Introduction – The consequences of the grandparents’ silence Many people have to bear heavy psychological burdens from the second world war without talking to anybody about their experiences. Because of the terrible war-experiences many of these people have a stubborn point of view, a total indifference towards new subjects and an incomprehensible behavior (cf. Bode 18). Moreover many “war-grandchildren” indicate huge problems with their parents and / or grandparents (cf. Bode 13). Furthermore many “war-grandchildren” tell about an uncertain awareness of life and their general lack of assurance (cf.Bode 13).
The sentence “My own parents don’t know who I really am” is not a rare occurrence (cf. Bode 17). Lots of these people are looking for the trails of their families’ past and therefore try to research on their own behavior (cf. Bode 14). Dealing with the past and self-discovery are the main themes of the book “Everything is Illuminated” from Jonathan Safran Foer. A following Analysis and Interpretation will show the process of coming to terms with the past and the self-discovery of the protagonists Jonathan Safran Foer, Alexander Perchow and his grandfather. The heavy search
The following quotation from Cicero goes in line with Alex’s and Jonathan’s point of view. “Not to know what happened before you were born is to be a child forever“. Jonathan, an American Jew, goes in quest of a woman, Augustine, who apparently saved his grandfather in the second world war from the Nazis. Jonathan particularly wants to find the small Jewish village Trachimbrod where the whole story of his family started. This search ends up in the Ukraine. With the help of the Russian interpreter Alex and his grandfather he wants to discover the history of his family.
Pilgrimage is a centuries-old tradition and an important possibility of looking for one’s roots and for one’s self-discovery (cf. Vökler). Jonathan takes a photo with him depicting his grandfather and a young woman (the woman who rescued him from the Nazis). The idea of his grandfather loving this young woman seems incredible to him, because he can’t imagine that his grandfather loved other women than his grandmother. “It seems so improbable that he could have loved her. But isn’t there something strange about the picture, the closeness between them, even though they’re not looking at each other?
The way that they aren’t looking at each other. The distance” (Everything is Illuminated 61). “Part of me wants him to have loved her, and part of me hates to think it” (Everything is Illuminated 61). Jonathan notes everything in his diary he experiences during the journey. He points out that putting his thoughts down in writing releases him (cf. Vökler). Alex tells that the less they see on the journey, the more he writes down (cf. Everything is Illuminated 115).
This is also for coming to terms with the past and for his self-discovery, he wants to capture every little experience of this voyage to get closer to his past and to get enough subjects for his story about his ancestors, that he writes after the journey. Ashamed Jonathan is a very dissatisfied person, he is dissatisfied with himself. This arises when Alex says that there is a darkness in Jonathan’s laugh and when they both talk about their future (cf. Everything is Illuminated 69). When Alex says to Jonathan that he’s a writer, he denies it at first, furthermore Jonathan doesn’t want to admit that he has already published books (cf.Everything is Illuminated 69).
The following dialog between Alex and Jonathan proves that Jonathan is everything else
Everything is Illuminated 70). He says that he wants to do something he’s not ashamed of – not proud – just not ashamed (cf. Everything is Illuminated 70). The self-discovery Jonathan is a “war-grandchild” and his behavior perfectly goes in line with the statement that many “war-grandchildren” have an uncertain awareness of life and a general lack of assurance. These problems change at the end of their journey. Although they think they don’t find Augustine nor get to know anything about Jonathan’s grandfather, Jonathan finds himself because he discovers the trails of his family, Trachimbrod.
He writes a fictive story about his ancestors that takes place in Trachimbrod, therefore he puts the past behind and focuses up on his future. Jonathan can finally be happy. The self-confident young man Alex’s development is much more discernible than Jonathan’s and the process of his self-discovery is much clearer as well. Alexander Perchow lives with his parents, his brother and his grandfather in Odessa in Russia. In the beginning, the reader gets the impression of Alex as a tall, popular and self-confident young man. “I am unequivocally tall.
I do not know any women who are taller than me” (Everything is Illuminated 3). “I have an aristocratic smile and like to punch people” (Everything is Illuminated 4). Alex says that he has many girls and that they all want to have sex with him, moreover he mentions that he often visits famous clubs (cf. Everything is Illuminated 2). It becomes obvious that Alex is looking for recognition by his family. For example his father asks him about his knowledge of English and he says that he speaks fluently although he doesn’t, he only wants to make his parents proud (cf.
Everything is Illuminated 4). The relationship to the grandfather Alex is worried about his grandfather crying at night but this problem is hushed-up in the family. He doesn’t talk a lot with his grandfather but when he does, it sounds always queer to him (cf. Everything is Illuminated 110). Alex is afraid of being alone with his grandfather because there is a distance between them and he knows that there is something wrong with this old man. His grandfather is hiding something that happened in the war.
Because of this supposition Alex asks himself which terrible things he had done during the war (cf. Everything is Illuminated 74). Alex doesn’t really know his grandfather, neither his real personality nor his past but his sadness frightens him a lot. When Alex’s Grandfather talks for the first time about his parents he is astonished and does not know how to react. “It was the first occasion that I heard Grandfather speak of his parents, and I wanted to know very much of them” (Everything is Illuminated 111). “But I felt that it was a common decency for me to be quiet on the matter.
He would speak when he needed to speak, and until that moment I would persevere silence” (Everything is Illuminated 111). This is a proof of the respect of the post-war generations towards the war-generation but also a proof for the interest in the past of Alex’s grandfather. The “war-grandchildren” feel awkward about confronting the older generation with anything (cf. Bode 20). The relationship between them improves when the grandfather told Alex and Jonathan about his tragedy that happened in the war because therefore Alex can finally understand the sadness of his grandfather.
At the end of the book, when Alex is at the beach and his grandfather tries to find him to ask for money it is the first time it doesn’t feel weird to talk to his grandfather and the oppressive atmosphere doesn’t exist anymore (cf. Everything is Illuminated 217). When his grandfather asks him not to tell anybody about his request for money, Alex feels relieved. “It had not occurred to me until he uttered it, but we have a secret. We have a thing amid us that no one else in the world knows, or could know. We have a secret together, and no longer asunder” (Everything is Illuminated 217).
America, the last hope? Alexander has the dream of a better life in America and when his father asks him to travel with and translate for Jonathan, he can’t wait to see an American. Alex wants to improve his life and wants to show that he also could be an American and become an accountant (cf. Everything is Illuminated 28). During the journey Alex asks Jonathan a lot about America and he tells him that Odessa is a city like Miami, although both know that Odessa isn’t like Miami at all, but Alex doesn’t want to make the impression that his life isn’t very special.
During their journey it gets clear that Alex isn’t the self-confident, popular young man he pretends to be, one indication for this statement is when Alex says that he and Jonathan are like friends and therefore he feels entirely good for the first time he can remember (cf. Everything is Illuminated 72). Furthermore, at the end of the journey Alex says that he isn’t a smart person and in a letter to Jonathan he admits that he mistakenly thought it might be more impressive pretending to be very tall (cf. Everything is Illuminated 24).
These statements would have been impossible at the beginning and it shows a developing process. Alex doesn’t deceive himself anymore (cf. Everything is Illuminated 179). In his letters to Jonathan he tells the whole truth and doesn’t want to delude himself and others. He admits that he doesn’t go to famous discotheques but spends many hours alone at the beach (cf. Everything is Illuminated 52), he also admits that he never became intimate with a girl (cf. Everything is Illuminated 144). Moreover Alex realizes that he will never move to America nor visit the States (cf.
Everything is Illuminated 241). The conflict The following dialog between Alex and his father at the beginning of the book proves that Alex is very dissatisfied with his life, that their point of views vary a lot and that his father doesn’t know who his own son really is. “Why is it that I cannot go forth to America after I graduate? ” “If you want to know why you cannot go forth to America, it is because Great-Grandfather was from Odessa, and Grandfather was from Odessa, and Father, me, was from Odessa, and your boys will be from Odessa.
Also, you are going to toil at Heritage Touring when you are graduated. It is a necessary employment, premium enough for Grandfather, premium enough for me, and premium enough for you. ” “But what if that is not what I desire? What if I do not want to toil at Heritage Touring, but instead toil someplace where I can do something unordinary, and make very much currency instead of just a petite amount? ” (Everything is Illuminated 28-29). The relationship between Alex and his father is very bad, his father isn’t important to him and he hates him because of his drinking problem (cf.
Everything is Illuminated 103,145), but at the beginning of the book he has not the courage to resist. This changes the first time when Alex’s father told him to come home with a girl after going to a club but Alex refuses to and just said “shut up” (cf. Everything is Illuminated 214). The second time Alex resists his father is at the end of the book, Alex asks his father to leave the family and never come back, he also flings not seeing him as a father in his teeth and gives him the money he originally saved for America (cf. Everything is Illuminated 274).
This is the high point of the development of Alex’s self-discovery. He frees himself of his father, doesn’t lie to anyone anymore and especially not to himself. The transgenerational transmission If parents from the war-generation didn’t come to terms with their psychological injuries, according to Brisch, it could lead to a “transgenerational transmission of traumatic experiences, although the following generation itself wasn’t exposed such trauma”. Therefore the consequences could be serious for children of the war-children (cf. Bode 80). This statement goes for the grandfather.
He suffers from a depression because his wife died two years ago and since then he claims that he is blind (cf. Everything is Illuminated 5). The grandfather is blind in a different way, he can’t stand to face the past and without his wife he doesn’t have her support anymore, his life doesn’t make sense anymore and he has no one to take his mind off the terrible war experiences. It gets clear that not only the death of his wife nags him, the roots of his sadness lie far deeper than that. The grandfather is the keeper of a dreadful secret that eventually destroys him and his depression deepens during the journey (cf.
Everything is Illuminated 25). This is because “the journey becomes very painful to grandfather, because it forces him to relive terrible events and admit the things he’s done” (cf. docstoc). The turn When Jonathan, Alex and the grandfather find the woman of whom they think she was Augustine, the grandfather’s behavior changes in a jiffy. For the first time in the book he laughs with all his heart. “He was smiling so much, and I am not lying if I tell you that I had never seen him smile so much since grandmother was alive” (Everything is Illuminated 147-148).
It becomes obvious that Alex’s grandfather and Augustine become fond of each other and the impression that both know each other is given. The woman denies being Augustine but everyone feels certain about it. Alex recognizes her from the picture of Jonathan’s grandfather and the grandfather says something interesting that is attributable to his own behavior. “It was her eyes that let me understand that she was, without a query, the Augustine from the picture” (Everything is Illuminated 148). “We must help her to remember. Many people try so rigidly to forget after the war that they can no longer remember” (Everything is Illuminated 151).
The same is for the grandfather, he suppresses his past as well but with the return to his former home, the finding of Augustine and the questioning grandchild, he has no choice but telling the truth sooner or later. The truth When Augustine tells about two men, Herschel and Eli, who used to be best friends but Eli kills Herschel, the grandfather gets furious (cf. Everything is Illuminated 152). In this situation it gets clear that Augustine knows more about the grandfather than Alex and further that they know each other. The grandfather was called Eli prior to the second world war, but because of a tragedy he renamed himself Alexander.
Eli tried to become someone else after the terrible thing he had done in the war. After leaving Augustine’s place, grandfather admits the whole truth about his past. The Jew Herschel lived with Eli and his wife in Kolki, a village near to Trachimbrod. He used to be Eli’s best friend but the Nazis put their friendship to the test. The Nazis demanded to betray the Jews otherwise everyone was shot dead. After that, Eli betrayed his best friend and pointed at Herschel because he didn’t want to die (cf. Everything is Illuminated 250-251).
First Alex is shocked about his grandfather and doesn’t understand why he didn’t tell anything. “I am not understanding. I am not understanding any of this. I do not understand that you are from Kolki, and why I never knew. I do not understand why you came on this voyage if you knew how close we would be” (Everything is Illuminated 247). This whole situation is very difficult for Alex but later he forgives his grandfather and is able to understand him. In the following quotation of Eli he talks things over and understands that he is the reason for his son’s behavior and the bad relationship between Alex and his son.
“I knew that I had to change everything to leave everything behind and I knew that I could never allow him to learn of who I was or what I did because it was for him that I did what I did it was for him that I pointed and for him that Herschel was murdered that I murdered Herschel and this is why he is how he is he is how he is because a father is always responsible for his son and I am I and I am responsible not for Herschel but for my son because I held him with so much force that he cried because I loved him so much that I made love impossible and I am sorry for you and sorry for your brother and it is you who must forgive me” (Everything is Illuminated 251-252). It is important for the grandfather that he admits everything in the end, otherwise he could never get some peace.
He comes to terms with the past and therefore kills himself so he can be together with his wife and doesn’t have to suffer anymore. Conclusion The demons of the past dog us everywhere in our lives. In the novel “Everything is Illuminated” from Jonathan Safran Foer, memories and a journey back to the past become the source of self-discovery (cf. Vökler).
Jonathan is very insecure about himself and can’t stop the thoughts about his grandfather’s former life until finally he can put the past behind because of writing down his fictive story about his ancestors. Alex doesn’t really know himself because he doesn’t know the past of his grandfather and therefore his relationship to his father is disturbed. At last Eli, Alex’s grandfather, tells his secret from the war, so he can get some peace and therefore Alex knows the truth about him and the reason of his father’s behavior. The journey to the past helps them all to open their eyes, find themselves and to put the past behind.