Sample Anthropology Essay Paper on Rene Girard Analysis

Rene Girard Analysis

Rene Girard, a renowned scholar has made huge impacts in the field of anthropology in advancing various theories and approaches towards the explanation of phenomena in the society. Although he was born in France, Girard moved to the United States where he expanded his education and upon attaining his PhD, he remained in the US as a lecturer, advancing his education and expertise in literature through different universities. Although he was qualified along literature lines, he was unmistakably perfect in contributing to several social theories explaining human behavior as well as the relationship between human beings and the social environment. Most of his theories cover both divine and secular perspectives, firmly explaining his own stand and ideas in what he thought explained certain behaviors. A detailed approach into the works and contributions of Rene Girard with the example of Shakespeare’s King Lear brings out his ideas in a clear manner and intentions of working out social theories with examples illustrating and expanding more on Shakespeare’s examples.

Girard came up with a theory on the development of culture in which heel a borated the relationships that came out as a result of culture. Under the development of culture theory, Girard introduced the aspect of mimesis and violence[1]. To him, mimesis worked the same way with imitation but could not be used as substitutes. The Sacrifice, as Sacral Violence and Substitutionis the other approach and serves as an example to illustrate Girard’s theory, where he used the mimetic concept to create an understanding of the approach by creating comparisons. However, all the theories seemed emanating from the initial single theoretical approach of development of culture, where mimetic aspects illustrate that culture is simply imitated and learned through social processes.

A perfect example to illustrate Girard’s mimetic approach is Shakespeare’s King Lear, which can be used to illustrate sibling rivalry since it is one of the most prevalent themes in the narrative. Girard’s mimetic theory is illustrated when two sisters, Regan and Goneril have an interest in Edmund, illustrating sisterly rivalry. In elaborating the example in a clear way in mimetic theory, a person will want something only after another person has showed interest in the same thing. Goneril develops some interest towards Edmund only after her sister Regan has noticed him and wants to create a relationship with him. This then sparks a lot of hatred, animosity and violence to the extent that they want to eliminate their father, King Lear, and acquire power which they can use to intimidate each other and get what they want.

Another incidence is where King Lear daughter’s Regan and Goneril decided to imitate their father’s desire of them declaring their love for him. It means that they desired to acquire their father’s approval and acquire their inheritance which they ended up getting. On the other hand, King Lear was only desiring for real love for the daughters to know who was worthy of his inheritance.  It means that despite not desiring the same thing, they ended up becoming rivals when King Lear realized that the daughters had faked their love.  The audiences see him wailing and complaining how his ungrateful daughters have deceived and tricked him. This came to light when Goneril decided to support the husband Regan and not his father Lear showing that he loved the husband more than the father.

The fact that Girard was a literature professor and ended up developing theoretical approaches in culture and anthropology, this made him an interdisciplinary thinker, who used society as his platform in coming up with ideas that defined and explained events in the human environment. In explaining culture and behavior, Girard advanced most of Emile Durkheim’s perspectives to explain society and the structures that complete its functions[2]. A positive aspect about Girard is that he did not limit his thinking to one discipline and it is the wide applicability of various disciplinary concepts that he manages to establish the theory of development and culture as an illustration of his behavior and mimetic theory. It creates a better understanding of the philosopher along the lines of scientific theories that have been tested over time and proved to hold explanations that are responses to frequent questions asked by the society.

Girard develops a critical thinking in his first novel, Deceit, Desire and the Novel, which is crucial to the development of subsequent approaches in creating a link between human beings, their culture and the determination of behavior through observing and mimicking what goes on in the environment. This also adds credit to the idea that he is an interdisciplinary person, unlimited by the area of research or the field of exploration to explain and expand his thinking and ideologies over phenomena. His explanation of myth and ritual in creating a cultural theory emanate from the different standpoints he observes about people, children and their behavior. King Lear also fits as an example in this context. The narrative is full of deceit and desire where the ritual of power running through a particular lineage of the king, influenced the behavior of his two sons, who also engaged in brotherly rivalry. A good example is seen in Edmund who wishes to occupy Edgar’s position because he believes that being the eldest son comes with more privileges which he does not have at the moment. He becomes aggressive towards his illegitimate status which drives him to hate Edgar and desire for his position as the eldest. It depicts what Girard has talked about another person desiring something which someone has already shown interest in which leads to conflict between them.  Edmund’s aggression leads him to plot of getting rid of his elder brother Edgar. However, in order to do this, he has to trick his father by mimic Edgar. He forges a letter indicating that Edgar has plans of overthrowing his father and taking over the estate. Gloucester ends up disinheriting his son and banishes him from the kingdom a decision which is later seen as a mistake.

Although every theory has critics and those who want to test whether it can stand both social and scientific rubrics, no one has come out claiming that the theory is unfounded or does not completely address the issues. This has made Girard see himself as a scientist and has the intention of getting all his theories scientifically proven to eliminate any doubts from critics as well as expand more on knowledge by applying theories that are directly proportional to societal phenomenon. Under this context, King Lear serves as the best example when Shakespeare uses the rivalry between the two brothers to explain the fighting over power and leadership in the modern society. It is revealed that Edmund did not just desire for Edgar’s position but to occupy the space of Gloucester meaning that he wanted power and leadership. He could only achieve this by getting rid of the obstacles which in this case is Edgar and Gloucester.  Edmund betrays his father leading to his arrest while Cornwall and Regan gouges out his eyes leaving him helpless. They had to make sure that he was fully paralyzed such that the people will not accept him as their leader. It is societal phenomenon that only sane person is allowed to lead others.

In explaining sacrifice, Girarduses mimetic desire to explain the differences that exist in languages and culture, where the guru depicts that language is also an aspect of culture. According to Girard, cultural traditions and language are a result of a disorder that leads to human redemption especially when the mimesis appears to be a controversy. The approach describes disorder and human violence as aspects of culture where potential or actual violence is experienced when the mimetic desires get out of control. Using King Lear as an example to illustrate this proposition, Cordelia, the youngest of the three sisters had to sacrifice her character and relationship with the other elder two sisters just to save his father from being murdered. From the example, it is clear that violence can be experienced when mimetic desires get out of control.

Girard is taken as an influence theorist who worked to define cultural understanding and the relationships that existed among the cultures to find the exact point of dynamism, which he then used to describe the different cultures, behaviors and languages. It is the imitative nature of desire that makes the first building block of his cultural development theory. He classified the desires to a simpler system which could be easily understood by his audience. As part of the explanation and brining out clear what the author meant, Girard used a triangle to explain the approach in which on top of the triangle he put the meditator, the subject at the center and the object at the bottom. The creation of this model gives Girard credit in his theory in that it is explanatory and directly approaches societal issues to explain them.

Through his rectangular model of desire, Girard managed to disqualify that thought that desire is linear. From this view point, Girard managed to argue that what determines a person’s desire is the meditator, which is at the top of the triangular model. The mediator is what will determine whether a person will want something or not[3]. This thought then gives Girard another approach in which he argues that it is the mediator who influences appetite, which according to Girard is something physical, created by someone or a motivator in the immediate environment and is seen as something negative. This is also seconded by Shakespeare’s King Lear example, where the mimetic behavior that led to rivalry was sparked by the king himself, who was the father of the siblings. Another example in King Lear is whereby Goneril, Lear’s daughter is seen as the mediator especially in ensuring that Edmund succeeds. She has strong desire for Edmund which drives her to do anything to win him over. She writes a letter to Edmund asking his to kill Albany and take her as a wife. However, Edmund’s desire for power is more lusting than everything though he promises the two daughters the best showing that he was lying to them. On the other hand, Goneril poisons Regan leading to her death because she did not want her to marry Edmund. To achieve his mission, Edmund decides to call for a trial by combat with Albany with the certainty that he is going to kill him. However, things do not go as planned as Edmund is left wounded.  Most of Girard’s arguments are based on culture and what makes a person’s environment, which then generates several aspects of behavior. This is true in the play because the environment of violence created room for more violent behaviors among the characters.

In an interview with James Williams, Girard argues that in his career when postulating different theories, he has faced criticisms that have helped construct his theories to more scientific levels[4]. He gladly accepts criticisms, which depicts him as a perfect scholar, whose theoretical or school of thought can be challenged, after which he stands up to support and defend his viewpoints. Girard widely uses analogy to explain his ideas, perceptions and thoughts about society, human beings and the learning of behavior[5]. The sole purpose of a theory is to explain and describe a phenomenon, why it happened and the changes it brought, after which the inferences are used to draw conclusions and foretell the future.

In conclusion, a detailed approach into the works and contributions of Rene Girard with the example of Shakespeare’s King Lear brings out his ideas in a clear manner and intentions of working out social theories. His works, thoughts, approaches and theories depict him positively as a philosopher and scholar who did not know any academic or disciplinary boundaries. He covered vast areas in explaining imitation, mimesis and a Christian approach, which is under the religious discipline. Although he was a literature professor, he is acclaimed as an anthropologist whose theories have scientifically and sociologically stood the test of time because they can be used to explain events and phenomena as well as predict future events


Girard, Rene. The Scapegoat. New York : Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982.

Palaver, Wolfgang. René Girard’s Mimetic Theory. New York : MSU Press, 2012.

Williams, James. The Girard Reader. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2011.

[1]Wolfgang Palaver. René Girard’s Mimetic Theory. (New York : MSU Press, 2012.), 115.

[2] Rene Girard. The Scapegoat. (New York : Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), pg. 314

[3]Wolfgang Palaver. René Girard’s Mimetic Theory. (New York : MSU Press, 2012.), 122.

[4] James Williams. The Girard Reader. (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2011), 113.

[5]Rene Girard. The Scapegoat. (New York : Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), p. 314