Monday, April 7, 2014
There is a book that I have mentioned in my article Racist Discrimination that I'd like to talk about. It is a book called "Andorra", and was written by Max Frisch, a German-speaking Swiss author and architect born in 1911. "Andorra" was published in 1961, around 15 years after the end of WWII. It is a novel with very strong political meaning on what happened during the war and how people were becoming racist towards Jews and finding them some common features they had known from stereotypes. As it so happens in this book, the protagonist of the novel, Andri, is believed to be a Jew by his village's inhabitants. He was supposedly found by the village's teacher who kindly took him back to his village and treated him as his own son. The truth is that Andri is actually really his son, and so, not a Jew, that he had with a woman from the other side of the borderline, and because he didn't want the villagers to judge him for his "mistake", he pretended that he had done some grand gesture, saving an orphan boy. But the thing is, that nobody knows the truth, and so when all these ideas of Jews being horrible people started floating around, Andri became a victim of stereotypes such as he being stingy, or having flat feet, etc. At first, it angers him, but then he becomes used to it, and starts believing they are true, so much that he internalizes the features that people claim his. The father (the teacher) finally realizes what he has done and tries to tell his son and the villagers that it was all a lie, but people won't believe him, since they are so obsessed with Andri being a Jew, and also because they all believe that he does that in order to save him... Needless to say that the story ends badly.
As you can tell from what I've just told you, it is not a happy novel. It is not the kind of novel that you read and then get on to the next one. It is quite shocking, because we can sort of see ourselves in those people who condemn Andri of being a Jew, and we see the consequences that using stereotypes and believing in them have had in the past, notably during WWII. But it also allows us to get in Andri's mind, seeing his evolution towards this self-proclaimed concept of he being a "bad Jew" who deserves what he gets. It put me in so much thought on stereotypes and racism, and how easily we could all fall into this trap. Because what, at first, is just a joke, once stated repeatedly seems all the more realistic, and we start believing in things that were supposedly only stupid jokes. And then again, I wonder, if our recent past has such a horrible history of cruelty, and if we're taught since little children how wrong it all was, then why don't we make the link to what we do everyday? Because Nazism too, only started with some people claiming that some groups of people were inherently bad, and then look where that lead... If we know that small acts of cruelty may lead to massive ones, why do we (myself included, obviously) continue to do them anyway? Why do we even enjoy them so much? Maybe it is time for our society to stop seeing mockery as a silly but funny and inoffensive thing to do, but to see it as a source of cruelty towards other people, that we don't even know, and who will suffer from it one way or another. But the reason why we don't see mockery, and thus stereotypes, that way, is because we hurt, and then don't look back at the consequences of our act, and just label that act of cruelty as normal or fun, the "it-was-just-a-joke" type of sentence that will make it all fade away like it never happened. Well it did happen, and it probably affected somebody, just not us, and that's why we always find mockery not that bad, because we don't hurt us. We hurt others, and others hurt us, and that's just normal, right?