Why is change inevitable? Why is it feared by many but then embraced with open arms by others? Change is the cause to be different, the process or result of altering. And although changes may be difficult and problematic, they often DO bring rewards to those who undergo them. But that doesn’t mean every change has a happy ending.
Students, friends, I’m here before you today to discuss with you the concept of change and its results, and with the help of arguably the most influential writer in English literature – William Shakespeare – and his play ‘King Lear’, as well as the movie “Life as a House’ and the famous Bob Dylan song ‘The Times They Are a Changin’’. With these texts, I’m going to distinguish and expose the outcomes and arduousness of change.
The natural order – or in other words, the physical universe considered as an unchanging structure of life – in King Lear is absolute and when pushed, it pushes back. The most obvious example where the natural order is changed is at the beginning of the play when King Lear divides his Kingdom between his daughters. Regan and Goneril represent King Lear’s sinister attitude at the start with traits such as cruelty and greed. Their deception is seen when the two daughters use exaggerations of love to deceive the King for power.
Goneril claims she loves her father, “As much as child e’er loved, or father found; a love that makes breath poor and speech unable”. But youngest daughter Cordelia –who represents the softer, purer nature of King Lear after he experiences an inner change- is seen to rebel against Lear by claiming her love as “… according to my bond, no more nor less. ” This scene spins the ‘wheel’ of change, beginning the random suffering of the members of the kingdom and creates the dire repercussions that follow.
Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are a Changin’’ states ‘Don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin and there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’’ which reinforces the metaphor seen in King Lear that entails how change is happening continually, without word of who it will affect and that once one change comes the ‘wheel’ will continue to ‘spin’ and will just keep on bringing more change, both good and bad.
The continuing chain of change is reflected in ‘Life as a House’ when not only the two main characters – George and Sam – are affected by the change of their relationship and their journey of inner change, but when the whole community are affected by change also. When George is admitted into hospital, the whole neighbourhood changes their opinion of him as the town nuisance and begin to provide their time and service to ensure his dream of building a house is finished. This is shown through camera shots moving amongst those working on the house.
The husband of George’s ex-wife also goes through some inner changes shown through costume changes and changes in his body language. The once ‘snobby’ business man becomes more of a laid-back family guy when he realises he may lose both his wife and kids if he doesn’t change; creating a sense that his family is his reward for changing himself for the better. ‘The Times They Are a Changin’’ implies that ‘history is in the making’; that a change is coming whether you are ready for it or not.
A line in his first stanza reads ‘Accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone’, which is seen as an extended metaphor of ‘water’, where the water represents change. Change is eternal;
This metaphor of ‘water’ is not only representing change, but also the process of change itself. Bob Dylan shows this through his lyrics that the journey undertaken to stay ‘afloat’ may be difficult, but brings rewards and happiness to those who undergo them successfully, as says in his words ‘For the loser now will be later to win’ and ‘The slow one now will later be fast’. During the movie ‘Life as a House’, both the father George and the son Sam jump off a cliff – at different stages of the movie – and plunge themselves into the ocean.
The ocean symbolises change, and their jump represents their willingness to take the leap of faith into it regardless of the risk to change their life. Both of these characters have undertaken many hard times during their life, whether it be depression, losing their job or an extreme medical condition, but throughout it all they still manage to stay ‘afloat’ and embrace change into their lives; letting it alter them as they become new people.
Unlike Bob Dylan’s song and ‘Life as a House’, ‘King Lear’ perspective on change doesn’t exactly bring rewards to those who undertake tough changes. In Act Three, King Lear finds himself caught in a storm that represents both the insanity infecting King Lear’s mind and the process of change that has been placed before him. Once again nature symbolises change; where it is seen to be the sinister quality used to exploit the weaknesses of the protagonist and is inescapable and inevitable, just like nature itself.
Lear’s decline in power over both his kingdom and his family reduces him to a weak, mad man and through the storm Lear has found himself unable to stop the change that is occurring in his kingdom and that he cannot hide from the destruction that it is bringing. Willingly or not, King Lear must change himself and deal with the consequences of his actions, or drown trying. ‘Come mothers and fathers throughout the land and don’t criticise what you can’t understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command. ’ This line from Dylan’s song was composed during the sixties when the younger generations were testing boundaries and moving away from the authority of their parents. I’m sure most of us here have dealt with boundary issues with parents before, so we can all understand why Dylan was giving these parents – who don’t understand or accept the changes within a society – a choice to step back if they are unwilling to change and to help by ‘lending a hand’.
This step towards change within both society and families is represented as the reward at the end of the tunnel; not only satisfying the younger generation, but to the whole community. In ‘Life as a House’, the house that is being built is used as a metaphor of the relationship between father and son. At the beginning, the house is a rundown little shack reflecting the state of George and Sam’s relationship at the beginning. George is viewed as the naive parent who doesn’t understand their kid, and Sam is the child who is trying to move away from the authority of his parents.
We’re all been there and done that, so we all know what it feels like to be in Sam’s position. But as the house is being pulled down and rebuilt, it symbolises how George rebuilds his relationship with Sam through the building of the house. The change shows on both the house and the family’s relationship, by putting everything that was ever wrong right. This transformation of the house and the relationship is seen as the happy ending brought by change to the family. Lear doesn’t understand his daughters just as George doesn’t understand Sam.
He doesn’t know his two eldest daughters well enough to realise the deception behind their love for him as they proclaim it, and he doesn’t understand his youngest daughter Cordelia as he doesn’t recognise just how much she really does love him. King Lear banishes Cordelia along with his loyal subject Kent with a growing ‘blindness’. He says to Cordelia, “Hence, and avoid my sight” as he also says to Kent, “Out of my sight. ” further showing his ignorance or ‘blindness’ of those who truly care about him.
Throughout the play, Lear rebuilds his relationship with Cordelia by experiencing an inner change throughout the play, just as Sam changes himself when George rebuilds his relationship with him. But it is obviously too late for redemption as King Lear – along with many others – die as a consequence of interfering with the dark side of change. Change is inevitable. But it’s up to you to make the best of it. Because nothing worth having in this world comes easily, and although those changes may be difficult and problematic, they almost certainly bring rewards to those who undergo them. Even if they don’t always end the way you expect.