From the movie, Six Degrees of Separation, Given a particular set of constraints on the character's subjectivity, what actions, operations, and powers can be brought to bear in an interpretation...

From the movie, Six Degrees of Separation, Given a particular set of constraints on the character's subjectivity, what actions, operations, and powers can be brought to bear in an interpretation or analysis?  In other words, how does the context in which the character finds himself both enable and constrain him? How does he use his understanding of the binaries of his society to achieve greater agency or the ability "to do"?

1 Answer | Add Yours

ms-charleston-yawp's profile pic

Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Before beginning to answer your question, let me mention that the movie Six Degrees of Separation has many differences (some subtle and some not so subtle) from the play by Guare of the same name as well as from the true story of the real con artist named Hampton as well as from the actual 1929 theory put forth by Karinthy (which states that every human being is only six steps away from each other in some way).  I will limit myself, therefore, to the plot and themes of the movie.  I just want you to realize that that is severely limiting ourselves in the context of your question.  I am also guessing that "the character" you refer to is Paul Poitier.

In regards to your first question, in order to analyze either the film or the character due to "actions, operations, and powers" I would suggest looking at the character of Paul Poitier and at the actual artist focus of "a double sided Kandinsky, one side that represents control, the other side chaos." 

First, Paul's actions are one of a true con artist.  His actions are meant to dupe the Kittredges from his knowledge of their children at Harvard to his apparent connection to the actor Sidney Poitier to his ability to cook well.  All of these things lead the couple away from the truth:  that Paul is just trying to get money.  These actions are also his "operations," if you also include the "operation" of having to stab himself (with mild bodily results) in the abdomen.  This is crucial to Paul's plan.  His "powers" all stem from his actions above.  Paul knows how to use compassion:  compassion for children (due to the acquaintance), compassion for the poor (due to his injury), compassion for a person in a common situation (due to his similarities to the couple).

To further your first question, you ask another about what enables Paul Poitier to be both enabled and constrained.  Let's take those two qualities separately here.  How is he enabled?  Paul is enabled by the actions of unsuspecting "compassionate" rich couples such as the Kittredges.  Pau'ls "actions and operations" actually work in that Paul receives both care and money:  this fully enables him.  In fact, it enables him so much that he has duped many of Kittredges' friends in the same way and gains more food, care, and money.  In regards to being "constrained," well, the first thing we look at is the fact that Paul must have a stab wound.  This is most definitely a constraint!  Paul would have to perform that act, have someone else do it each, or do something like it each time he pulls a con.  This could have serious consequences on a body (even of a healthy person like Paul) and involves some recuperation before he begins the next con. Paul is also constrained by the amount of compassion found in the different couples of the upper class society in which Paul "works."  

In regards to how Paul uses the "binaries of society," let's look at that theory closer.  Probably the most important explanation for our purpose here can be seen in the following quotation:

Before beginning to answer your question, let me mention that the movie Six Degrees of Separation has many differences (some subtle and some not so subtle) from the play by Guare of the same name as well as the true story of the real con artist named Hampton as well as the actual 1929 theory put forth by Karinthy (which states that every human being is only six steps away from each other in some way).  I will limit myself, therefore, to the plot and themes of the movie.  I just want you to realize that that is severely limiting ourselves in the context of your question.  I am also guessing that "the character" you refer to is Paul Poitier.

In regards to your first question, in order to analyze either the film or the character due to "actions, operations, and powers" I would suggest looking at the character of Paul Poitier and at the actual artist focus of "a double sided Kandinsky, one side that represents control, the other side chaos." 

First, Paul's actions are one of a true con artist.  His actions are meant to dupe the Kittredges from his knowledge of their children at Harvard to his apparent connection to the actor Sidney Poitier to his ability to cook well.  All of these things lead the couple away from the truth:  that Paul is just trying to get money.  These actions are also his "operations," if you also include the "operation" of having to stab himself (with mild bodily results) in the abdomen.  This is crucial to Paul's plan.  His "powers" all stem from his actions above.  Paul knows how to use compassion:  compassion for children (due to the acquaintance), compassion for the poor (due to his injury), compassion for a person in a common situation (due to his similarities to the couple).

To further your first question, you ask another about what enables Paul Poitier to be both enabled and constrained.  Let's take those two qualities separately here.  How is he enabled?  Paul is enabled by the actions of unsuspecting "compassionate" rich couples such as the Kittredges.  Paul's "actions and operations" actually work in that Paul receives both care and money:  this fully enables him.  In fact, it enables him so much that he has duped many of Kittredges' friends in the same way and gains more food, care, and money.  In regards to being "constrained," well, the first thing we look at is the fact that Paul must have a stab wound.  This is most definitely a constraint!  Paul would have to perform that act, have someone else do it each, or do something like it each time he pulls a con.  This could have serious consequences on a body (even of a healthy person like Paul) and involves some recuperation before he begins the next con. Paul is also constrained by the amount of compassion found in the different couples of the upper class society in which Paul "works."  

In regards to how Paul uses the "binaries of society," let's look at that theory closer.  Probably the most important explanation for our purpose here can be found in the following quotation:

The political (rather than analytic or conceptual) critique of binary oppositions is an important part of third wave feminism, post-colonialism, post-anarchism, and critical race theory, which argue that the perceived binary dichotomy between man/woman, civilized/uncivilized, and white/black have perpetuated and legitimized Western power structures favoring "civilized white men."

 We can definitely see this binary idea in the movie in that Paul considers "civilized white men" to be favored within society; therefore, he feels compelled to restitution because he is a young black man.  This is an interesting take-off to the general idea of binary opposites which can be about anything from on/off to right/left ... to in this case white/black and rich/poor.  The fact that this Western binary exists at all allows Paul "to do" and, in fact, to con all of these couples.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,989 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question