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 an abundance of arrogance can make a person become. He teaches us that through the possession of hubris, we lose the ability to build relationships and bestow respect on others. Through losing these vital human qualities, we surrender to our egotism and rely solely on our self-created opinions to continue living. As people, others are essential components to us bettering ourselves, therefore, once we reach the stage when we rate our ideas above those of our peers, we weaken as human beings. Ego is our downfall.
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. With the assistance of Macbeth’s infamous soliloquy upon him hearing of his wife’s death, especially the line: “life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more,” we learn that a person having a copious amount of hubris mirrors the characteristics of an actor “upon a stage.” Macbeth explores the brevity of life, proposing that our time consists of little more than self-obsession and narcissism; he portrays the real danger of oblivion and how one can easily die with little to hold to his name. This realisation is in relation to Lady Macbeth’s death as Macbeth becomes aware that, like Ozymandias, he is left with no one and nothing of any value to him. We are all guilty of putting up facades in order to become what we think others expect of us and, through this process, are at risk of leading an insignificant or superficial life. As hubris is a part of human nature that we all wrestle with, the greater our ability is to identify it, and therefore decrease the amount we act on it, the lower the chance is that we are exposed to its repercussions and suffer from its consequences.
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. Jack followed the same path as Ozymandias and Macbeth in that by the end of the story each man, who once had great things, lost everything due to presumptuous natures and abusiveness of power. This teaches us to never take luxuries or privileges for granted.
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; he too, along with Ozymandias, Macbeth, and Jack, depicts how karma and hubris come hand in hand. As we understand through these four similar characters, they all had access to power and influence, the capability to achieve great things, however, their extreme arrogance blinded their courtesy and sense to a point when they believed that nobody else was worthy of their company or accomplished enough to support them. This ideology surrounding invincibility is something we all have the aptitude to possess yet it is our morals and groundedness which determine whether or not we act on it.
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 different forms of writing due to the message it puts across to readers. These texts have taught us that portraying the trait of hubris can result in only short-term successes and that karma will always come back to haunt you when you are left with no one. Hubris results in fear-driven self-esteem and sincere respect can only be earned through genuine actions. These powerful pieces of literature draw reader’s awareness to the proposition that it is human nature to acquire hubris in some form or another, but it is the extreme of hubris that we act on that determines whether we live a fulfilled life or not.