The Unhealable Wound
Every society has political, religious, and familial ideologies that often cause unhealable wounds so great it leads to quests of great awakening and enlightenment of the conscience. It is the long lasting scars of these wounds that continue to invade the psyche of the innocence. The Insufferable Gaucho, The Book of Laughter & Forgetting, Of Love & Other Demons, and Paradise of the Blind represent such works where the authors use varied themes and characterizations to show how social dictates of governments, religions, families, and policies lead to social, psychological, and physical consequences. The literature also describes the unhealable wounds from alienation, imprisonment, oppression, and loss because the characters believed the policies inequitable between the authoritarian powers and those whom found themselves subject to them. It also illustrates why these institutions were powerful enough to cause acts of alienation against those who refused to conform to their dictates. In Common Archetypes and Symbols in History, it says, “This wound, physical or psychological, cannot be healed fully” (Southern New Hampshire University 1). It is through literature that the wounded spirit of the innocent speaks to humanity, and it is through these voices that society evolves. Analyzing the literature of Roberto Bolaño, Milan Kundera, Márquez García, and Duong Thu Huong using a cultural criticism theory will define how society governs both social order and decay by implementing policies often leading to the unhealable wounds of its citizens.
In The Insufferable Gaucho, Roberto Bolaño represents the unhealable wound of political and social alienation by connecting the events of Manuel Pereda’s loss of his wife to the financial instability from the economic crisis in Argentina to show how citizens are disaffected because of government and social dictates. It is the loss of his wife that seems to be the catalyst into non-conformity when the author writes, “At first the lawyer tried to resign himself to solitude. He had an affair with a widow, went on a long trip through France and Italy, met a girl called Rebeca, and finally contented himself with organizing his huge, chaotic library” (Bolaño 13-14). The reference to solitude shows that Pereda was going through changes that allowed him to see the people around him through the lens of a single older man rather than the one as a father and prominent judge. Pereda uses the loss of his wife and broken home as a metaphor for his broken society when he writes, “most of Argentina’s recent problems could be traced back to the figure of the stepmother. As a nation, we never had a mother, he would say, or she was never there, or she left us on the doorstep of the orphanage. But we’ve had plenty of stepmothers, of all sorts” (Bolaño 11). This sentence defines the discipline, stability, and care (like a mother would give) that he believes was lacking in his city that led to the collapse. The loss of the economy, no access to food, and the protestors show signs of an unstable society that alienates him and prompts him to seek out a new beginning. Pereda thinks to himself, “it seemed like a sign that something was changing, that something was moving in the darkness, although he was also happy to join in the wildcat strikes and blockades that soon degenerated into brawling” (Bolaño 18). As he sees beggars and his old comrades all suffering the same fate, he decides to return to his family home in the country to try to start anew. This shows that the restoration of the city was not progressing as Pereda had hoped, and his unhealable wounds were too much to bear the weight of death and financial ruin. With the lack of resources because of overpopulation and lack of money, Pereda returns to where the soil is ripe for growing, the rabbits are plentiful, and the people help one another. He learns to hunt, barter for a horse, and work hard to live simpler, and it is much different than his previous life in the big city. As his physical appearance transforms from a wealthy lawyer to a dusty gaucho so does his mental beliefs because his quest for knowledge and strength is realized. He is able to improve his circumstances because of the realization that his life was not dependent on how much money he had but on the amount of determination in his heart. When Pereda returns to Buenos Aires, it is like returning home a new man whom no longer sees his beloved city the same. Bolaño writes, “Do I stay in Buenos Aires and become a champion of justice, or go back to the pampas, where I don’t belong, and try to do something useful” (The Insufferable Gaucho 79). It is at this moment the quest is fully realized as he chooses the man he became from the man he used to be.
In Milan Kundera’s work The Book of Laughter & Forgetting, the author uses the character of Mirek to establish the theme of the unhealable wound because of political oppression that took place around 1971 in Czechoslovakia. Kundera writes, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting” (4). It is the struggle between Mirek’s political ideologies and the power of the Communist government that defines the depth of his wound. Mirek had previously kept a diary including information about political meetings, correspondence, and ideas including actions the group would take regarding policies they did not agree with regarding government powers. Kundera expresses the political themes in his work as he writes, “The constitution did indeed guarantee freedom of speech, but the laws punished anything that could be considered an attack on state security. One never knew when the state would start screaming that this word or that was an attempt on its security” (5). For Mirek, he sees the letters as a significant piece of evidence that could condemn him to death. He uses examples of other citizens who also suffered extreme consequences to express his growing fear that he too would be persecuted. Kundera writes, “His connection to his life was that of a sculptor to his statue or a novelist to his novel. It is an inviolable right of a novelist to rework his novel. If the opening does not please him, he can rewrite or delete it” (15). His fear and erratic behavior intensifies as he is followed by government agencies and then Zdena refuses to give the evidence to him. It also shows his growing desperation to rid his life of anything that connected his past to the present. Kundera writes, “That a piece of his life remained in Zdena’s hands was unbearable, and he longed to hit her over the head with the big glass ashtray on the coffee table between them and take away his letters” (25). The unhealable wound of a lifetime of political oppression grew too heavy on the man condemned by his government for simple thoughts. Mirek’s final destiny of imprisonment comes to light as his belongings are seized, he and his friends face trials, and they all receive prison sentences. Mirek gets six years, his son gets two years, and his friends get various sentences dependent on how damaging the minutes in his home incriminated them. It brings the theme of political persecution and alienation to the forefront of this story because it defines how non-conformity breaks down a society because of oppression. It also weaves the tale of the unhealable wound through the many tragedies suffered at the hands of Communist ideologies against its citizens. These injuries are not likely to ever heal because the literature like Kundera’s continues to connect the past and the present with the use of mere words. Ironically, it was the very thing that condemned Mirek because of his journey to voice them. Through Mirek, readers learn of Kundera’s own journey of political oppression and alienation since he too suffered a similar unhealable wound from exile.
Márquez García uses familial and religious alienation to define the unhealable would of Sierva Maria in Of Love & Other Demons. The story is set in the Caribbean coast around 1749 where colonization and slavery are important social themes in the story. The author introduces the unhealable wound by exposing how her family, the Catholic Church, and citizens blamed her for perceived demonic events that contributed to her alienation and death. It is with introduction of her family that many things can be learned. Sierva’s name means servant (Sierva María de Todos los Ángeles) or slave (Sierva Mandinga) (Spanishdict.com Siervo). Interestingly enough, her names interpret in this literary piece as a servant to her family and a slave to religious dictates that helps to connect her familial isolation to her religious one. It is the relationship between the mother and the daughter that initiates the theme of the unhealable wound when the author writes, “Convinced that Sierva María had cast an evil African spell on her, she decided that the two of them could not live in the same house” (Marquez 33). The mother’s neglect and alienation exacerbates her upbringing rooted in African influence that associates witchcraft of a White child different than her peers. It is through these experiences in the home that introduces slavery, alienation, and the idea of demonic possession to readers. García writes,”Sierva María learned to dance before she could speak, learned three African languages at the same time, learned to drink rooster’s blood before breakfast and to glide past Christians unseen and unheard, like an incorporeal being” (Marquez 31-32). The use of slaves as the primary influence in the child’s life shows that the social mentality on slavery was rooted in broad stereotypes and fears. It was also easy to believe that the Catholic Church would rather believe in demons than in the familial dysfunction of a White elitist family. Early one, Sierva is associated with demons as the text reads, “As far as she was concerned, everything ordinary had something supernatural about it” (García 41). The passage is extremely important because it shows how ordinary events like dog bites are interpreted as supernatural occurrences because of religious influence in society. García writes, “That one of the demon’s numerous deceptions is to take on the appearance of a foul disease in order to enter an innocent body” (41). With the use of rabid dog, the church promotes the idea that her innocence has been taken by the devil to pay for the sins of her family (i.e. rabies, plague, drug abuse, slavery, and mental illness). Garcia writes that Maria Sierva was blamed for events like, “pigs had been poisoned, that the water induced prophetic visions, that one of the frightened hens flew above the rooftops and out to sea,” (Of Love and Other Demons 51). After her imprisonment by the Catholic Church, the abbess further alienates her when she says, “Satan knows what he is doing… Spawn of Satan” (Of Love and Demons 49). It is through Sierva’s unhealable wounds that readers see the battle of authority and innocence take place. It is through the loss of her life retold through this story that enables others to understand how society dictates one’s journey even when that person refuses to comply.
In Paradise of the Blind, Duong Thu Huong broaches the subject of familial alienation by recounting the unhealable wound of Hang. Land reform is used to differentiate between the traditional and modern values experienced in a communist society, but it is the breakdown of her family that is used to define how a break from tradition leads to social alienation. Her mother and father symbolize the familial decay of the Vietnamese family. Huong writes, “Degenerates!’ Just wait and see. Misfortune comes to those that flout the ancestral laws” (21). Mom, Que, is a street vender who believes in duty and following traditional roles, yet it is she whom breaks tradition and marries against the ancestral laws only to become a single mother. Hang recounts, “According to the tradition, after the death of her parents, my mother should have observed a three-year mourning period during which she did not have the right to court” (Huong 20). Huong writes of the influence of a patriarchal society as Hang struggles with having no father. She asks her mother, “But I must have a father. Somebody…must be.” (Huong, 46). This shows how Hang struggled and her family was in conflict much like the political parties during the Land Reform between traditional peasants and modern landowners. Huong writes, “He’s an exploiter. The entire family are landlords, the mortal enemies of the peasants” (22). It is through the lens of a child with roots to both families that struggles to find her identity as she grows, but it is also the source of her feelings of alienation because she lacks acceptance from either of them. Hang finds some resolution in her life when she makes a decision that shows growth and maturity after a journey to find herself. Huong writes, “Memory refuses to die, and “hell’s money” has no value in the market of life… I can’t squander my life tending these faded flowers, these shadows, the legacy of past crimes…” (258). It is also because of Hang’s quest for knowledge that her unhealable wounds begin to teach her life lessons. Hang thinks to herself, “Life had taught me the value of silence” (Huong 252). In the end, she reconciles her present by letting her past stay in the past.
The political, religious, and familial ideologies that interfered with the lives of these characters brought about unhealable wounds because of the decay in their societies. The characters were bound to the past because of uncontrollable events that led to alienation, and their journeys divulge the sacrifices of those who refused to submit to the unjust societies they lived. But, by understanding the journey of these characters, it allows readers to ascertain that even in times of oppression, people take perilous journeys on quests for knowledge and strength to overcome them. By learning of their journeys, it lends their fortitude to the weak who also see injustice but may not feel strong enough to defy it. In the end, it is not the gravity of the oppressed or the oppressor that defines a person’s life, but the collective journey of both that decides the future for generations to come. From this idea, the odyssey of the unhealed wound continues to smolder on the pages of books yet to be written.
Bolaño, Roberto. The Insufferable Gaucho. New Directions. Ebook. (2003). Retrieved August 28, 2016, from https://archive.org/stream/pdfy-RnzZ4DFEjxohypuz/The%20Insufferable%20Gaucho%20-%20Roberto%20Bolano_djvu.txt.
Huong, Duong Thu, “Paradise of the Blind,” Perennial Library Reprint Edition 2002.
Kundera, M. The book of laughter and forgetting (A. Asher, Trans.). New York, NY: Harper Perennial. (1998).
Márquez, García. “Of Love and Other Demons,” Etext. (1994), Retrieved on Aug. 28, 2016, from https://pdf.k0nsl.org/M/Mirrors/ptchanculto/Gabriel_Garcia_Marquez-Of_Love_and_Other_Demons.pdf
Southern New Hampshire University. “Common Archetypes and Symbols in History,” SNHU Blackboard. Etext. (n.d.). Retrieved on Aug. 28, 2016, from file:///C:/Users/pc1/Documents/SNHU/ArchetypesandSymbols.pdf