Monday, February 19, 2007

The Darkness

During our class discussion on A Temporary Matter, we briefly touched upon the topic of darkness and how this teases out major issues within the story. Take note that I have selected the words touched upon, being that I feel there are greater ideas in which we can elaborate on. What does the darkness represent? For purposes of exploring this theme, I have worked closely with a novel in which I am reading for another literature class. The book is entitled Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; one that many of you may have already read, and if not, I would highly advise that you do so.

In A Temporary Matter we learn that the wretched couple spends more time in the day avoiding each other than actually participating in a relationship. Though pained and distorted by occurrences in the past, Shoba and Shukumar take advantage of the blackout. By using the darkness as a time for confession, they are able to speak of the harsh realities in which they would normally be unable to confront. The darkness becomes representative of something far more. It becomes a shield, and although the deepest of thought and emotions may be revealed, it is almost a way of remaining unidentified in the truest of times.

To further structure this thought, I pinpointed an exact passage from the prologue of Invisible Man where the author ideally articulates this idea of darkness, and counters it with the importance of light. The text reads:

“…I now can see the darkness of lightness. And I love light. Perhaps you’ll think it strange that an invisible man should need light, desire light, love light. But maybe it is exactly because I am invisible. Light confirms my reality, gives birth to my form. A beautiful girl once told me of a recurring nightmare in which she lay in the center of a large dark room and felt her face expand until it filled the whole room, becoming a formless mass while her eyes ran in bilious jelly up the chimney. And so it is with me. Without light I am not only invisible, but formless as well; and to be unaware of one’s form is to live a death.”

(Just for clarification, the narrator is not actually physically invisible. He is rather dealing with major racial issues in which he classifies himself “invisible.” As I mentioned before, read the book, it is well worth it!)

Now, to connect this passage to that of A Temporary Matter… If Ellison is claiming that without light one is invisible and formless, then perhaps this is true with Shoba and Shukumar. When they are transparent and without a created structure, they are able to release the things they hide within dept. I would say that they use this formless imperative to reveal the things they cannot say upfront. And although this may be the time in which they are truly unable to be seen, there is something about the loss of the “conscious reality” that lets one reveals the “unconscious reality.” The unconsciousness that they may not recognize… or further, may not want to confront.

The idea of light is also of great importance. For instance, Ellison states that light is what confirms reality and what creates form. I would say that this would be true for Shoba and Shukumar in the sense that when they are in light, they become isolated, distant from one another, and always haunted by the reality of the loss of the child. There is no getting around this fact that they have suffered a tragedy, and mourning over the loss (assuming a state of “unconscious reality”) has become whom they are. Their identities have ultimately grown apart, and being in the everyday life sheds light on this fact.

The ending of this passage is where I find a major inconsistency with comparing the passage to the story. Ellison argues that “to be unaware of one’s form is to be dead.” Now although this gives perfect reference to Shoba and Shukumar, I believe it is in opposite retrospect. In their case, to be aware of their form is to be dead. When they are in the light, they are dead and dead to each other. They are haunted by their true realities that they have yet to overcome. When in the dark, Shoba and Shukumar are able to confess their inner most secrets. Therefore, letting go of their form revives them, allows them to live. The last section of the story is where this becomes tricky. Shoba is about to tell Shukumar something of great importance when she turns on the lights and states, “I want you to see my face when I tell you this.” Although they have allowed the dark to assist their secrets in escaping, they are only able to confront each other with their truest of feelings when she talks to him in the light. I would say that this is the rebirth of Shoba's form, provoking the change of Shukumar’s. Although light only worked in the past to reveal unwanted memories, the light in this case led to release change, a confrontation that was long overdue.

So in closing, what exactly does the dark represent? Is it just a counter to light, a way of hiding? Or is it a place in which one loses their form and therefore is able to lose themselves and their thoughts? The darkness seemed to draw the couple closer together, only to have the light reveal the truth inside. So is darkness a source of escape that ultimately promotes bondage? I really cannot answer this, though I have explored the idea. So now I ask the question to others… what does the darkness represent?


Devery Mitchell said...

The contrast of dark and light in this story can be construed many ways and I really like the way you decided to extract the distinction between the two. I believe that looking at the darkness it applies to the couple works very well, but I prefer to look at the darkness (and light) as it applies to both Shukumar and Shoba individually. The quote at the end of the story when Shoba turns on the light in order to tell Shukumar she was leaving leads me to believe that she was using the darkness as cover, or as a shield, as she prepared herself to tell Shukumar what they had both known for so long. The darkness is her way of hiding from him while she prepared herself for the change she was about to make. Although she was using the darkness to reveal things she had never told or shared, it was all part of her metamorphosis, not part of her opening up to her estranged husband. I feel Shukumars darkness was a darkness of two degrees. He is played upon by the darkness when he thinks that this telling of secrets is revealing their trust and hope for thier relationship when in reality the darkness is just a tool for Shoba to prepare herself to leave. He plays on the darkness, however, by maintaining the deepest and "darkest" secret of thier relationship: the secret that ultimately brings closure to their partnership.
There are soooo many ways that this metaphor can be interpreted I could go on and on, as I'm sure you wanted to do. My ideas are no more right than yours, but I'm very glad you decided to write on this topic, and your comparison to the other novel is interesting to think about. I need to look into reading that novel...

Jaydene said...

Thanks for the insight; it's neat to see someone else's perspective on the topic.