Understanding the Sacrifices of Claire Underwood in House of Cards


Netflix’s US adaptation of House of Cards provides a glimpse into the ambitions of an aspiring president. Based on the novel of the same name by Michael Dobbs, the Netflix series follows the story of husband and wife, Frank and Claire Underwood, as they rise in the ranks of the US government.

Frank Underwood’s ascent began as a state senator of South Carolina and then as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, followed by working as the Majority Whip. Eventually, Frank becomes the Vice President, followed by a forced impeachment that allowed him to succeed as the President.

Meanwhile, Claire Underwood was a constant presence at Frank’s side. This relationship evolved from one out of love into one that resembles the relationship of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Their relationship that lacks intimacy can be considered a technique by the husband and wife to maintain a balance of power, as they treat themselves as equal. As the series progresses, Claire uses Frank in her desire for power as she eventually becomes the succeeding President after Frank’s death.

“Show No Mercy”

Robin Wright’s portrayal of Claire Underwood is that of an icy, ambitious woman. She can be considered as Frank’s apprentice throughout the first 5 seasons of the show, taking in every ruthless lesson that he demonstrates. Both husband and wife are willing to partake in anything, and everything as the power of the oval office blinds them. Claire encourages Frank in his desire for power because she rises with him.

Without fault, Claire carries an air of ruthlessness throughout the show. She bends down to destroy the careers of those who attempt to make a dent in hers. In this habit of manipulation, she explores the complexities of abortion. Practicing stigma management, she lies about a visit to an abortion clinic to relieve herself of a pregnancy resulting from an assault. In actuality, she aborted a pregnancy caused by her husband. Although her motivation for the abortion was never said outright, she likely did it to maintain on the path towards the top.

A Man’s Game

Given that there were no female presidents in the history of the United States, Claire would have played possible scenarios wherein she might have a chance in the seat. Before her marriage to Frank, she sacrificed a wealthy lifestyle and exchanged it with a life driven by politics. She used his matched ambition to her advantage, gaining ample recognition before her run for the Vice Presidency.

Claire’s clothes in the series embody the armor she used to fend off any emotional attachment to her craft. She and Frank needed to remain focused on their goals. When she became president, her clothes were a nod to presidents of the past. This may be to intentionally ease the public towards having their first female president.

A Loss of Humanity

Claire and Frank’s political endeavors were robotic in nature, with each move being carefully calculated. Some of Claire’s sacrifices were not entirely her own. For example, she beguiled women throughout the show into challenging psychological situations. She manipulated a fellow victim by her attacker to become a dartboard of criticism resulting from her and Frank capitalizing on hot issues on harassment for political gain. The victim would eventually attempt to commit suicide. This is the only instance where Claire shows guilt towards her actions, indicating a loss in her humanity along the way, possibly even before they set foot in D.C.

She also falls in love with a writer who she eventually murders out of necessity for her and Frank’s political career. She regrets confiding crimes that she and Frank committed, allowing her to justify the writer’s murder. For Claire, romantic pursuits were not as significant as her lifelong goals. She was willing to sacrifice what was a liability, even if it were a source of her comfort.

Her philanthropic efforts were also minimized as she gained political success during the run of the series. She was a CEO of an environmentalist group at the start of the show, but this began to sit further in the background as the show went on, unheard from.

Claire Underwood is willing to do what is necessary to meet her ambitions. For her, these sacrifices were indisputable. She had to partake in the greasy, harsh world of politics if she wanted to play the game, even more so if she would become the first female president of the United States. She had to get dirty and be as ruthless as Frank was, maybe even more ruthless. As Frank must have taught her on the world of politics: “Shake with your right hand but hold a rock with your left.”

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