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The Power of Selfishness

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Mitchell Goulding AP Literature and Composition Mrs. Farrell 19 May 2007 The Power of Selfishness Literature overflows with references and symbols that correlate to teachings of many different subjects. Many authors design characters who, for some unknown reason, feel they cannot control their own selfish motives. The system of egoism defines itself as the "ethical system that places needs of oneself above and before those of others. Incorporated into this system, the more explicit views of the psychological egoist arise. The psychological egoist firmly believes that he holds no power over his selfish motives; humans innately strive to maintain what proves best for themselves over any other's needs. This situation becomes evident in Shakespeare's Macbeth as Macbeth allows his "vaulting ambition" to overpower his best judgment. While Macbeth's questions his actions towards the beginning of the play, his true character surfaces as we see the transformation from a discerning war hero to a monstrous, uncontrollable murderer. Because Shakespeare chooses to slowly reveal Macbeth's faults, the reader initially falls into the perception of Macbeth's nobility and control over his own desires. The reader first meets Macbeth as he rides in from a successful battle in which he decimated Scotland's foe led by Macdonwald. ...read more.


Egoism has been widely criticized as subverting attempts to live together as a whole, a criticism which further magnifies the potency of danger that Macbeth's ambitions hold. Macbeth's ability to act upon his ambition remained unclear for a large part of the play; however, once he committed the initial murder of Duncan, Macbeth's will to remove anything that threatened his success became clear; his willingness to kill further emboldened the correlation of him as an egoist. Quickly becoming suspicious of the beliefs of those around him, Macbeth moves to kill Banquo, his closest friend and ally until this point. As Banquo clearly dictates his unwillingness to support Macbeth in his nefarious deeds, Macbeth decides to call upon a group of murders to remove the threat of not only Banquo, but of his son Fleance, who was prophesized to be king. In fact, Macbeth believes "every minute of [Banquo's] being thrusts/ Against [his] nearest of life" (III.i.118-119). The small statement illuminates the potency of Macbeth's insanity; his closest friends have now become his strongest enemies. Because of this transformation from friend to foe, Banquo becomes a victim of Macbeth's ambition, becomes a symbol of pain caused by the incessant lust for power, becomes a rock from which those like Malcolm and MacDuff launch themselves from in order to overthrow the lost, poisoned mind of Macbeth. ...read more.


Like Macbeth, Richard Nixon was a wildly popular figure in United States politics, winning his elections with over 60% of the popular vote. Seeing his own success and desiring so much more, he allowed his paranoia to take hold of him and cheated his way to a second term by bugging the Democratic offices. Many historians believe that this move proved to be completely unnecessary; his popularity already had been sealed with the people. Having followed through with his quest for power, his obsession caused him to inevitably resign from office. Macbeth portrayed many similar characteristics as Richard Nixon. His popularity greatly stood above his peers around him, however; he chooses to instead tear apart a kingdom for his success, a success that likely would have brought him to power anyways. Shakespeare along with history teaches us the power ambition holds over us, the importance of containing that ambition, only searching for what we can do to improve ourselves without harming others. The egoist commonly addresses the criticisms regarding his lust for power as shallow and full of fear, much like Macbeth addresses those who attempt to quell his vaulting ambition. The quest for power controls so many in the world today, but it eventually leads these people to failure much like Macbeth's, failure much like Nixon's, failure to keep hold of power, failure to sustain a valuable life. ...read more.

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