Wednesday, July 21, 2010

bound together as humans?

"Dolce," the second novella of Suite Francaise, set in the provincial countryside of France, was what captured me and got me thinking the most.  The characters seemed more complex and conflicted, more endearing than those of "Storm in June." The question I walked away considering was:

What is it that makes us human, and why are those things not enough to bind us together?

By nature I am a micro-thinker.  I am interested in the larger systems: how they function, why we need them, how to change them, but ultimately my life works on the tiny level within a system: as a teacher, as a canvas bag carrier to the grocery, as a user of public transportation.  I tend to see the smaller, personal level before putting it into a larger, more complex system, which was why one of the main conflicts of the novella was so heartbreaking for me.

Lucille is a provincial French woman, whose husband had a mistress and a child across town but is now a prisoner of war, whose mother in law cannot stand her, who feels miserable in how stuck she is in her own life.  When she and her mother in law are asked to house a German officer, the initial revulsion to housing an enemy weighs heavily in the house, until Lucille begins to see some of the underlying similarities between herself and this foreign enemy, namely through music: "Anything was better than music, for music alone can abolish differences of language or culture between two people and evoke something indestructible within them," (334).

Lucille and the officer find that they have a connection joins the ranks of history's star-crossed: "But occupation is more terrible in a way, because people get used to one another.  We tell ourselves, 'They're just like us, after all,' but they're not at all the same.  We're two different species, irreconcilable, enemies forever," (333).  She almost couldn't bear the things that brought them together because all it raised in her was guilt in having feelings toward the enemy and the confusion when their connection seemed to be above their respective countries' political stances.

It seems that the all of the residents of this occupied town are grappling with the idea of the collective "good" for their countries versus what would make them as individuals feel whole: The German officer lost his autonomy in the name of the war: "Madame, I am a soldier.  Soldiers don't think. I'm told to go somewhere and I go.  Told to fight, I fight. Told to get myself killed, I die. Thinking would make fighting more difficult and death more terrible," (273).  The two, each in their minds, attempt to reconcile their hearts with their national duty, and it just becomes more complex and heart breaking.

I do my best to stay on top of the world news and understand the deep rooted conflicts, but each time I never fail to become broken hearted over our inability to see each other as humans...with families and passions and sorrow.  I hate that those connections are so often not enough to bind us: whether in small, inner circle conflicts or those of a worldwide nature. 

The mother in law's response seems simultaneously out of touch as well as chillingly brilliant.
She faded into play-acting in her room, barely leaving: "It was neither delirium nor the first signs of madness; never had she been more totally lucid and aware of herself. It was deliberate play-acting, the only thing that brought her some solace, in the same way as morphine or wine. In the darkness and the silence, she could relive the past...she [also] anticipated the future. Though she lied and deceived herself, the lies were her own creation and she cherished them," (305).

This I think, though, is the danger: the pretending that everything is fine that in turns just paralyzes a person.  I think that it is better to live in the complexity of human nature than to just pretend that everything is all right, even if being a part of humanity leads to heartbreak.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh friend, this makes my heart hurt. First of all, your writing... gorgeous. Your insight...brilliant.

The effort humans make to keep their humanity at bay is devastating (and no doubt exhausting). What fear is there in surrender??

I. love. this post.