What is the importance of race and difference in The Tempest?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Race and difference are vital themes when it comes to the discussion of the character of Caliban and how the other characters interact with him and refer to him. When they arrived on the island, Miranda taught Caliban how to speak, as before he only spoke "like / A thing most brutish," yet in spite of the way that he has been taught by Miranda and Prospero, he still, in their opinion, is a character that is irredeemable from savagery. Note what Miranda says to him in Act I scene 2:

By thy vile race,

Though thou didst learn, had that in't which good natures

Could not abide to be with; therefore wat thou

Deservedly confined into this rock,

Who hadst deserved more than a prison.

Miranda explicitly blames Caliban's savagery on his "vile race." To her and to her father's mind, Caliban is different because of his race, and that makes him only fit to be imprisoned in a rock and to live and work as a slave. Even though he has managed to learn some of their ways, his "race," according to them, makes his true moral education impossible. Race and difference are thus key themes in this play when discussing the character of Caliban and in particular how others treat him and act towards him. Critics argue that the treatment of Caliban acts as a model of white European attitudes towards indigenous inhabitants in the New World, where race and difference were used as excuses to justify barbaric abuses.

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The Tempest

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