PW: “Respect” illustrates how the giving and earning of respect is really a delicate and complicated emotion, with perception playing a key role. Was Dressler, the guy who savagely threw and kicked at the cat on the playground, deserving of respect?
KT: Dressler’s a bit of a Machiavellian; he’s an experienced teacher, and the narrator underestimates him from the beginning. I worked in an elementary school for a while, and there is an art to controlling kids. It’s very similar to controlling adults. You use propaganda, you favor certain students, you alienate others, you placate, you lie—this is to keep your students from understanding that you have no real power over them. If they ever understood this, you would be unable to teach. That’s all respect is here, maintaining the illusion of power.
So does Dressler deserve respect? Probably, yeah. Not that abusing animals is a good thing, but he knows what he’s doing here. I’m not sure the narrator ever appreciates this, though. We see the story from his point of view, and he doesn’t know very much about teaching yet.