Sunset Boulevard Character Analysis

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Complex characters such as Norma Desmond and King Lear are often used to display the effect people have on other’s realities and beliefs. In Sunset Boulevard by Billy Wilder and King Lear by William Shakespeare, complex characters are used to demonstrate how permissive relationships can create the false reality and ultimate madness one may endure.
In Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond experiences a sheltered life that leads to a state of insanity. While much of this insanity comes from her own state of mind, her butler, Max, is the main enabler of her aberration from society. Max von Mayerling became attached to Norma, and because of this he grew to have an idolized view of her: “‘It was I who asked to come back. I could have continued my career,
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Max!’ Max: ‘Madame is the greatest star of them all’” (Wilder). Similarly to Kent in King Lear, Max craves Norma’s content and the ultimate fear of her downfall fuels the reality he creates for her. It’s evident that Max facilitates the lifestyle Norma leads, and although it seems the blame could be placed on her narcissistic personality, Max demonstrates the admiration a loyal servant has towards his mistress. Instead of choosing to aid Norma through the changes of life, Max deliberately makes Norma believe she has thousands of fans who adore her. Even though Joe is telling her it’s not true, Norma is unable to grasp the concept of reality because of Max’s sheltering of her life. With this, Wilder shows the complex relationship between the servant and his mistress (much like Kent in King Lear), which ultimately leads to her mental downfall.
While Max is the main enabler to Norma’s delusion, Joe also contributes to the false reality Norma lives in. Much like Goneril and Regan in King Lear, Joe takes advantage of Norma. By choosing to continue the facade Max has put on, Joe enables Norma to believe she is still a star. Wilder establishes that Joe is taking advantage of Norma, and when Joe pretends to love her, Norma continues to believe she is loved by many fans. Here, Wilder illustrates
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Throughout the play, Kent constantly addressed Lear as “my good lord” and “your highness”. This preserved the master/servant relationship Lear and Kent had, and allowed Lear to believe that he was still in charge and Kent to believe Lear was in charge of him. Similarly, at Lear’s wondering if Kent would break his heart, Kent admits “I had rather break mine own.” ( King Lear Act III sc. iv li. 5). By writing this admission by Kent, Shakespeare further imbued Kent’s position as submissive to Lear. Kent’s comments, albeit not on purpose, clearly help to convince Lear of the power he still believed he held. This charade that Kent put on pushes Lear’s belief that he is still in power, despite his banishments from both his daughters and the removal of his knights. With his final source of power lost to his daughters, Kent’s comments and hero worship directed at Lear was the only thing that Lear could latch onto in order to even remotely maintain his position of authority. This belief that he was still in charge is manifested later in the trial scene when Lear recalled that Goneril “kicked the poor king her father,” (King Lear Act III sc. vi li. 49-50), which shows that Lear still thought of himself as the King. Lear, similar to Norma, was surrounded by a fervid admirer who

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