The modernist view of human identity believed that human beings through independent thought and ration developed their ideas, believes, and values. Following the modernists, Postmodernists like the founder of ôdeconstruction,ö Jacques Derrida, maintained that all values are a product of culture. To the deconstructionist, meaning is out there but is not knowable through a Western valuation of beliefs, truths, or meaning. From the perspective of the deconstructionist, a text cannot be read as a clear communication from one author with a ôdistinct message,ö but must be ôread as sites of conflict within a given culture or worldviewö (Deconstruction, p. 1).
New criticism might suggest we read ShakespeareÆs The Tempest as if it were a text that made perfect sense, whereas biographical criticism would urge us to examine the life and experiences of the author to glimpse meaning in the play. Deconstruction maintains that the text will ultimately ôcontradict itself,ö while meaning is forged ôby binary oppositions, but one item is unavoidably favored or privileged over the otherö (Primer, p. 3). For this reason, the unavoidably favored or privileged position of Prospero over Caliban in ShakespeareÆr The Tempest lends itself most readily to deconstructive analysis.
As one scholar on deconstruction maintains, ôIf anything is destroyed in a deconstructive reading, it is not the text, but the claim to unequivocal domination of one mode of signifying over anotherö (Deconstruction, p. 2). We see in The Tempest that Caliban, servant of Prospero, symbolizes the submission to Western or English values that are represented by the signifying of Prospero, considered dominant over the ôborn devilö portrayal of Caliban. Prospero has enslaved the son that Sycorax ôdid litterö on the island, and his enticing daughter, Miranda, says of Caliban, ôÆTis a villain, sir, / I do not love to look onö (Shakespeare, p. 5).