I tend to prefer starting my essays with a question. In literature, beginning a personal essay with a question mark is not seen with good eyes. But then again, Thomas Shelby is not seen with good eyes either. So here it goes:
What if your masculine energy was a portrait of Thomas Shelby?
I’m not asking women; I’m not asking men. I’m asking anyone out there, regardless of their natural biology. Most importantly, I’m asking myself. Up to a point, most of us idealize masculinity; it’s this thing that belongs to the original Father, to that paternal figure that taught us about the world of merit. Concepts such as “hard work”, “status”, “achievement”, “success” and “wealth” belong to the Father Figure. In that sense, Thomas Shelby is the essence of what masculine energy is, as a mental function.
Let’s take Mr. Shelby and internalize him for the next moments.
We all have a little Tommy, this romantic character, from times immemorial. He is joyous, playful, spontaneous – and most importantly, sweet. In fiction, he exists before the war. In real life, he lives before the trauma. We can define as traumatic not just something externally violent (such as war), but also personal perceiving of apparently mundane events: dismissive dialogues between parents, getting the cold stare from your father that says “I don’t accept what you did” (which can easily be interpreted as “I don’t accept who you are”).
Of course, the list is endless. It’s precisely because they appear mundane to the adult, that they create subliminal traumas in the child, in Tommy’s mind.
As he becomes Thomas, the sweetness is overwritten by arrogance. From a curious child, he matures to a highly ambitious man. This arms him into conquering life because he evaded death. Everything that comes post-trauma is extra. So when the opportunity appears – to risk lives, money, feelings – he asks himself…
That question acts as a key; it unlocks decisions one wouldn’t have been able to take before becoming Thomas. The thing about being him though is that he cannot find rest in this world. He continues to conquer, to seek ways in which to climb and to win the game of life, and in doing so, he loses friends, family, he loses some original innocence. The deeper his ambitions manifest, the greater the loss of his child-soul.
Going back to the idea of internalizing his character, we can translate that into following a certain path for the sake of ambition, like life is something extra and not all there is to be. The Hero ties ambition to a goal that serves life. The Antihero uses ambition by itself, cuts it loose. This, in turn, serves ambition itself, not life.
Thomas Shelby is not a hero, in the fairy tale sense. He lives within a permanent power-play between goodness and arrogance. He “drinks the fucking wine and smiles” because he knows there are no heroes in the real world. Real, raw, human pain doesn’t create heroes, rather it creates antiheroes and villains. The bigger the initial pain, the bigger the projection of it in the outside world. The more we keep this memory of war inside ourselves, the more we shape it into ambition in the real world. We’re wonderful at hiding war memories: we call them ambitious goals, going from a small world to becoming big and important. We compensate for everything we forget by piling up achievements, one on top of another.
Thomas Shelby transcends his fictional character, projecting himself from screen to our souls. He knows “there’s no rest in this world, perhaps in the next”.
Nothing wrong with that. Nothing right either. Isn’t that the way we guide ourselves too?