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Power in “My Brilliant Friend” by Elena Ferrante Essay

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Updated: Jul 7th, 2021

Understanding the ways in which one can exert authority or a certain community is critical to the assessment of political, economic, and cultural alterations within a specific community or state. Furthermore, the analysis of how power is executed, and how a political influence can shape interactions on both statewide and international levels is critical to effective communication in the global setting. Herein is the importance of “My Brilliant Friend” concealed. Written by Elena Ferrante, the book discloses the intrinsic link between political movements and the lives of citizens, at the same time analyzing the impact that the former has on the latter. Outlining the detrimental effects that power has on all levels of social interactions when used without regard for citizens’ needs and the concept of diversity, the book represents a strikingly honest revelation to its readers.

Understanding a particular social issue as a product of interpersonal relationships is essential to the interpretation of a specific conflict and its further resolution. The connection between the subject of a particular discussion and the presence of a strong power source that defines one’s attitude toward the problem in question is quite evident (Dahl & Stionebrickner, 2003). In his approach toward the subject matter, Dahl is very straightforward; according to the philosopher,

The basis for the contrast between our definition and theirs is clear-cut: they hold that decisions are brought about solely by the exercise of power, while we believe that power is neither the only nor even the major factor influencing the process of decision-making. (Plotkin, 1996, p. 39)

Therefore, the presence of power implies that a specific issue can only be viewed from a particular stance and that any other means of revisiting it are inherently absurd. The identified dimension creates the breeding ground for the further manipulation of people and the promotion of state policies, philosophies, and principles that will define people’s decision-making in the future. In Ferrante’s novel, the first dimension is represented rather vividly. The author portrays the malicious intentions of the ruling power and the effects that they produce on people whose vision is clogged by the active promotion of harmful rhetoric.

For example, Ferrante delves into the analysis of the first dimension of power when addressing the development of Elena’s character. Although Elena does not yield to viewing the reality as the harmful rhetoric of the ruling party persuades her to do, she still changes her viewpoint to a significantly bitter one. For example, she expresses the following depressing revelation: “There are wars. There is a poverty that makes us all cruel. Every second something might happen that will cause you such suffering that you’ll never have enough tears” (Ferrante, 2012, p. 443). Thus, while the lead character does not succumb to the ideas that are foisted onto her, she still shapes her perception toward a much more bitter one (Tomain, 2017). The specified phenomenon aligns with the one outlined by Dahl, who suggests that powers set complex issues that should be discussed within the society, at the same time defining the values through which these problems should be examined (Dahl & Stionebrickner, 2003).

To prompt a particular line of social behavior, one has to establish a certain agenda and position it from a unique viewpoint. Bachrach and Baratz claim that the described step is crucial in shaping a coherent system of knowledge and perception, thus designing the approach toward interpersonal and cross-cultural interactions. The specified step implies setting the context in which the process of decision-making can take place (Wrong, 1979). Taking control over the identified stage implies having the capacity to influence people’s decisions to a tangible extent. In “My Brilliant Friend,” the agenda is set quite clearly, as seen in the development of Stefano’s character. Stefano decides that his entrepreneurship endeavors are more important than relationships with Lila (Ferrante 44). However, apart from being a personal choice, the specified intent is also dictated by the ideas of manhood and personal growth that the standards of the regime promote.

The issue of relationships that people build after interpreting the issue in question is a nonetheless important dimension. According to Lukes (1974), the relationship-related face of power implies shaping people’s opinions to translate their perceptions into the desired outcome and, thus manipulate them into taking accurate steps. In “My Brilliant Friend,” the described dimension is exposed in all its unappealing nature. Specifically, the author portrays the deplorable outcomes of people’s ill-conceived perceptions of others and the resulting long-lasting conflicts (Goetz, 2017; Fives, 2017). The necessity to transform reality into the notions that fit one’s world-picture can be deemed as a clear example of the phenomenon under analysis. To be more accurate, Ferrante (2012) states: “There was something unbearable in the things, in the people, in the buildings, in the streets that, only if you reinvented it all, as in a game, became acceptable” (158). The unwillingness of the narrator to accept the ugliness of reality and the need to escape into the realm of safety and peace represents the lead character’s emotional response to the unbearable reality in which she finds herself and her friend. Thus, the need to rationalize and transform it aligns with Luke’s idea of transforming one’s perceptions.

By applying the specified dimensions of power to her narrative, Ferrante raises a range of essential issues that require delving into the depth of human nature. Moreover, Ferrante ponders over how these dimensions translate into the societal norms that distort people’s concept of ethics and moral values, turning them into pawns of the ruling class (Gaventa, 1980). The philosophical implications of viewing the three dimensions from different perspectives, such as the political economy, and sociocultural ones, seem to be at the core of the narrative. Therefore, exploring the described issues seems to be the most rewarding part of the analysis.

The application of the three dimensions listed above has helped to recognize the futility of intercultural conflicts as the means of driving the principles of political, economic, and social relationships to the common denominator. Instead, Ferrante’s story allows one to embrace the notion of cultural diversity, which is the greatest and the most important issue that Ferrante‘s novel has to offer. By analyzing the novel and its characters, one will be provided with a chance an introspect into one’s nature and rationale for decision-making (Murray, 2017). As a result, one can study one’s inherent biases, preconceptions, and prejudices, seeking ways of getting rid of them and becoming a better person.

Depicting the drastic outcomes of power used with malicious intent or out of ignorance, the novel by Ferrante proves that negative outcomes affect people on all their dimensions, including the ones discussed by Dahl, Bachrach, and Baratz, and Lukes (Wrong, 1979). Each of the dimensions contributes to shaping the notion of a specific issue, promoting it to the top of the agenda, and manipulating people into assuming the position that is defined as acceptable by the ruling power. The novel should be given credit for the explicit portrayal of the detrimental outcomes that the described phenomenon has on interpersonal and intercultural relationships. Ferrante proves that information is an extraordinarily valuable asset, and that, when used uninhibitedly and with unlimited power, it can ruin people’s lives. Therefore, one has to evaluate critically the effects that specific power has on each dimensional plane and prevent citizens from being tricked into following the suggested line of thinking blindly.


Dahl, R. A., & Stionebrickner, B. (2003). Modern political analysis (6th ed.). Sidney, Australia: University of Sidney.

Ferrante, E. (2012). My brilliant friend. Trans. A. Goldstein. London, UK: Europa Editions.

Fives, A. (2017). Evaluating parental power: An exercise in pluralist political theory. Oxford, UK: OUP.

Gaventa, J. (1980). Power and powerlessness: Quintessence and rebellion. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.

Goetz, B., (2017). On the frontlines of the welfare state: How the fire service and police shape social problems. New York, NY: Routledge.

Lukes, S. (1974). Power: A radical view. London, UK: Palgrave.

Murray, M. M. (2017). The urbanism of exception. Oxford, UK: OUP.

Plotkin, W. (1996). Urban history of decisions and nondecisions. London, UK: ICOLT.

Tomain, J. P. (2017). Clean power politics: The democratization of energy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Wrong, D. H. (1979). Power: Its forms, bases, and uses. Oxford, UK: Vasil Blackwell.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Power in "My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante." July 7, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/power-in-my-brilliant-friend-by-elena-ferrante/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Power in "My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante'. 7 July.

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