Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Frustrating Silence

In my dorm room, one of the shelves in my closet is filled with books. These are not my school books, which reside on my desk, but books that I want to read for pleasure if I get the chance. Since many of my classes demand reading outside of the classtime, this shelf is unfortunately untouched most of the time. Last week during Spring Break, however, I spent the first half of it in the city to take advantage of several of the museums and I read through a book from that shelf during this time.

It's seemingly unrelated to Woolf. The book was The Chosen One by Chaim Potok, and none of the important characters in the story are female at all. The narrator is a 15-year-old Jewish boy in Brooklyn in the ending years of WWII. His main strength is in math, especially with logic, but he wants to become a rabbi when he becomes older. While he lives in a section of Brooklyn where there are different sects of Judiasm, it is also important at the time to assert American patriotism, and the narrator does this by playing baseball. The day that the book focuses in on was the day when the narrator's team plays a game against a team from a decidely more Orthodox sect of Judiasm. Therefore, the tension in the game is not only about baseball, but about the animostity between the different sects of the same religion. The narrator at the end of the game is pitching to the best player on the opposing team, who hits the ball straight to the narrator, who doesn't catch it in time. Instead, the ball hits his glasses, which results in glass going into the narrator's eye and the narrator spending a week in the hospital. At the end of that week, he becomes friends with the kid who injured him, and the rest of the book is the story of their friendship for at least the next 3-4 years.

The reason I'm even bringing up this book in the first place is that I saw a theme reoccur often in this book that we've been seeing all semester in the things we've been reading as a class. Starting with The Voyage Out, Terence Hewet mentions how he wants to write a novel on silence. Then, later on in To the Lighthouse, we had discussed that the section called "Time Passes" could be Woolf's attempt at writing that novel. There are also all of the characters that we have come across who are not able to say what they think, such as when Mr. Dalloway gives his wife flowers but can't say "I love you", or when Lily struggles to say what she means to men but ends up being nice to them anyway, or the story by Doris Lessing that we talked about earlier today where Susan Rawlings lies about having the affair because she cannot tell Matthew that she goes to a hotel room multiple times a week just to be alone.

The Chosen One has a theme of silence too. The other main character (the one who hit the baseball that ended up in the narrator's eye), is interested in psychology, but is slated to become the next rabbi of the synagogue that his father is in charge of. As a result, there is no conversation between the son and his father except when it comes to analysis of the Talmud. This is contrasted heavily with the narrator and his father, who talk to each other about everything. There is a painful scene in the book where the other boy's father uses the narrator to convey a message to his son because he could not possibly talk to him about anything other than the Talmud. In fact, the book mentions multiple times how the characters communicate through silence. This lack of communication, though different in flavor from the way Woolf portrays it, also results in the same frustration that Woolf's characters feels.

P.S. While writing this post, I couldn't help but be reminded of this song by Simon & Garfunkel. I'm not sure how it connects with what I've been writing, but hear it and decide for yourself: Simon & Garfunkel: The Sounds of Silence

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