Friday, May 9, 2014

Idle Thoughts -- You Say Manly Man and I Say Sociopath

10) Discuss the significance of the discussion between Roy and Joe in Act 3 Scene 5. Your response should summarize the conversation AND discuss what the conversation suggest about both characters.  

Joe meets with Cohen at his home. Cohen is in a bathrobe because he is actually in terrible pain and cannot dress. However, as always, nothing matters to him but show and appearance. Reality is irrelevant.  He does all he can to hide his weakness.

When Joe declines the offer of power and position in Washington, Cohen is disgusted. He doesn't care, and he feels that Joe shouldn't care, if a marriage is being destroyed, his wife is missing, or the man has a bleeding ulcer. All that matters is power and politics.

Cohen's obsession with the concept that manly men feel nothing, care about nothing, and are all-powerful at all times has made him into a sociopath. Or, being a sociopath has led him to these conclusions. In any event, he is clearly a very abnormal human being who is incapable of understanding the emotional needs of normal people.

Because Joe cares about something other than power, Cohen calls him a wuss. When Joe apologizes for not being able to carry on under these terrible circumstances: Cohen calls him a wuss again.  Since power is all that matters to him, he cannot imagine someone else really valuing other things. Joe must value exactly what Cohen values. Therefore, Joe must be a weakling.

Apparently in order to stiffen up Joe's backbone, and also to brag about the glories of having power, Cohen exhults about the greatest accomplishment that he has achieved as a politician. That is, illegally and unethically pressuring a judge to order the death penalty for Ethel Rosenberg.

Although Joe had been tempted by the power of Washington, he has remained at heart a decent man. Therefore he is shocked that Cohen did such a thing and even more shocked that he is proud of it!  He makes an excuse for the other man, suggesting that he is only saying these awful things because he sick and isn't thinking clearly. Joe really wants other people to be decent.

Cohen, on the other hand, only wants to be seen as powerful. He thinks this is the only thing that matters to everyone because it is the only thing that matters to him.  He takes Joe's kindly excuse that his sickness has caused him to act inappropriately as an insult.  Manly men don't get sick.

He's so upset that he denies his sickness, even though Joe quickly points out that it was Cohen himself who told Joe that he had cancer.  Even in the face of this plain fact, Cohen again denies that he has cancer.  Since appearance can make a weak, ill man seem healthy and powerful (all that matters to him), he again assumes that it is all that matters to everyone else.  Joe's pointing out facts doesn't make any sense to Cohen. Since power is all important, if you are actually weak, of course you lie about it. You do so even if people know it's a lie. And they should accept the lie as if it were true. This way, you remain powerful.

When Joe, again trying to be decent, offers his hand, Cohen gives him a bearhug instead and declares that he's only being hard on Joe because he cares about them. Once again, Joe understands that people suffer and need each other, Cohen needs and wants only power over others.

When Joe tries to leave, disgusted with the inhumanity of this man he had respected, Cohen grabs him. Joe pushes him away and very nearly punches him.  Cohen makes things even worse by suggesting to Joe that he a break a law. If necessary, find one he can break. The point being that if he can get himself to do that even once, it will destroy much of Joe's sense of morality. It will at least open the door which may well lead Joe down into the empty hell of all interpersonal relationships being interpreted as power games. This is the road that Cohen took many years ago.

When Joe leaves in disgust , Cohen bends over in agony. He's been in pain the whole time, but manly men don't show weakness in front of others.  If they did, they might lose some of their power.

Knowing that he's alone, he feels free to call out to someone for help.  Ethel Rosenberg appears. Terrified at the sight of her ghost, he shrieks out in fear, "I'M NOT AFRAID OF YOU OR DEATH OR HELL OR ANYTHING!"  It's clear that he is in fact terrified of those things. But he is afraid that if he admits the fear, he will lose control of the situation.

Helpless from pain and fear he falls to the floor. It is Ethel Rosenberg, whom he illegally and immorally caused to be executed, who picks up the phone and calls for an ambulance.  Still trying to impress her with his absence of fear, he declares to her that he is immortal because he has made history. Apparently, he thinks this makes him in some sort of God, or at least demigod, like Hercules in the ancient myths. Or perhaps he is an Hegelian and thinks the World Spirit has chosen him to be a World Historical Figure.

Not only is she unimpressed with his power moves, she is delighting in his suffering. This is her revenge. She says to him, "History is about to crack wide open. Millennium approaches".

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