La confrontation à la différenceCours

In its most simple sense, a difference can be defined as: "the way in which two people or things are not like each other", the difference is everything that distinguishes and separates two elements from each other. Those differences can take many shapes from superficial discrepancies of appearance to deeper and more meaningful differences that go to the core of the person or object. There is no denying that confronting difference within others, accepting that our own vision is subjective and not absolute and actually considering things from another's perspective remains a challenge for any human being. It is also a subject that many artists have tackled through their work by describing, acknowledging, questioning, celebrating or criticizing differences and thus encouraging us to do the same. Confronting difference can be a painful process, sometimes even a source of conflict, but it can also lead to opening one's own mind and sometimes, enforcing positive social change. 


Facing the stranger within oneself

Many artists have chosen to confront difference by exploring the inner conflicts that are inherent to any human being. Instead of introspection, those artists have used another device: creating another them who is both similar and completely different. Those different devices can be the figure of the alter ego or the creation of a split personality for the main character, those two figures allowing artists to question the unicity of the being and to face their fears regarding difference. 



Identical alter ego

The alter ego is a second self, a different version of oneself. This figure is used by artists to explore the different dynamics that one person has within herself/himself.

Alter ego

In Latin, alter ego literally means "Second I", it is therefore a very clear definition of the word: "a second self or different version of oneself".

"I is another."

Arthur Rimbaud

Arthur Rimbaud, the famous poet, states this desire to confront the stranger within himself in this quote. 

The alter ego figure is very often used in art as a way for the artists to explore their own identity but also to make sense of the different dynamics and impulses that sometimes feel like they emerge from two different people. The alter ego allows their creators to embody those differences they feel within and to confront them. 

William Wilson

In his short-story William Wilson, Edgar Allan Poe tells the story of William Wilson, who confesses to the reader on his deathbed that he has been haunted since his youth by a man who bears the same name, birth date and other striking resemblances to himself. Throughout his tale, it becomes apparent that the alter ego is a part of William, probably his conscience, who William ends up murdering in order to silence him/it and therefore killing himself. 

The Double by Dostoevsky or The Devil's Elixirs by A.T.A Hoffman also showcase narrators who encounter their alter ego and find themselves forced to confront the differences that exist within themselves.


A shape Une forme
Discrepancies Des différences
Meaningful Important
The core Le cœur, le centre
Diversity La diversité
To embrace Adopter, épouser
An idealized goal Un objectif idéalisé
A challenge Un défi
To tackle  Aborder
To acknowledge Reconnaître
Painful Douloureux
To open one's own mind Ouvrir son esprit
To enforce Mettre en place
To confront difference Se confronter à la différence
A device Un système
A split personality Une double personnalité
The unicity of the being L'unicité de l'être
Regarding Au sujet de
Impulses Des dynamiques
To emerge Émerger
To embody Incarner
To confess Confesser
The deathbed Le lit de mort
To bear Porter
Striking Frappant
To showcase Démontrer

Split personality 

Another device for artists to confront the different aspects of their own personality is the trope of the divided or split personality. It is a way to represent the darkerst part of a person.

Though the literary device of the split personality, the character exhibits two opposite types of behavior, one usually very positive and the other its negative opposite. This trope takes its roots in Jungian psychology that defines the "Id" or "shadow archetype" which contains our unconscious desires balanced out by our conscious ego that has internalized the rules of society. In a human being, those two aspects exist within and usually influence our actions, but some artists have given them a physical representation in order to confront the part of themselves that appears darker. 

The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde

The most famous example of this artistic exploration is the novel The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson when the main character, Doctor Jekyll, wanting to rid himself of his own dark side, creates a serum that splits his personality into two parts: the good one and the bad one (Mr Hyde). 

A lot of movies have also used this theme of the split personality as a way to explore the differences that exist within any human soul. 

In Black Swan by Darren Aronofsky and Fight Club by David Fincher, characters are developing a split personality in order to come to terms with the conflicting aspects of themselves. 


The trope Le trope
The divided or split personality Un double personnalité
A literary device Un outil littéraire
To exhibit Démontrer
To take roots in Prendre racine dans 
Jungian psychology La psychologie jungienne
"Id" or "shadow archetype" L'ID ou l'archétype de l'ombre
To balance out Équilibrer, contre-balancer
The conscious ego La conscience
The main character Le personnage principal
To rit himself Se débarrasser
To come to terms Arriver à un accord

Facing one's fears

Facing the stranger within themselves is a way for artists to face their fears, and for the readers or the audience to face their fears too. 

In order to confront the differences that exist within themselves, artists have created several artistic tools that allow them to give a body to their conflicting emotions and thoughts. This also demonstrates that confronting difference is never an easy task, even if those differences lie within the same person or soul. Moreover, facing differences can be a source of fear for any human being who is then forced to acknowledge that many points of view, many opinions, many intentions can coexist within themselves.

That fear only increases when one realizes that those difference exist not only within us, but even more so without. Any human interaction reinforces the realization that each human being is unique and therefore different from us. That fear of "the other" in all his/her strangeness has also often been represented by artists who take advantage of "self-representation" to explore the frightful aspects of alterity.  


The movie Us by Jordan Peele represents the deep-seated fear of invasion that American people experience. It is a fear of others coming to take what is theirs. But in the movie, the invaders who are attacking the main characters look exactly like them. They are actually doubles, tethered to them and living underground, condemned to misery and darkness. Using the image of doubles has allowed the director to make his point even more strongly: what if our distrust of strangers and difference actually had more to do with fearing our own human nature? 

There is no denying that artists have taken upon themselves to confront difference in many ways, including the devices we have just described. This highlights the fact that confronting differences, whether they are within ourselves or without is a powerful human preoccupation. 


Artistic tools Des outils artistiques
A taks Un devoir
Strangeness L'étrangeté
Frightful Effrayant
Alterity L'altérité
Deep-seated Profond
The threat La menace
Invaders Des envahisseurs
Tethered to Lié/connecté à
Underground Sous le sol, sous-terrain
Condemned to Condamné à 
Misery La tristesse
Allowed Autorisé
Distrust La méfiance

To take upon oneself

Prendre l'initiative de

Facing the other 

The other is always different. There are social differences but also a generational conflict. Facing difference is an inevitable consequence of any human interaction. Even within a family or society where rules and values are the same, differences arise between people. Some artists have told the same story from different points of view to show the different ways of seeing the world and understanding it. 


Social differences

Differences arise between people in the society. Artists have been instrumental in representing social differences through their various forms be it social background, gender, race and ethnicity, culture or religion. 


Social background 

Often, the other is the one that comes from a different social background. Artists invent stories where a character is trying to climb the social ladder and is confront to the differences that exist in the different social classes. 

Even though one could argue that the class system has slowly disappeared over the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century in Western societies, one cannot ignore the fact that the representation of class and the differences that exist between them has been at the core of many artists' work. The artist can choose to represent that difference by depicting one social class at odds with another, a character trying to climb the social ladder and therefore confronting himself/herself to the inevitable differences that exist between those classes or by giving the viewer to see a world where social classes cohabit while still following different rules and habits.

The Great Gatsby

The novel The Great Gatsby written by Francis Scott Fitzgerald and published in 1925 also showcases a great divide between three social classes that could be summed up as the Old Money, the New Money and the No Money. The protagonist, Gatsby, desperate to reinvent himself in order to be worthy of the woman he loves, desperately tries to bridge the gap and ignore those differences but will never make his dreams come true. 

Downton Abbey

The very successful TV-show Downton Abbey directed by Julian Fellowes and first released in 2010 tells the story of the Crowley family and their servants who all live in the family property in England. At the beginning, the social divide between the characters from "upstairs" and "downstairs" is quite wide and, even though they live under the same roof, they lead totally different lives depending on the social class they belong to. Throughout the six seasons though, the characters of both classes confront those differences, evolve, learn from each other, moving along with social changes happening on a bigger scale in the whole country.

The question of money is often at the core of social differences between people and the way they live and interact with each other.  

From an American perspective, the novel The Great Gatsby written by Francis Scott Fitzgerald and published in 1925 showcases a great divide between three social classes that could be summed up as the Old Money, the New Money and the No Money. The protagonist, Gatsby, desperate to reinvent himself in order to be worthy of the woman he loves, desperately tries to bridge the gap and ignore those differences but will never make his dreams come true. 

From a British point of view, the novel Howard's End (1910) by E.M. Forster describes the lives of three families: the Schlegels, the Wilcoxes, and the Basts. The story demonstrates how money defines the kinds of lives they lead and the interactions between people from different social classes. 

Of Mice and Men

In the novel Of Mice and Men published in 1937 by John Steinbeck, the story of George and Lenny, two migrant field workers in search of work is a way to confront social differences by representing the plight of those workers during the Great Depression. Their dream is to, one day, buy their own farm so they will not have to be at the mercy of ranch owners like Curley (the son of the boss) who abuses his power and mistreats those who belong to “inferior” social classes and therefore cannot fight back. 



One of the differences that has strongly inspired artists is the one between men and women, the divide between genders.

While some artists have chosen to confront those differences through characters trying to defy gender expectations or just interacting with each other in a way that makes the obvious differences come to light.

In the movies Bend it Like Beckham, directed by Gurinder Chadha and released in 2002 and Billy Elliot by Stephen Daldry in 2000,  two characters confront cultural differences but also defy gender expectations by practicing a sport usually associated with the other gender. Through that narrative device, the directors explore the weight of gender stereotypes and what happens when men and women are brave enough to question those differences of treatment and reject them.

William Shakespeare has often explored the subject of gender through various plot elements or storylines that either confront those differences or blur the lines between them. Many female characters in Shakespeare's plays end-up disguising themselves as a man or a boy, either to travel more safely or to hide their identity.

Shakespeare and gender

In the play As You Like It (first staged in 1603), the character of Rosalind disguises herself as a young boy and under that guise, encourages the man she loves to court her as if she were the woman he loved (whom she actually is, but he doesn't know that). The twist is not just a way to entertain the audience or advance the plot, it also offers a great reflection on the differences between genders and how we see them.

The Taming of the Shrew (1594) also contains some memorable exchanges on gender differences when the characters of Petruchio and Katherine discuss a woman's place in society. It is his goal to “tame” her since she is behaving like a "shrew": a strong-willed woman who doesn't let men dominate her. The end of the play can be interpreted in different ways: Katherine's actual submission to gender expectations or her development of a new disguise that will allow her to resist the power of men. The play constitutes a great starting point for confronting gender differences at the time but also today. 

Many other artists have written about gender, confronting differences between them and what those differences mean or bring about. 

The novelist Virginia Woolf in her 1928 novel Orlando tells the story of a seemingly eternal being called Orlando who starts his life as a man and eventually becomes a woman centuries later. This changes his/her perspective on gender, but also his/her sexual orientation. The story of Orlando is a great way for the novelist to explore, confront and comment on the differences between men and women.   

"As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking."

Virginia Woolf



"If I were a boy even just for a day
I'd roll out of bed in the morning
And throw on what I wanted and go
Drink beer with the guys
drink beer with the guys
And chase after girls
I'd kick it with who I wanted
And I'd never get confronted for it"


"If I were a boy"


In her song, If I were a boy released in 2008, the singer Beyoncé questions the difference of treatment that men and women experience based on their gender by putting herself in the shoes of a man. By using the conditional form, she underlines the fact that because she is a woman, this could not happen therefore forcing the listener to acknowledge those differences and maybe even wonder if they are legitimate.



The same artistic process of confronting difference by representing it can be observed when it comes to the difference of treatment between races and ethnicities.

Many artists have chosen to represent the struggles of some minorities who were treated differently from others based on historical justifications or long-lasting stereotypes. The artists can choose to represent those differences by describing a society as a whole or by representing the struggle of one character trying to make sense of those differences or bringing about change. 

To Kill a Mockingbird

In her world famous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird published in 1960, Harper Lee takes inspiration from her own childhood in the south of the USA. She describes how Scout, a young and innocent girl, comes to be made aware of the differences of treatment between black and white people in her small town of Maycomb. When a young black man is accused of raping a white girl and Scout's father is named to be his defense attorney, she suddenly opens her eyes to a world where men may have been created equal, but they are not treated as such. Her childish outlook on the events allows the reader to really relate to Scout and confront differences with a fresh eye. 

Get Out

More recently, in the movie Get Out by Jordan Peele released in 2017, racial differences are explored and confronted through a very original tool. The director disguises his socially satirical movie with the appearances of a horror movie. Chris, a young black man, is madly in love with Rose who is white. He agrees to go spend the weekend at her parents' house in the country. But very soon, Chris starts to feel uncomfortable with the way Rose's white family and friends are treating him. The differences being confronted in the movie are very current ones, forcing the spectator to question his own way of thinking and interacting with people from minorities. 

The Problem We All Live With is an iconic image of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. It depicts Ruby Bridges. She was a six-year-old African American girl going to an all-white public school. She was threatened because a lot of white people did not want her to go to this school, so she was protected by four deputy U.S. marshals.

The Problem We All Live With, Norman Rockwell, 1964
The Problem We All Live With, Norman Rockwell, 1964

© Wikimedia Commons



Differences can also be observed between different countries and cultures.

The more people traveled, the more they discovered that other ways of life, different from their own, existed in the world. In the course of history, those cultural differences either lead to mutual respect between countries who started to trade and interact, wars to gain control of another land, but also to colonization of countries and islands that appealed to governments for their natural resources and opportunities (gold, sugar cane, etc). This lead to the discovery of foreign cultures that were perceived as exotic but often inferior and uncivilized. Many examples of that simplistic approach symbolizing a certain ignorance or fear of difference and the unknown can be found in literature.

Robinson Crusoe

Daniel Dafoe's famous novel Robinson Crusoe (1719) is the story of a sailor stranded on a deserted island. The character visits unknown lands, sees strange plants and animals, and encounters foreign peoples. Those people, he usually considers as inferior when they are non-European, he refers to them as “savages” and demonstrates prejudice against them be it the African or Caribbean natives or his companion Friday that he tries to convert and treats as a servant. The book reflects the beliefs of the time which established an unequal hierarchy between Europeans and natives of other lands. 

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
"Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!"
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!”

Rudyard Kipling



Rudyard Kipling's famous poem Mandalay tells the plight of a soldier fondly remembering his time in Burma and the woman he met and loved there. The poem focuses on the exotic and romanticized beauty of Mandalay and the woman he left there. While the poem mainly depicts one man's nostalgia, a lot of critics have interpreted it as a defense of imperialism. In any case, the poem deals with cultural differences from a very specific point of view by describing a stereotyped vision of the exotic woman longing for the British conqueror's return.  

Cultural differences can also be contrasted in one work to showcases the differences that exist between them. 

Henry James' novel The Europeans: A sketch (1878) tells the story of the meeting of two branches of a family: one American and one European. Eugenia and Felix, both raised in various European country decide to go visit their distant American cousins in the region of Boston. The book showcases with humor and irony the wide cultural gap that exists between the old world and the new world. 



Confronting difference can also be addressed through the subject of religion.

History tells us that religion has been one of the differences that has generated the most violent conflicts: The Crusades, the Religion Wars in France, the creation of the British Church during Henry VIII's reign, etc. This is a difference that many artists have represented and confronted through their work. 

Many songs have been written on the subject of the Troubles, the Anglo-Irish political and religious conflict that spanned from 1969 to 1994. Some were written against the war, some were written in defense of one side or the other, but they all contribute to confronting the differences of opinion and religion between the two Irelands as well as demonstrating that everyone is entitled to their own point of view on such a complex matter

The theme to "Harry's Game" by Clannad that doesn't defend a side but describes the story of The Troubles among all sides in Northern Ireland and explains how in war and in violence, no side will win but all lose.

The Other Cheek?

Artists have also largely been inspired by The Troubles, as we can see on the murals in Belfast or work like The Other Cheek? Painted by John Keane in 1989. The painting represents the effect of violence on everyday life on both sides of the conflict. It then serves as a starting point of a reflection on the differences that lead to such a conflict and its dreadful consequences. Both side being represented through different symbols allow the painter to highlight the discrepancies but also the similarities between the two sides.  


Inevitable Inévitable
Rules and value Des règles et des valeurs
To arise Survenir
To stem from Découler de
Their own way of life Leur propre mode de vie
Social background Le milieu social
The class system Le système de classe
At odds with En conflit avec

To climb the social ladder

Gravir l'échelle sociale
The social divide La fracture sociale

“Upstairs” and “downstairs”

Les nantis et les démunis
To bridge the gap Combler la distance entre
Gender Le genre
An ethnicity Une ethnie
Last-longing De longue durée
The struggle La lutte
Bringing out change Apportant du changement
Childhood L'enfance
To be made aware Prendre conscience de
A defense attorney Un avocat de la défense
An outlook Une perspective
To relate to Avoir à faire avec
A fresh eye Un œil nouveau
The director Le metteur en scène
Socially satirical Une satire sociale
Madly Follement
Uncomfortable Mal à l'aise
Current Actuel
Minorities Des minorités
To be addressed Être abordé, traité, réglé
To span S'étendre
Dreadful Affreux, terrible

The generational conflict

Another difference that artists have been keen on describing and confronting is the one between young and old people, otherwise known as the generational conflict. Those differences of points of view between young and old people have been a source of inspiration for many artists whether they choose to represent those differences through the personal struggles of people from different generations or on a larger societal scale.

Art is actually very often at the core of this conflict since the young generation of artists will often start producing different work and shake the established standards of the older generation.

This was the case during the 19th Century in France when young artists like Victor Hugo decided to change the rules of writing and were the object of adoration by the young generation and burning hatred from the older generation. This gave way to the "battle of Hernani" in 1830, where young and old fought about Hugo's "revolutionary" play Hernani that constituted an act of rebellion against classical ideals and Bourgeois hypocrisy. 

Some artists choose to use fiction to represent those differences between young and old while still lending a historical backdrop of societal evolution that goes in the same direction.

Mad Men

The TV-sow Mad Men by Matthew Weiner that spanned 7 seasons from 2007 to 2015 told the story of an ad agency on Madison Avenue. Through the character of Peggy Olson, a young woman who makes her way in the agency, often butting heads with Don Draper (her boss, older and more established) the show also highlights the changes in society happening during the 60's and the differences of points of view of those generations. 

The Butler

The movie The Butler by Lee Daniels was released in 2013. The main character Cecil Gaines, works as a butler in the White House. As a black man of a certain age, he has learned to follow the rules and strongly disapproves of the methods used by his son (who joins the Black Panthers) to enforce change. These differences of opinions lead to conflict and a falling-out between the two men in the context of the Civil Rights movement in the USA.  


To be keen on Aimer
The generational conflict Le conflit de générations
The personal struggles Les luttes personnelles
Larger Plus large
The societal scale L'échelle sociale
The established standards Les standards établis
The object of adoration L'objet d'adoration
Burning hatred Une haine brûlante
To give way Laisser la place
Constituted  Constitué
Classical ideals Les idéaux classiques
Bourgeois hypocrisy L'hypocrisie bourgeoise
The backdrop La toile de fond
A societal evolution Une évolution de société
An ad agency Une agence de publicité
To butt heads Être en conflit
A butler Un majordome
To disapprove Désapprouver 
A falling-out Une dispute

A story told from different points of view

The more you grow-up, the more people you meet, the more places you visit, the more you realize that your ideas are not necessarily an absolute certainty, but more of a subjective point of view subject to debate and change.  Artists can tell a story from different points of view. This has forced people to acknowledge the differences and maybe question their own way of life by understanding that others exist. 

Artists, in their effort to confront difference and to explore its many aspects, have also used another literary device that has proven very useful in order to question difference and address its many aspects. Many authors have chosen to rewrite the work of another story, usually very famous and belonging to the collective unconscious (the part of the unconscious mind which is derived from ancestral memory and experience and is common to all humankind). By retelling a familiar story from another point of view, very often the opposite point of view, the artist forces the reader to put his first reading into perspective, to reflect on the validity of both points of view and finally to confront the differences between the two and make-up his own mind. 

Rewriting Jane Eyre

The famous novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte published in 1847 tells the story though the eyes of Jane, a young governess who falls in love with the father of her young charge. But Mr Rochester harbors a dark secret, his wife gone mad and locked in the attic of the property, making it impossible for the two lovers to get married. In the story, the madwoman in the attic's point of view is never mentioned, she is described as a feral wild woman and the reader only sees her as an obstacle to the realization of Jane's destiny. But in 1966, Jean Rhys rewrote the story of Jane Eyre through the point of view of the madwoman (Antoinette or Bertha) in Wide Sargasso Sea. All of a sudden, the readers get to see the story from a different point of view which changes their opinion of Antoinette/Bertha, Jane and Mr Rochester (who loses some of his romantic hero appeal). This confrontation of different points of view forces the reader to reflect.

Many movies have chosen to use this narrative device as a way to force the spectators to change their vision of a story, even the ones they think they know by heart. This narrative device is a powerful way to explore the idea that differences are inherent to the human perspective and narration and that one should try to confront and question them. 

The fairy Tale Sleeping Beauty was rewritten as a movie which defended the witch Maleficent in a 2014 movie directed by Robert Stromberg. The spectators were then faced with a radically different point of view where King Stephan was the actual villain of the story and deserved to be cursed. 

While unfortunately, this confrontation of difference can often lead to violence or tragedy, it can also enforce change and make change people's minds. 

English French
To prove oneself useful Se rendre utile
The collective unconscious L'inconscient collectif
To put into perspective Mettre en perspective
To make-up one's mind Se faire une idée
A charge La personne dont on est responsable
Locked in Enfermé
To harbor Nourrir des sentiments
The attic Le grenier
Feral, wild Sauvage
The destiny Le destin
An obstacle Un obstacle
The madwoman La femme folle
All of a sudden Soudainement
By heart Par cœur
The fairy tale Le conte de fée
Rewritten Réécrit
Radically Radicalement
A villain Un méchant
To deserve Mériter
To be cursed Être maudit/ensorcelé
Unfortunately Malheureusement
To lead to Conduire, mener à 

The consequences of facing difference

Facing difference is not only inevitable when it comes to any human interaction, it is also a phenomenon that leads to some consequences and sometimes change. By describing, commenting or highlighting the differences they see, artists allow a conversation to start between the different sides of those differences and the spectator who reflects on them. Some pieces of art can showcase differences that are impossible to reconcile and warn us about the consequences of such a stand that usually leads to tragedy. On the other hand, confronting difference through art can also bring about a social dialogue that sometimes leads to actual change. 


Irreconcilable differences 

Sometimes, differences are irreconcilable, it is not possible to avoid conflicts and rejection, the prejudices are too strong.



Irreconcilable differences can lead to conflits. 

Confronting difference necessitates to acknowledge that an opposite point of view might exist but also to be open to the possibility of that difference being legitimate. This is something that is hard for any human being to accept. More often than not, when faced with difference, a person or a group will react with fear and violence. It is a conflict. The most famous one is opposing the Capulet and the Montague in the tragedy Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.

West Side Story

The musical West Side Story, created in 1957 by Robbins, Sondheim and Bernstein and made into a movie in 1962 by Robbins and Wise, is a modernized version of William Shakespeare's tragedy: Romeo and Juliet. In the musical, the two warring families are two warring gangs: the Sharks and the Jets who are fighting over a turf in Manhattan. More than that, they're fighting over their cultural and social differences: the Jets are white and second or third generation immigrants while the Sharks come from Puerto-Rico and have only just recently arrived. Maria and Tony who belong to the opposite gangs fall in love but are torn apart by the violence surrounding them and the incapacity of their respective "families" to accept difference.

« A boy like that, who'll kill your brother
Forget that boy, and find another
One of your own kind
Stick to your own kind »

West Side Story

In the song A Boy like that, Anita sings to Maria. Those lyrics show that difference is not easily accepted and the first reflex is to stay within the group that has the same way of life. The story of course ends in tragedy with Tony's death and Maria's passionate plea for the cycle of violence to stop. Here, the musical showcases a situation where confronting differences leads to violence.

Confronting difference can also lead to rejection when a group of people who all obey the same rules are suddenly confronted with a person who seems or acts differently. That type of difference is very often associated to something weird, strange or unnatural and therefore rejected or treated with disdain. This is of course a phenomenon that we can observe in social behavior especially among young people (teenagers) where conformity is important in order to "fit it". Many artists have commented on the difficulty to be oneself when that means going against the group and owning up to one's differences.

"But I'm a creep
I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here."




The famous song Creep by Radiohead, released in 1992 has become the anthem of the "weirdos", the people whose difference are not well accepted by the rest of the group and who suffer rejection for it.


In the book Carrie, published in 1974 by Stephen King, we discover a young girl named Carrie White whose behavior is different from the rest of her high-school classmates'. She's considered as a freak, as abnormal and weird and she is rejected, bullied and mistreated for it. In the book, that rejection of difference is highlighted by the fact that Carrie actually has supernatural powers, but the core of the story remains the fact that teenagers do not look kindly on any kind of difference. The behavior of the students, lead by the cruel Chris, showcases a strong fear of difference that manifests itself through disdain, violence and rejection. The book ends dramatically and is a warning to anyone who has bullied or watched someone be bullied just because they did not fit in. 


Isolation and rejection

Confronting difference can also lead to isolation or rejection.

There is rejection when a group of people who all obey the same rules are suddenly confronted with a person who seems or acts differently. That type of difference is very often associated to something weird, strange or unnatural and therefore rejected or treated with disdain. This is of course a phenomenon that we can observe in social behavior especially among young people (teenagers) where conformity is important in order to "fit it". Many artists have commented on the difficulty to be oneself when that means going against the group and owning up to one's differences. 

"But I'm a creep
I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here."




The famous song Creep by Radiohead, released in 1992 has become the anthem of the "weirdos", the people whose difference are not well accepted by the rest of the group and who suffer rejection for it.

Characters can be isolated because society is not supporting them. 

The Old Man and the Sea

in Hemingway's novel The Old Man and the Sea (1952), the character of the old fisherman faces fear and rejection from the people around him because his long period of unsuccessful fishing (eighty-four days), has lead them to associate him with "salao": an absolute lack of luck. People are afraid to be infected by this unluckiness and that leads to the character's isolation, even his young apprentice has been forced to desert him because his parents want him to fish with more successful fishermen. Despite all of that, the fisherman is still convinced that his luck will turn around soon but suffers from the loneliness that has stemmed from his bad streak.

Characters can also be rejected in a violent way by society because of their differences.

Streetcar named Desire

In a Streetcar named Desire written by Tennessee Williams in 1947, this fear and rejection of anyone who stands out is symbolized by the character of Blanche DuBois, a fallen southern Belle who slowly dives into madness. Her arrival disrupts the marriage of her younger sister and her husband Stanley who cannot stand Blanche and everything she represents. He's both drawn to her and angered by her perception of him and her eccentricities. He cannot stand to see himself through her eyes and to live with a person so different from his expectations and values. This leads to a series of events that end with Blanche being shipped off to a mental institution so that her strangeness cannot affect Stanley and Stella anymore. 



In the book Carrie, published in 1974 by Stephen King, we discover a young girl named Carrie White whose behavior is different from the rest of her high-school classmates'. She's considered as a freak, as abnormal and weird and she is rejected, bullied and mistreated for it. In the book, that rejection of difference is highlighted by the fact that Carrie actually has supernatural powers, but the core of the story remains the fact that teenagers do not look kindly on any kind of difference. The behavior of the students, lead by the cruel Chris, showcases a strong fear of difference that manifests itself through disdain, violence and rejection. The book ends dramatically and is a warning to anyone who has bullied or watched someone be bullied just because they did not fit in. 



This fear of difference can also manifest itself in the assumptions and stereotypes associated with certain groups or minorities. Confronting difference often has to do with confronting prejudice. The problem is that those prejudices are often strongly embedded in a society and are hard to shake-off. Artists have taken it upon themselves to illustrate those prejudices and assumptions made about people who seem different. 

When they see us

in the mini-series When they see us, released on Netflix in 2019 and directed by Ava DuVernay, the director uses a true story in order to illustrate the violent and quick condemnation of difference by the American society of the late 1980's. The story starts with the Central Park jogger case that lead to the arrest and condemnation of five young men of colors (the oldest one was 16 years old) for the sexual assault of a female victim. The 5 young men are interrogated without a lawyer or parent present and coerced into making confessions, they are then sentenced to detention. Years later, another man confessed to the crime leading to the release of the 5 men and their lawsuit against the city. The arrest and prosecution of the 5 teens have more to do with the color of their skin than with the actual facts and evidence of the case. The mini-series shows that racism and fear of difference played a huge part in the swift condemnation of those 5 boys. Here again, the message conveyed by the artist is that confronting difference is not easy and that people often make assumptions based on ignorance and fear which leads to misunderstandings but also great injustice. 

English French
To reflect Réfléchir
To showcase Présenter
To reconcile Réconcilier
A stand Une position
To warn Prévenir
A musical Une comédie musicale
Warring En conflit
The surrounding Le contexte, l'entourage
To stick to Camper sur ses positions
The disdain Le mépris
Conformity Le conformisme
To fit in S'intégrer
To be oneself Être soi-même
To own up to Assumer
An anthem Un hymne
A weirdo Quelqu'un de bizarre
A creep Un sale type
The behavior Le comportement
Freak Une bête curieuse
Abnormal Anormal
To be bullied Être harcelé
To be mistreated Être maltraité
To look kindly on Avoir un regard positif sur
The assumptions Les suppositions
Embedded Intégré
To shake-off Se débarrasser
To be coerced into Être contraint de
To be sentenced to Être condamné à
Detention La prison
The release La libération
A lawsuit Un procès
The evidence Les preuves
Swift Rapide, efficace
A misunderstanding Un malentendu

Dialogue and hopefully change

Despite the fact that confronting difference can be quite difficult and often lead to terrible consequences, it can also be a starting point for a dialogue between people. When artists depict this facing of differences, they can also highlight the fact that this confrontation, even if it starts off difficult, can sometimes lead one side or even both to change and evolve to the point where the difference is no longer problematic or conflictual, but on the contrary a source of diversity and growth.

"We don't get harmony when everybody sings the same note. Only notes that are different can harmonize. The same is true with people."

Steve Goodier 

Pride and Prejudice

In Jane Austen's world-famous novel Pride and Prejudice (1813), the main character Elizabeth Bennet is quick to judge and dismiss Mr Darcy when she first meets him. She finds him cold and haughty and he showcases strong prejudices regarding social class and decorum. Despite Darcy's developing attraction to Elizabeth and his evolution, they spend most of the novel making assumptions about each other and refusing to see the other's point of view. As the title describes it well, they let pride and prejudice get in the way of overcoming their differences. But the novel ends with both characters realizing and admitting they were wrong about each other and actually getting engaged. They manage to overcome their differences to reach mutual understanding. 

New kids in the Neighborhood

Norman Rockwell released a painting in Look Magazine on May, 16, 1967 entitled New kids in the Neighborhood. His work represents the importance of confronting each other's differences perfectly: two groups of kids of different colors are staring at each other, sizing each other up. But the painting represents curiosity more than hostility and seems to hint at the idea that there is always some common ground to be found beyond our differences. This makes sense when you look at the date, Norman Rockwell is representing the hope for social change that has been started with the voting of the Civil Rights act. In his painting he both encourages people to confront themselves to difference in order to evolve and represent the positive consequences of having done it. People, even if they are different, can learn to live together.

There are many examples where the confrontation between generations becomes a source of enrichment for both sides.

Movies like Dead Poet Society by Peter Weir (1989), Mona Lisa's Smile by Mike Newell (2003) or Dangerous Minds by John N. Smith (1995) all tell the story of young people meeting older role-models that they first resent or distrust but learn to love, admire and listen to while the older person also ends up learning quite a lot from the young people they first considered as needing their help. When people manage to look beyond their differences and learn to listen to each other, the benefits can be infinite. 

The most important part of confronting difference is to establish a dialogue between the two sides, to make sure they actually understand where the other person/group is coming from and that their opinion, although they don't share it, is still valid in its existence. Without that basic respect for other ways of thinking, social change cannot happen. America has been fairly divided politically over the last few years, the country torn between different sides that have trouble confronting and accepting each other's difference.

"It's like we livin' in the same buildin' but split into two floors
I'm not racist
But there's two sides to every story, I wish that I knew yours
I wish that I knew yours
I'm not racist, I swear (…)
Can't erase the scars with a bandage
I'm hopin' maybe we can come to an understandin'
Agree to disagree, we could have an understandin'
I'm not racist."

The artist Joyner Lucas has boldly chosen to record a dialogue in a rap song showcasing a dialogue between two political "enemies": a white supporter of Trump and a Black Lives matter activist. While the lyrics are quite violent both in content and tone, they finally put words on the feeling of injustice and frustration of both sides. The message of the song is that, while confronting differences is hard and sometimes even violent, the first step is to recognize that the other side has the right to be different and to be heard. The expressions "agree to disagree, understanding" hints at the idea that while they might never convince the other side to join them, they can still find a way to coexist more peacefully.

Difference is inherent to any human interaction, it is inevitable and every human being learns to confront it. Art is a good way to open our minds to the existence, the importance and even the richness of difference. The differences we have to confront might lie within ourselves, in our own contraction and conflicting desires, it might also come from cultural, social, religious, gender, age or racial differences and unfortunately it often leads to conflict, violence or rejection. But through art, people might learn to see things from another perspective, to acknowledge the other's side legitimacy and even start a dialogue that can sometimes lead to social change. Diversity of opinions is being celebrated today and art plays a huge role in opening our hearts and minds to it. 

English French
Problematic Problématique
Conflictual Conflictuel
The growth La croissance
A role-model Un modèle
To resent En vouloir
To manage Réussir
The benefits Les avantages
Although Même si
Fairly Plutôt
Divided Divisé
Politically Politiquement
Torn Déchiré
Boldly Audacieusement
The lyrics Les paroles
The content Le contenu
The tone Le ton
The floors Les étages
To erase Effacer
An understanding Une compréhension
A hint Un indice
To coexist Coexister
Peacefully En paix
A human being Un être humain
To confront Confronter
Unfortunately Malheureusement
Legitimacy La légitimité
Celebrated Célébré
A heart Un cœur
A mind Un esprit