“Let me lead you now”: The Challenges and Triumphs of Leadership in ‘Ransom’ and ‘Invictus’
Clint Eastwood’s Invictus and David Malouf’s Ransom both emphasise the necessity of strong leadership, especially as the societies depicted in both texts are on edge: Troy nearing its inevitable destruction, whereas South Africa is struggling past its dubious beginnings. The two texts discover the hardships of leading by exemplifying the characteristic in four major leaders. Eastwood and Malouf depict two primary leaders, Mandela and Priam, that have inherited a volatile administration, as aforementioned; the two secondary leaders, François and Achilles, symbolise a different volatility – one that is embodied by stagnation and a persistent conservatism that yielded no results. Both authors ingrain an appeal to nature, one’s own volition and humanism in their two characters – in Priam, this is a learnt trait; in Mandela, this is an inherent virtue. The prominence of leadership within both works of literature is testified by the ultimate victory achieved by the four leaders.
The state of South Africa, once Mandela managed power, was one of severe division and polarisation. The atmosphere had retained the stench of apartheid and racial segregation – the opening shot was cleverly utilised by Eastwood to symbolise this disunity through the juxtaposition of wealthy Afrikaners playing rugby on a well-manicured field, to the poor Africans playing soccer on a barren one. In the following scene, Mandela notices the tensions between his White and Black staff; with some Afrikaners already packing their belongings in the many cardboard boxes spread across the rooms ready to leave, due to a false sense of foreboding imbued in them regarding the new administration. Mandela immediately calls for an ad hoc meeting to deliver an impromptu speech where he asserts ‘the past is the past’ alleviating the fears most of the whites had clenched onto. Priam, however, doesn’t need to consolidate power; rather, he needs to preserve his kingdom that’s been ‘ravaged and threatened with extinction’. After having sent his fearsome son and fighter, Hector, to the battlefield and losing him to Achilles – his entire court is paralysed in their mourning, as most were either friends or relatives of the deceased, but Priam was innately paralysed as he belonged to the ‘royal sphere’ and therefore had a ‘royal image’ to maintain. The traditionalism of the imperials of Troy rendered the King as a mere figurehead and all nobles as placeholders, actors for a play larger than themselves – an enjoyment for the Gods. Priam’s unstable monarchy came because of his court’s grief and consequently, their inaction, whereas Mandela’s battle was against the inherent hatred and prejudice of the people involved – however, a similar leadership quality is observed – Priam also calls an ad hoc meeting to retrieve his son’s body and relax the court’s sorrow.
Ransom and Invictus also provide the perspective of other leaders, Achilles and François; these two leaders demonstrate different sets of trials and tribulations, as well as victories, in their leadership. Achilles is the exact opposite of his counterpart, Priam, he and his Myrmidons embody an ‘animal spirit’ that has them unruly, brutish and almost feral-like – but Achilles pushes it further and embraces an oculist’s ‘darkness’. This transcendent being pulls Achilles into pits of depravity, driving him to torture and maim a lifeless body; Achilles, to alleviate his guilt-ridden conscience, asserts it’s his grief for his lost brother Patroclus that Hector’s body must be tarnished and degraded. François mirrors some of the qualities of Achilles – being the captain of the failing Springboks, he’s developed a sorrow for his inability to lead; which is also reminiscent of Achilles failure to guard his brother against an untimely death. François’s uphill battle, however, isn’t with one specific opponent; rather with many – and so he toasts to defeat, drinking a bitter beer; to remind his men of its harshness and disincentivising ever tasting it again. And to worsen the situation of the Springboks, calls for the removal of François as he ‘does not deserve to be in gold and green’ are broadcast nationally – François realises his powerlessness, and finds himself in a depth akin to Achilles’s.
These leaders both persevere despite the stacking of odds against them and their deteriorating situations – a triumph in of itself – and therefore become keen on wanting change, ‘something new’ in Achilles case and a ‘need [for] inspiration’ in François’s. This creates an open-mindedness in both characters, Achilles is seen ‘breaking bread’ and feasting with Priam – his mortal enemy – whereas François is invited by Mandela for tea and the promise of victory in the upcoming World Cup. Both meetings end well – Achilles signs a twelve-day armistice in respect of Priam, and the Springboks won their rugby matches as well as the love 42 million of South Africans. This sudden change of heart isn’t suddenly embedded in Priam and Mandela, rather, they develop their inspirational je ne sais quoi through a force that transcends themselves. In Ransom, Priam is inspired by the Goddess Iris that introduces to him the notion of chance; something he’d previously considered blasphemous. This paves the course for Priam that leads to his forgiveness of Achilles, retrieval of his son’s lost body and the aforementioned bread-breaking with his arch-enemy. Mandela similarly derives inspiration in the direst of his times; a poem he read while in solitary confinement helped him maintain his grit and fortified his mental fortitude. After having survived his own trials, Mandela echoes the very same things in his meeting with François as Iris had said to Priam.
In both narratives inspiration acts as a driving force to allow one to ‘exceed [their] own expectations’; in Ransom, Priam realises a window from wherein he can defeat the persisting stagnation that has plagued Troy and its Imperials; in Invictus, it strengthens Mandela to endure ’30 years in a tiny cell, and come out ready to forgive the people who put him [there]’. The divine inspiration in Ransom tears down all the forms of conservativism that afflicted the ‘royal sphere’; Priam’s journey with Somax following the visions he’d received reconnected him with all the intricacies and minutiae of daily life – he reflects on Somax’s life and deems it more vibrant and vivid than his, despite the marginal difference between their social standing. Priam then appraises the experiences of his life – he had no connection to his children, not able to even recount how many he’s had – and rationalises it’s because of his ‘fixed nature’. Mandela, however, had always espoused this leadership quality; being gregarious and eloquent provided him greatly in social endeavours – François recalls that ‘[Mandela] is unlike anyone [he has] ever seen’ – this affableness had him shoulder the burden of forty-two million South Africans and Afrikaners.
Ultimately, the two stories end on an optimistic note; a bright sun rises on Troy and a cheering crowd chants the Springboks victory. The consequence of the four leaders is greatly felt in the two texts – each of whom faces considerable challenges that required unprecedented solutions. These characters didn’t bring about the solutions completely alone; they relied heavily on the people surrounding them – a demonstration of their willingness to espouse new ideas and recreate their world-view after considering new developments. While the narrative does predict a grim future for Troy, Priam and Achilles; its comment on the strength of leadership is a demonstrably positive one.
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Clint Eastwood’s Invictus and David Malouf’s Ransom both emphasise the necessity of strong leadership, especially as the societies depicted in both texts are on edge: Troy nearing its inevitable destruction, […]