Apologies for the late Augmenter’s post.
“Catholics believe in Forgiveness. Jews believe in Guilt” – Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz (AIA, 25)
What do most of the contagion narratives have in common? If you’ve guessed ghosts, you’re probably right.
In Angels in America, when Louis attempts to confide in the Rabbi, he is blatantly told that he cannot be forgiven for abandoning Prior because Jews do not believe in forgiveness, they believe in guilt. In the majority of the contagion narratives we have read for this class, such as Ibsen’s Ghosts, Yan Lianke’s Dream of Ding Village and even Welcome to Our Hillbrow, this guilt is manifested as ghosts.
In Ghosts, it is the “sins of the father” that come back to haunt the Alvings, rendering it impossible for them to not commit the same crimes as the father because it is hereditary. The guilt of hiding the truth from Regina and Oswald is what drives Mrs. Alving and Oswald to their demise.
In Dream of Ding Village, the guilt of the city’s moral corruption and degradation is embodied within the 12-year-old deceased narrator. Looming over the entire narrative, the voice of the dead child is a constant reminder of the result of the disintegration of the city and the narrator’s innocent death.
In Welcome to Our Hillbrow, the second person omniscient narration, as if directed towards the deceased protagonist, Refilwe, highlights the lost potential of the city. The “our” only exaggerates this guilt by including the reader complicit in these deaths.
In Angels in America, the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg comes to haunt Roy Cohn. Whether Roy feels any guilt is arguable, but the fact remains that the past comes back to haunt the present. Why?
In each of these narratives, guilt becomes a primary theme that is explored through ghosts. The question then to ask is, why ghosts? What is it about their relation to the past, the present and the future that makes them such a compelling device to explore guilt? Change?