Finding Ourselves in the Founding Fathers

JONATHAN CARROLL | OPINON COLUMNIST

If you are a person who enjoys musical theatre or have friends who enjoy musical theatre, by now you have undoubtedly heard of the recent Broadway hit “Hamilton: An American Musical.” Even if you had no interest in the subject before, it is quite likely that you have heard of this musical sensation; that is simply how big it has become in the months since its debut on Broadway.

Beyond the high energy numbers, emotional characters and inspiring story of this nation’s founding and early years centering around the show’s titular character, Alexander Hamilton, there lies a deeper philosophy in the show which is worthy of note, found in the divide between the frantic Alexander Hamilton and hesitant Aaron Burr.

One of the most central themes of “Hamilton” is the consideration of the drawbacks and benefits of a driven, divisive persona and a passive, people-pleasing persona. Alexander Hamilton personifies the former persona in the musical and Aaron Burr the latter. The most immediate message sent by the plot of the musical seems to point to an obvious winner in this debate. The climax of the musical is the infamous duel between Hamilton and Burr, which, as we all know, Burr fatally wounding Hamilton with his shot, thus symbolically having the passive persona survive and overcome the driven persona. Even the immediate aftermath of the duel begins to muddle the issue, though.

Despite being the one to survive, Burr laments the fact that he is now “the villain in your history books” for killing Hamilton, and the perspective with which people approach the story makes this sentiment ring true. Even from the start of the musical, where Burr and Hamilton begin as friends, albeit rivals, I could not help but perceive Burr with a certain distaste. Does this historical context of the character have any bearing on the persona which he represents? Yes, as a matter of fact, it does.

Although I do not expect you to commonly observe those with Burr’s passive persona killing off those with Hamilton’s driven one, the fact remains that, due to the passives’ hesitancy, these people often outlive the driven, who drive themselves into the ground with their ambition. Although the passives are not directly at fault for their longevity relative to their counterparts’, they are often still held in a sort of disdain for “not making anything of themselves” or “not holding firm to something” In the play, Hamilton calls Burr out the very first time that they meet, saying “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?” Eventually, Burr bit-by-bit reveals that he does have passions and desires, same as Hamilton—he simply chooses to keep them bottled up, expecting the right moment to act.

The contrast, then, is in many ways comparable to that between extroverts and introverts. As Burr later exhibits in his campaigning for office and then shooting Hamilton, he is capable of the decisive action which Hamilton exemplifies, but the results of his going out of his element indicate that his persona simply is not meant for the stress of Hamiltonian drive. Just so, introverts are capable of social interaction, but they are noticeably less comfortable in those situations than their own respective counterparts.

What does all of this mean? To Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer of “Hamilton,” these observations he puts on display could be nothing more than effective character molds to engage an audience, but I believe that they do mean and should mean something more. Just as the “discovery” of extroversion and introversion helped people become more accepting of the differences between themselves and others, so too do I believe that the contrast between Hamilton and Burr’s personas allows audiences to not only connect better with the characters but also with themselves and their own unique ways of approaching life, be it turning the world upside down or waiting for the world to turn upside down.Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 3.38.32 PM.png

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo in “Hamilton” | Sara Krulwich/New York Times

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