It’s natural to feel jealous every once in a while. After all, even dogs get jealous. An article published in Science in 2014 talked about a scientific experiment that proved dogs get jealous when their owners hang out with other pooches. When their beloved humans interacted with a robotic dog that could move and bark, all the 36 real dogs that participated in this "groundbreaking" study started pushing them to attract their attention, and nearly half of them went berserk on their robotic counterpart. So if creatures like dogs can’t handle you petting some strange canine, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that human beings sometimes get insecure about their couples cheating on them, be it sexually or emotionally.
You can find this biologically reassuring, but jealousy does have a dark side. A healthy dose of it in a relationship shouldn’t cause much trouble, but if taken to the extreme, it can lead to abusive and obsessive behaviors. Art has studied this emotion in various forms: films like Raging Bull and paintings like Edvard Munch’s Jealousy portray the angst and violence that can emerge from a jealous obsession, but it’s in literature that we find some of the greatest examples of this emotion’s tragic impact on characters and their relationships.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoi
After Anna, the beautiful wife of a wealthy aristocrat, leaves her husband for her lover, Count Vronsky, her life and mental state start to crumble under the weight of society’s judgements. The couple tries to escape from the the aristocratic gaze that signals Anna for her sins by leaving the country, but their relationship starts to suffer from society's judgment. Away from her son, rejected by her friends, Anna and Vronsky grow distant with time, and she ends up accusing him of betraying her love. This sets off a chain of events with unprecedented consequences. It’s a tragic story of forbidden love and society’s influence on couples.
Othello by William Shakespeare
Iago, the villain in William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello, uses jealousy as a weapon to enact his revenge on Othello, the general he serves and who passed him up for a promotion before the start of the play. A virtuous and honest character, Othello is consumed by jealous thoughts after Iago tricks him into suspecting his wife Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio, his friend and the one occupying Iago’s desired position. Well, let's just say that the ending is shocking, no surprise there given Shakespeare was the master of tragedy.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
This creepy love story about a man who seduces a young girl is known for its complicated subject matter. Humbert Humbert’s relationship with the title character has been subject of much debate. Some see him as a man truly in love with his “nymphet,” while others as a pervert who hides his deviations behind poetic imagery to justify tricking a girl into a sexual relationship with him. Yet there are moments throughout the novel where Humbert’s obsession with Lolita mutates into paranoia and jealousy. He’s controlling, abusive, and has no qualms in exacting his revenge. What becomes of this twisted relationship? Well you must read on to find out.
The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald
Jay Gatsby spends years fighting to achieve the social status necessary to win Daisy Buchanan’s love. His obsession leads him to bootlegging, a dangerous business that makes him rich and, after many ostentatious parties, eventually helps him cross paths and start a relationship with Daisy once again. By this point she is married with Tom Buchanan, a rich aristocrat whose affair with a mechanic’s wife brings about tragedy for Gatsby. After a series of tragedies, Gatsby's blossoming love life is tested and his life is put on the line. Who will come unscathed in this glittering story?
The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
A critical study of Westerners biting more than they can chew, this beautifully written novel tells the story of Kit and Porter, a crumbling American couple that explores the Saharan Desert while on vacation and reaches tragic endings after their carelessness is punished by their harsh surroundings. Porter dies alone after contracting typhoid, while Kit embarks on a harrowing journey through the desert. She ends up in the hands of a couple of caravan drivers, who rape her daily. This is where things get weird. Kit falls in love with one of them and enters into a web of jealousy few could ever escape from.