We all know what its like to be on the inside and on the outside. High school was full of various ups and downs that made us feel on top of the world one day and at the bottom of the food chain the next. Some of us have gone through life feeling on the outside, without anywhere to turn. In Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, Montaigne’s Essays, and Shakespeare’s Othello, the experiences of being on the inside with that of being on the outside are often hard to differentiate. In Francois Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, the distinction between the outside and the inside involves the outside of Pantagruel’s mouth with the world inside his mouth. When Alcofribas first descended into Pantagruel’s mouth, he discovered a man planting cabbage.
He found that there were several people living in Pantagruel’s mouth that fed off of the birds that flew in and the food that Pantagruel had eaten. The people had learned to survive in there for some time. Alcofribas soon discovered that the world in Pantagruel’s mouth was not that different from the world outside. The citizens still had to work and provide for themselves. However, he liked it better than the outside world because he was not required to do much and it was mostly a safe place to live, aside from the robbers in the valley.
Alcofribas stayed much longer than he had planned because it turned out to be so much easier for him to live inside Pantagruel’s mouth. Eventually, Alcofribas wrote about his feelings of the world inside titled History of An Elegant Throat Land, which he had named the land inside Pantagruel. Alcofribas never stated which world he would rather live in, but only says of the two: “And I began to think how true it was that half the world has no idea how the other half lives, seeing as no one has ever written a thing about that world down there, although it is inhabited by more than twenty-five kingdoms… .” (The Norton Anthology, 1920).
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The comparison of experiences between the outside and the inside in Gargantua and Pantagruel is very similar in that the people in both worlds do what they must to survive. Also, both worlds think that they are the most important, mainly because they have never experienced the other world. The people inside Pantagruel’s mouth knew of an outside world, but they were mainly concerned with how they lived and what came from that world that helped them. Those that lived in the outside world were not even aware that another world apart from theirs existed. Rabelais used this to draw attention to the fact that we assume that we are the only ones in this world and that where we live is the most important. In Gargantua and Pantagruel, the literal outside world thinks that they are on the inside figuratively and the literal inside world thinks the same thing, but neither realizes that one is no better than the other.
In Montaigne’s Essays, “Of Cannibals” is related to European society of that time. Montaigne compares and contrasts Europe with a band of natives that practice cannibalism. He criticizes what he sees as social flaws, such as “treachery, disloyalty, tyranny, and cruelty,” (Norton, 1939) and expresses rage at what he sees as society’s acceptance of these “ordinary vices.” Throughout the essay, Montaigne’s words become more harsh towards the Westerners. He also lets us know that the natives are not as pure as he led on when he reveals the reason for their cannibalism, stating “this is not, as many people think, for nourishment… it is to betoken an extreme revenge.” (Norton, 1938) He appallingly uses this knowledge to show how much worse his own culture is by describing the torture Westerner’s inflict on their own enemies.
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Montaigne adopts the natives’ view that Westerners are “much greater masters than themselves in every sort of wickedness.” He also writes against his people, saying, “So we may call these people barbarians, in respect to the rules of reason, but not in respect to ourselves, who surpass them in every kind of barbarity.” (Norton, 1938) Montaigne also said that there was more barbarity in eating a man while he was still alive, which the Westerners did, than in eating him while he was already dead, which the natives did. Montaigne once again compares this to the European society of that time, saying “we have not only read but seen within fresh memory, not among ancient enemies, but among neighbors and fellow citizens” (Norton, 1938) He was an outsider in a world and at a time when it was dangerous, speaking out against the so-called “insiders” in Europe. In William Shakespeare’s Othello, the comparisons of being on the outside with that of being on the inside are more blunt and outright. We are aware from the beginning that Othello is a different race from the others by Iago’s remarks that he is “the Moor”, “the thick lips”, a “barbary horse,” and an “old black ram” (Norton, 2116-2119) They also refer to Othello as “he” and “him” when mentioned, never out rightly saying his name.
Othello is the outsider from the beginning, but he proves to be the better man throughout the play. Iago is the one on the inside of their society, but he proves to be a bad man. Othello is on the outside from the rest of his society in a good way as well. Everyone looks up to him for his conquests and heroic efforts. When the Duke hears from Barbanzio, he is ready to convict the man who stole Barbanzio’s daughter, until he hears it is Othello. He then gives him a chance to defend himself, showing the respect that the people feel for Othello, saying “What in your own part can you say to this?” (Norton, 2124) Othello then woos the crowd with words, as he did with Desdemona.
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Othello has a good heart, but lets his jealousy get in the way too often, resulting in tragedy. The whole story begins with Iago’s jealousy of Othello and how much the people respect him, even though he is black. Even back then, people were still showing indifference towards people of various races. Iago wanted the crowd to think of him like they thought of Othello, or he wanted to have inside what Othello did. Iago tried to take the exterior of Othello and use it to his advantage and Othello’s disadvantage. In the end, Othello’s exemplary blackness among the whites in Othello proved to be the basis for all that happened throughout.
If Iago had not used the racial names in the beginning, then Barbanzio would not have gone into such an uproar and Othello and Desdemona would have lived. There is a saying that comes to mind when I analyze these stories: What is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular. This phrase could describe Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel in that Rabelais’ wrote about what was unknown at the time, saying that we may not be the only people living, and that there could be various worlds that exist that we don’t know about. When I read Montaigne’s Essays, I immediately thought of that quote because Montaigne wrote about the cruelty of the people in Europe of that time, despite what the people would think of him. As for Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago was the one on the inside of the crowd and he had the worst heart of anyone, while Othello was on the outside of the crowd and possessed the best heart of anyone.
Throughout these stories, it is right to say that each of these authors wrote against what the rest of their countries were doing wrong at that time. They are now being praised for being on the outside of what is considered right.