of cold command.” This, combined with the personification of “trunkless legs of stone” and “the lone and level sands stretch far away,” paints a picture of hostility; a lone, militant structure who depicts an illusion of self-pride through feeling satisfied, despite being alone, as he considers himself to be above others. The “sneer of cold command” is meant to portray to readers that the visage is self-serving and presumptuous, he does not require others’ opinions as his personal admiration is sufficient enough. Shelley creates a self-assured character to represent what arrogance makes a person become so that some readers are able to identify it in themselves and remove it from their personalities in order to become better people.
In William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” the idea of hubris is represented through the character Macbeth. Macbeth became King through killing others. A dishonest man, his arrogance resulted in him becoming evil, disliked and alone, similar to Ozymandias in “Ozymandias.” Readers can understand this through the quote in Act 3, Scene 5, when the witch goddess Hecate vows to lead Macbeth to his destruction through his personal sense of hubris. “He shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear his hopes ‘bove wisdom, grace and fear; and you all know, security is mortals’ chiefest enemy.” Using personification to depict “security” as a tangible threat to humans, indicates that Macbeth being immersed in a false sense of safety, due to his selfish actions, would eventually lead to his self-destruction. Through this quote, Shakespeare demonstrates that one’s greatest threat is himself. As readers discover later in the text, Macbeth’s hubris lured him to believe that he was inevitable, his self-assurance ironically being the reason for his downfall.
In William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” hubris is a dominant theme, portrayed mainly through the character of Jack. Like with Macbeth and Ozymandias, Jack’s pride in himself gave him the ability to build himself up through putting others down although, in the end, his weaknesses overruled his self-implored power. This is demonstrated at the end of the book when Golding wrote: “A little boy who wore the remains of an extraordinary black cap on his red hair and who carried the remains of a pair of spectacles at his waist, started forward, then changed his mind and stood still.” We understand that Jack hurt others to give himself the sense of satisfaction required to make him feel important. However, when it came to taking responsibility for the group, like a true leader does, he allowed Ralph to step forward. This proves that Jack’s hubris was the only thing that originally put him in a position of power as he lacked any genuine leadership qualities, and when he was required to step up he allowed someone else to due to his realisation of this. Through Jack, we learn that hubris is not enough to gain permanent power and the respect of others.
Bryce Courtenay’s “The Power of One” depicts hubris by way of the character Lieutenant Borman. Lieutenant Borman shares the typical repercussion of hubris with Ozymandias, Macbeth, and Jack: believing that he is above everybody else. Borman too responded to threats against his self-imposed power by eliminating them through whatever means benefitted him best. He was selfish, self-absorbed and constantly on guard to protect his power and defend all he had grown up to believe. A close-minded villain, Borman failed to listen to reason or welcome differing opinions and was focused on his way being the only way. Protanganist, Peekay, describes the reaction of Borman when he observed the formation of an unlikely inter-racial relationship: “He saw the unholy alliance of Doc, Geel Piet and myself as a basic breakdown of the system.” Therefore, Borman killed Peekay’s black friend because he saw his way of living life as being in jeaopardy. He wanted his prison to be ordered, his captives to abide his unforgiving, racist “system,” and for him to be the only boss. In the end, Borman was killed in order to avenge his victim and again readers can understand that demonstrating hubris in daily life earns you power only by way of fear and once that fear is overcome you are left with nothing. Courtenay created Lieutenant Borman as a reminder of the dangers that hubris can initiate.
Through studying “Ozymandias,” “Macbeth,” “Lord of the Flies,” and “The Power of One,” I have discovered that the idea of hubris is a common theme in many forms of literature due to the message it puts across to readers. I have learned that portraying the trait of hubris can result in only short-term successes and that it will always come back to haunt you when you are left with no one. Hubris results in fear-driven esteem and sincere respect can only be earned through genuine actions.