Year 10 English
In Year 10 English we rolled out a new unit of work this year in order to prepare students for the latest VCE English study design. The unit involved a comparison of Shakespeare’s play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and the Coppola film ‘The Outsiders’. The basis of the comparison was the representation of conflict in the two narratives. Many students produced insightful, interesting essays.
Included here is one of the best, by Harry Forbes of 10B1. So that you can fully appreciate his achievement- it was written in 90 minutes under test conditions.
Jane Milton, Year 10 English Teacher
'Shakespeare and Coppola suggest that the conflicts we are involved in as humans define and shape our lives. Whilst at first glance these texts may not seem similar in any way, they can actually teach us a lot about human nature, conflict and fate alike.’
Essay Question: How does conflict determine the fate of the characters in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘The Outsiders’?
The idea of fate has been contemplated for thousands of years through both culture and religion. Whilst the idea of destiny is not as prevalent today as it was a few hundred years ago, it is still an important theme in literature and film alike. The fate of the characters in one of the most famous narratives of all time, William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as well as Francis Coppola’s film ‘The Outsiders’, rests upon the conflicts they are involved in. These disputes often determine whether a character will survive or die by the text’s end.
The families of the main individuals in each text often generate conflicts, which compel the young characters to make unreasonable and unjustified decisions. Additionally, when characters undergo extreme mental strain and indecision this frequently foreshadows their own demise. Social expectations and socioeconomic status also determine if the protagonist will survive. Ultimately, the conflicts that some individuals experience decide their fate and potentially presage their downfall. Family conflict can force people to make irrational decisions, which ultimately lead to their demise.
It is evident throughout both texts and especially ‘Romeo and Juliet’ that characters act quickly without any thought for the consequences. This is because of the way they are treated by those closest to them. In Elizabethan times it was common for a young girl’s spouse to be chosen by her parents. Given that this was the norm of the time it is no surprise that Lord Capulet choses Juliet’s future husband: “go with Paris to Saint Peters Church or I will drag thee”. Juliet is already in love with Romeo by this point and feels that if she were to marry Paris she couldn’t be happy. This causes her to fake her own death, which eventually leads to her real death. This senseless decision to defy her parents is the reason her fate is one of tragic death. Had she obeyed her parents’ ruling, her destiny would have been much brighter. Similarly, in ‘The Outsiders’ Ponyboy and Johnny disobey elder family members, which could also be considered the main reason for their bleak fates. Ponyboy and Johnny both live in worlds filled with conflict. Once involved in disputes with their families, “ever since mum and dad died [Darry] hates me”, they have no one left to turn to but each other. After Ponyboy is hit by his older brother Darry, he and Johnny shelter in the park where Johnny reveals that he “likes it more when the old man is hitting [him]. At least he knows I’m there”. Juliet, Johnny and Ponyboy have rifts that have opened with the people who are meant to be the most important in their lives. All three characters run from those who are able to protect them and ultimately this decision decides their fate. Once at the park, both the boys become more involved in the battle against the ‘Socs’, which leads to a resolution where one is mentally wounded, and the other is dead. Both Shakespeare and Coppola suggest that dissension within families can ultimately decide the fate of an individual.
Alternatively, the internal disputes that occur within protagonists’ minds can portend their eventual deaths. This is evident in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ mainly through Romeo himself. Romeo is an individual who acts very much on impulse and, like Juliet, doesn’t assess the consequences of his actions beforehand. He is also extremely faith-orientated and almost worships “the stars” that, according to the belief system of the time, hold his life in their hands. This belief in destiny and the stars leads him to foreshadow his own death before even meeting Juliet, “I fear too early for my mind misgives, some consequence yet hanging in the stars”. Romeo believes that there may be a deep consequence for meeting Juliet but he “defies the stars” and meets Juliet. This decision to go to the Capulets’ house party despite an internal warning ends up having dire consequences. This is similar to Johnny who also foreshadows his own death through worry about what the future may hold. Johnny by nature is a very scared and worried character. This may be caused by his family issues, which are hinted at throughout the text. His unhappy life circumstances lead to depression which is clearly evident when talking to Ponyboy: “I can’t take much more, I’ll kill myself or something”. He, much like Romeo, is worried about the future which causes inner turmoil. His scared depressive nature only adds to this deep worry he has. His fate, much like Romeo’s, is one of death and tragedy. Inner strife and indecision is evidently a significant cause of some of the characters’ deaths, even if they accidentally forewarn themselves of their potentially tragic future.
On the contrary, the societal expectations and socioeconomic differences between the groups also decide the fate and overall outcome of numerous characters’ lives. Society’s expectations of such a prestigious household in Verona, like the Capulets, would undoubtedly be high. This high expectation of Juliet to be the perfect individual and to do everything her parents say is difficult to live up to. Given she loves Romeo, she defies society and chooses Romeo as her lover, “tis but thy name that is mine enemy; thou art myself, thou not a Montague?”
This decision to defy society and its expectations ultimately leads to her death. Her plan is too complex and in order to try and go unseen by both her family and society, she ends up triggering the deaths of herself and her lover. Had society in the Elizabethan Era not accepted arranged marriages, she and Romeo would have been able to fall in love. Unfortunately this was not the case and this led to her death. In contrast, it is the socioeconomic difference and not society’s expectations, which has the same effect in ‘The Outsiders’. The socioeconomic split between the Greasers and Socs is the origin for many conflicts in the text. Furthermore, it leads to certain prejudices within the society which effect the characters. This divide is prevalent is during the park scene. A war of words breaks out: “you know what greasers are? White trash with long greasy hair”. The Greasers’ main distinction from other people is their ‘greasy hair’ and this is a symbol for low economic status in their world. This is in stark contrast to the Socs who are “white trash with Mustangs and Madras”. The Mustangs act as a symbol for the affluence and aggression of the Socs as it is a car commonly associated with wealth and a mean engine. This socioeconomic split leads to the hatred each group has for the other. They hate each other for the opposing reasons, one for being rich and the other for being poor. The conflicts which result from the class divide cause the deaths of three young men. In these texts, society’s expectations and class divisions cause the death of many individuals.
In conclusion, conflict and dissention within both ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘The Outsiders’ decide the destiny of all the protagonists. Shakespeare and Coppola suggest that the conflicts we are involved in as humans define and shape our lives. Whilst at first glance these texts may not seem similar in any way, they can actually teach us a lot about human nature, conflict and fate alike.