Forgiveness has been a prominent theme in many of the books studied throughout Lit Comp 2. Three works of literature where this was a major theme are Ordinary People by Judith Guest, The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom and All My Sons by Arthur Miller. In Ordinary People the main character, Conrad, cannot forgive himself or his brother and his mother cannot forgive Conrad. In The Five People You Meet In Heaven, Eddie has to learn to forgive his father. In All My Sons, Joe commits suicide because he knows his family will not forgive him. In all of these works, forgiveness is a major theme that fuels the plots of the stories.
Ordinary People is a story about a family damaged by the loss of their oldest son Buck, who died in a sailing accident. His younger brother, Conrad, attempted to pull him back onto the boat but Buck was not strong enough to hold on and drowned. Conrad who felt responsible for this fell into a depression and attempted to kill himself months after the accident. His mother, Beth, is a perfectionist who hates dealing with negative emotions is unable to forgive and let go of the past. This leads Conrad to believe his mother doesn't love him. He says to his therapist in the book, "She loves my father... She loved my brother. It's just me" (Guest, 120). This lack of communication leads to even more tension between Conrad and Beth.
Conrad is unable to forgive Buck for not being able to hold on and survive. He is also unable to forgive himself because of the survivor's guilt he faces, but does not realize this until later in the novel. He believes his mother won't forgive him and does not love him because of his suicide attempt. Conrad's father even says, "I see her... not being able to forgive him" (147). Conrad also says to his therapist "I am never going to be forgiven for that, never!" (119). He soon realizes it is not only his mother who will not forgive him but also him who can't forgive himself for his own actions. The lack of forgiveness between Beth and Conrad and Conrad and himself creates the conflict in the story and drives the plot.
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The Five People You Meet in Heaven is another example of a book where forgiveness is a key theme. The story begins on the last day of 83 year old Eddie's life. Eddie is an amusement park worker at the Ruby Pier who is loved by all of the visitors at the park. Eddie dies trying to save a little girl from a faulty ride sacrificing his own life to save hers. When Eddie dies, he goes to heaven and meets five people that were important to his life in one way or another. Each of these five people is there to teach Eddie a different lesson so that he may make peace with himself in heaven.
The third person he meets is Ruby, the person Ruby Pier was named after. He meets her in a diner where he recognizes one of the customers as his father. His father was an alcoholic who abused Eddie during his childhood and Eddie became angry when he saw him. Ruby was there to show Eddie a different perspective of his father. Eddie was then in his childhood home where he saw his father's friend Mickey was assaulting his mother. His father walked in and chased Mickey out. He chased Mickey all the way to Ruby Pier where Mickey attempted to drown himself in the ocean. Eddie's father jumped in to save Mickey because although Mickey had assaulted his wife, he was loyal to his friend. Eddie then learned that while he may have abused Eddie as a child, he was a loyal person and Eddie learned to forgive him.
All My Sons is a play about Joe who owns an airplane part manufacturing business during WWII. Joe's company shipped out faulty parts to the army and caused the death of twenty one pilots. Joe's business partner was incarcerated but Joe was found not guilty because he supposedly was not aware the parts were faulty and was not convicted. The plot revolves around the controversy of whether Joe is responsible for the pilots' deaths or not.
Throughout the play, Joe's son Chris tries to determine if his father is guilty. Towards the end of the play he begins to believe that his father is responsible for the deaths of the pilots and confronts him about it. Joe admits to Chris that the parts were faulty but says he did it for his family so he did not lose his business. Chris gets very angry because he thought that his father was innocent. Joe realizes he cannot be forgiven by his family for the crimes he committed and his only option is to turn himself in and go to prison. He knows his only other option is death and kills himself to avoid imprisonment.
The theme of forgiveness has played a large role in many of the books studied throughout this course. In Ordinary People it is one of the most important themes and is very important to the plot of the novel. In The Five People You Meet in Heaven forgiveness is an important theme only in one section of the book but still contributes heavily to the story being told. In All My Sons forgiveness is important because it plays into what happens to the characters towards the end of the play. While not prominent in every novel studied during the course, forgiveness was an important theme both in reading and discussion.
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