The play, Hamlet, by Shakespeare and the novel, Child of God, by Lolita Files tells of Ophelia l character that displays similar base behaviors. In both Hamlet and Child of God, the two Ophelias are static one-dimensional characters who are both victims of their circumstances. However, the Ophelia in Hamlet meet a tragic end while the Ophelia in Child of God is able to have a positive ending. In short, Files’ Ophelia became the tragic heroine that Shakespeare’s did not.
The significant and most important similarity between the characters of Ophelia in Hamlet and Child of God is that both are a static-one dimensional character. These characters do not change throughout the play or novel and continued to be predictable. They act like robots that do not exercise an aggressive control over their own lives and effect any purposeful independent personal change in their environment. They are weak-willed, soft, fragile, tender beings whose main function and purpose in life is to be dominated and used by other more aggressive, strong characters surrounding them.
File’s Ophelia is said to be, “naive about the world and the people in it” and Shakespeare’s Ophelia is described by Hamlet as “frailty, thy name is woman” (Files 65; Shakespeare & Hapgood 116). Ophelia in Child of God is used by his brother for his selfish, passionate desires while the Ophelia in Hamlet is used by her father and brother to be a spy against the man she loves, Hamlet. Files’ Ophelia put up a little but unconvincing resistance to his brother’s advances (“but I’m your sister”) perhaps because her situation is more delicate while Shakespeare’s Ophelia readily obeyed without question (Files 68).
It is said that Files’ Ophelia “loved her brother…and would have done anything to make him happy” (Files 68). Moreover, the two characters in both stories are both predictable creatures that one could easily predict to either fall when circumstances are bad or triumph when circumstances are good or in their favor. Sure enough Shakespeare’s Ophelia became a madwoman when circumstances turn from bad to worse, as first, she is betrayed by her lover, Hamlet, who tells her “I love you not”, and then second her father is murdered by Hamlet himself (Shakespeare &Hapgood 182).
Files’ Ophelia, on the other hand, also almost went crazy when her child dies in the fire after Lay left her, and would surely have gone crazy if her mother did not make the initiative to turn her life around by sending her to college in another State. Such behaviors show both Ophelias’ incapability to direct their own destiny in spite of their circumstances. One reason is that they seem to be women who have no opinion of their own. In Hamlet, Ophelia did not defend Hamlet against her father but willingly submits to their plans even though it may hurt the man she loves.
Some scholars who made an analysis of her character accused her, that because of her willingness to be used against him, she therefore does not really love Hamlet (Madariaga 41). However, it is obvious that this Ophelia cannot make up her mind, as suggested by her reply “I do not know, my lord, what I should think”(Shakespeare & Hapgood 127). Similarly, the seemingly innocent Ophelia in Child of God who ironically loves to read books that could have imparted her knowledge from which to forge her own opinions is easily convinced by her own brother to have sexual relationship with him.
Both authors therefore, presents two Ophelia’s who emulate and illustrate the dangers of the celebrated frailty , naivety and tenderness of feminity for it, in fact, exposes women to domination and hence, to becoming victims of circumstances. On the other hand, one of the major differences that a reader can observe is that Ophelia in Child of God had an incestuous love affair with his brother Lay while the Ophelia in Hamlet, who also has a close relationship with his brother, did not. It appears that the major difference lies in the brothers themselves.
Lay is generally a wicked, selfish man (as attested later by destroying his own brother’s life to drugs). His childhood is greatly influenced by his aunt Sukie who is also a wicked, selfish woman. His love and concern for Ophelia, therefore, is driven more by his passionate lust and using persuasive words (“I thought you said you loved me”), convinces her to enter into an incestuous love affair with him. He later left her pregnant and drive her away from his life when Ophelia establishes contact with him (Files 68). On the other hand, the Ophelia in Hamlet has a brother, Laertes, who genuinely loves her.
He thinks Hamlet is just going to destroy her virginal innocence (“your chaste treasure open, to his unmaster’d importunity”) and therefore warns her (Shakespeare & Hapgood 124). File’s Ophelia recognizes that it is sin to have incestuous affair with his brother but she speaks with little conviction (“what happen between us ain’t normal”, and when Lay asks her who said it she replied, “it just ain’t”) indicating that she was not as interested to the moral implications of her actions (Files 69). What is important for her is that her brother loves her and he wants her.
Many people present this kind of argument when confronted with their sinful or questionable actions. As long as their needs are met they do not care so much what the law or others say. Interestingly, the people who are capable of this kind of lifestyle are those who are less pricked by conscience. Nowhere in the book in the Child of God can one see that Ophelia struggles with guilt over her incestuous affair with Lay. When she was almost overcome with madness, it was not because of guilt but because her child (the one she sired with her brother) is burned to death.
On the other hand, one would wonder what would have happen to Shakespeare’s Ophelia if Laertes had made physical advances to her like what Lay did to his sister. It is quite possible that she would be gone crazy or mad also. The reason is that she seemed to be endowed with a higher degree of conscience, arising from a nurtured family loyalty, than the Ophelia in Child of God is although looking at both their lives in entirety it seems that they do not “struggle much with moral choices or alternatives” (Shakespeare et. l. 78 ).
It is apparent in Hamlet that the madness of Shakespeare’s Ophelia’s is caused by the grief over her father’s death ,nevertheless, judging from the events surrounding her father’s death( like Hamlet’s insult over her betrayal and the possible likelihood that she thinks Hamlet killed her father in revenge) it could be that it is in fact the culmination of all the guilty feelings she harbors inside as she cries out, “O! Woe is me, to have seen what I have seen, what I see” (Shakespeare & Hapgood 185).
The authors therefore do show that the relationships that both developed with their brothers is largely influenced by the behavior of their brother themselves although one cannot discount the role of the degree of moral conscience in these two characters. Shakespeare’s Ophelia is more inclined to be pricked by conscience (therefore more likely to avoid it) than File’s Ophelia is. Another significant difference is that File’s Ophelia became a tragic heroine that Shakespeare’s Ophelia did not.
It can be noted that these two fragile maidens encounters and are caught up in a tragic family drama. However, the life of File’s Ophelia’s can be said to be more tragic (and cursed with sin) than that of Shakespeare’s Ophelia for her bloodline is tainted with family murders, family hatred, gender biases (homosexuality) and incest and therefore more prone to failure and bitter end. On the other hand, the Ophelia in Hamlet can be said to have only a tragic incident in the murder of her father by her lover Hamlet.
Weighing these two backgrounds, one therefore can conclude, that Shakespeare’s Ophelia had a more chance to experience a triumphant life. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Shakespeare’s Ophelia became crazy and suspected to commit suicide while File’s Ophelia overcome her tragic past. Their different endings are actually caused by the respective lack or abundance of support that they get from others. As mentioned earlier, both of these Ophelia do not take initiative for their destinies.
Therefore, the key to their triumph relies heavily on the people surrounding them. The Ophelia of Hamlet both lost her father and Hamlet and with her caring brother far in Paris, Ophelia is put in a most distressing state( “ driven into desperate terms”, as Laertes put it) , struggling with her sorrow and grief alone which eventually caused her madness( Shakespeare & Hapgood 244). File’s Ophelia on the other hand, in spite of the murder, hatred and incest surrounding her life, nevertheless, has a very supportive family.
Her parents protect her from possible harm, she is sent to school by an equally supportive family friend and at least she has one brother, Polo, who cares so much about her and is with her in her new life as a student. Then later she met a man who loves her and accepted her for who she is. Without being very straightforward about it therefore, the two authors implicitly illustrate the value and importance of support towards fragile weak characters in attaining their triumph over the adversities of their lives.
As a conclusion, even though the Ophelia’s of Hamlet and Child of God displays and possesses the same weak, naive personality and tender feminine qualities that is subject to domination and exploitation they are, however, destined to have different endings. The reasons are due mainly to their ability or the lack of it to be influenced by conscience as well as to their respective differences in getting support from others.