Imbalance of Power in Literature

Literature is a powerful source of knowledge and entertainment due to its ability to discuss and present various issues in written form relying on the power of human imagination. Among different genres and styles, scientific literature is devoted to diverse investigations whereas poetry and prose perform aesthetic, educational, and entertaining functions. Besides, one of the critical functions of artistic literature is to raise fundamental philosophic questions regarding the problems of human identity and society overall. The Man in a Case by Anton Chekhov and A Bold Stroke for a Husband by Hannah Cowley represent the cases when a literature piece reveals the specificity of society functions and typical problems associated with them. One of such problems refers to the place of a person in the society and his or her role among other individuals. The analysis of the two written works reveals that the significant part of depicted relationship of the protagonists is based on the imbalance of power. The inadequacy of distribution of social power among individuals leads to manipulation of a particular group of people over another or separate individuals whereas the latter attempt to protect themselves. Such contrast and inappropriate influence lead to diverse social conflicts that destroy an individual’s will and make one an undesirable part of the society.

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The Man in a Case

The Man in a Case written by a Russian playwright Anton Chekhov is one of the literary pieces that discusses a problem of an opposition between the society and individual. The story is set in one of the Russian villages, where two protagonists stopped for a night and had a typical discussion of anecdotal events. One of them, the schoolmaster Burkin tells a story about a weird person who recently died. Burkin’s listener Ivan Ivanovitch, a veterinary surgeon, listens and critically evaluates the story about the man. Burkin’s story is a case when a respected individual that lived an enclosed life had no power to resist his social environment.

The protagonist of the story named Byelikov was a peculiar individual who avoided conflicts with the society and was in constant fear of the unexpected. “Always wearing goloshes and a warm wadded coat, and carrying an umbrella even in the very finest weather” (Chekhov 1), Byelikov represents a person who has no power to oppose anyone. Knowing his weakness, he refuses to communicate with the whole world except for his working environment at high school?. Having no individual will, he always relies on laws and sets of rules that serve as an automatic protection of the order that he used to live in. Surprisingly, his colleagues are afraid of Byelikov, and hence, they agree with his claims voiced in a doubtful manner, which demonstrates that his communicational strategy has been successful. Thus, disregarding the fact that society is more powerful than Byelikov, his protection measures maintain the balance of power between him and the colleagues.

Furthermore, Byelikov’s social environment changes after the introduction of new teachers. The change leads to an imbalance of power in his community and gradually destroys the protagonist. The newcomers, “Milhail Savvitch Kovalenko, a Little Russian” (Chekhov 4) and his sister Varinka are drastically different from any people living in the protagonist’s village. The presence of new people among his colleagues leads to their realization that Byelikov has to change his social status and marry Varinka. Due to the fact that they are obsessed with this idea, they invade Byelikov’s private space, and it becomes evident that Byelikov cannot oppose collective power. At the same time, he has not only the will to oppose that community but boldness to propose to Varinka. Thus, Byelikov becomes invasive after “exiting his shell” and disclosing his true feelings to the world. He is unable to propose to a girl and stuck between the two social powers that have been previously unknown for him. None of these powers pleases him because presumably, his colleagues make fun of Byelikov whereas Milhail Kovalenko demonstrates neglect and irritation towards the man. The imbalance of power and inferiority starts pressing him not only mentally but also physically. Consequently, he suffers from insomnia, becomes anxious, and looks pale.

Feeling sympathy to Varinka, Byelikov refuses from his anti-social shield and gets crushed by his community as no one cares for his natural inferiority and the lack of strong will. In contrast to him, both Varinka and her brother have enough social power, and hence, they do not feel afraid to express their emotions. Varinka is mainly positive and singing character whereas Mikhail seems to be rude and impulsive. Both of them communicate with the protagonist easily, but Varinka expresses positive emotions whereas the brother does the opposite regarding Byelikov. Their conduct and manners represent another cultural setting. Thereby, their failure to recognize the power of Byelikov’s anti-social shell allows them deliberately and non-deliberately hurting the protagonist. Thus, Mikhail impulsively drives Byelikov out of his apartment while Varinka witnesses his falling from the stairs and laughs. To Byelikov, this double stress is a manifestation of power that breaks his weak personality. Having no experience of overcoming the hardships of life, the man in a case suffers from an imbalance of power that becomes evident after his shell does not protect him from the public influences. This contrast of emotional instability and weakness of will represent an imbalance of social power, due to which Byelikov feels as an undesirable part of the society.

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Therefore, the story of the man in a case is a depiction of the way social imbalance allows specific groups of people invading the lives of others and pressuring the latter to follo their decisions. Obviously, it leads to psychological conflicts. The story of Byelikov is a tragic demonstration of the case when the holders of social power lack accuracy and respect towards individuality when pursuing collective goals. Being unable to respond because of the lack of social power, Byelikov seeks protection in laws and regulations. However, the latter do not work against individuals not respecting his point of view. After recognizing his powerlessness, Byelikov is doomed for self-destruction as his formerly efficient anti-social shell fails to maintain the balance of power by means of passive resistance.

A Bold Stroke for a Husband

A humorous play A Bold Stroke for a Husband by Hannah Cowley represents the attempts of the female protagonist to find a husband. The story is set in Madrid, Spain for excluding any possible inconvenience of the public because of irony and humorous accent on the morality of the protagonists’ actions. Olivia, one of the main heroes, is a young woman who uses different social tactics to avoiding the will of her father forcing her to marry a man she does not like. On the one hand, she wants to solve the problem with her father Don Caesar trying to engage her with a man that he considers trustworthy and of equal social status. At the same time, she is intending to another person who is not the choice of her father. Recognizing that solving these problems in unrealistic, she resorts to actions that allows cheating her admirers and father and reaching her final goal. The second storyline involves another woman, Victoria, who wants to save her marriage and return the husband, Don Carlos. Apparently, Don Carlos has a love affair with a courtesan, seems to be unlikely to return to Victoria (Cowley). Although the two storylines might seem different, the author united them in a similar context to demonstrate the way the imbalance of social power may be used for reaching individual goals. Moreover, power imbalance in the story is rendered through the prisms of humor, irony, and satire towards males. Thus, in the presented cultural framework, men are holding all tools of social power, but the secret tactic of female manipulation allows them to use that power against men.

In the play, the author significantly stresses the aspects of the distribution of social power while presenting different attempts of protagonists to influence one another. Typically, the most widespread method used by the majority of depicted men and women is deception. For example, Olivia manipulates her father to have an imitation of engagement with Marcella, which provides her with time to think about the plans for marrying Don Julio (Cowley). Likewise, she uses the assistance of her servant for getting a protection against the possible real engagement with a stranger introduced by her father. Thus, having no actual power of expressing her opinion, Olivia takes her right for gender equality and power maintenance in deceptive ways. At the same time, it is unjust to criticize her actions because she is trying to restore the balance of social power and avoid imbalance that could negatively affect her personal life. Thus, the idea of going for a bold stroke for a husband aims at restoring the balance of social power that has been traditionally violated.

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Victoria is another woman who suffers from an imbalance of social power, but she uses deception for making her husband return to the family that stands for a figurative demonstration of a power balance. Initially, Victoria is presented as a socially disadvantaged individual because her husband cheats her with another woman and unlikely to return. However, this situation can be characterized as a power imbalance only from the position of her husband or male-dominant community. In reality, Victoria uses deception to return the lands that Don Carlos once gave as a present to his wife and makes him a beggar. Moreover, Victoria changes her appearance making her husband recognize his mistake and return to her (Cowley). Therefore, she does not only restore the balance of power but gains an advantage over Don Carlos, which makes him change his mind and ask for protection from poor life. Although Victoria’s goals and methods are different from the ones of Olivia, the author demonstrates that all strategies are justified when a woman seeks the balance of social power.

Consequently, the aspect of the power distribution is discussed in A Bold Stroke for a Husband through the aspects of deception and gender rights. In the play, women being in a disadvantaged position because of patriarchic social traditions seek restoration of the social power balance by any means. Depicting these cases through irony, the author demonstrates that the manipulation of the aspects of power is possible disregarding the established social hierarchy and traditional inferior position of women in the particular society.


The Man in a Case by Anton Chekhov and A Bold Stroke for a Husband by Hannah Cowley are two literary works discussing the aspects of the social power distribution and its effects. In particular, Chekov presents the problem of power imbalance that may invade an individual space of a person and destroy him or her disregarding the intentions and beliefs of the latter. In his story, the inadequacy of distribution of social power harms an individual that is unable to protect himself. However, in A Bold Stroke for a Husband, the author presents a range of practical means for restoration of social power balance while breaking a patriarchic social hierarchy. In this play, female protagonists use deception for solving problems caused by their traditionally inferior social position. The analysis of these two pieces of literature demonstrates that there are various forms of power imbalance in the human society. If this imbalance is unjustified, people tend to manipulate one another to restore power and protect themselves from harmful practices of power abuse.

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