Rights

Consider these two usages of the word “rights” from works of literature published nearly a century apart from one another. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby (1925), the character Tom Buchanan and his secret lover Myrtle Wilson argue over whether the latter “had any right” to say the name of Tom’s wife, Daisy. Tom feels so strongly that Myrtle lacks this “right” that he breaks her nose when she tries to exercise it (41). In Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story “Year’s End” from the collection Unaccustomed Earth (2008), the protagonist Kaushik angrily berates his two young step-sisters, when he discovers them gazing admiringly at photographs of his dead mother: “You have no right to be looking at these…. They don’t belong to you” (286).

The keyword “rights” most commonly references claims that are enforceable by law. But these two examples point toward the term’s circulation in more intimate and …

This essay may be found on page 205 of the printed volume.

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