Babettes Feast and Other Stories
Healing Humanity and Other Recipes
Pope Francis said, “He -Jesus- does not stand a safe distance and does not act by delegating, but places himself in direct contact with out contagion”. In this quote, Pope Francis notes how Jesus selflessly gets directly involved in the earthly turmoil. Many literary figures exemplify this, for instance, Babette from Babette’s Feast by Karen Blixen. In this story, Babette demonstrates a selfless act of healing by sacrificing all of her money, ten thousand franc’s, to cook a dinner for the community. However, she provides more than just a meal; she returns harmony to the community. The town of Berlevaag has felt “discord and dissension had been raising their heads” since the death of their Dean. Members of this religious sect remember and focus on only the wrongdoings of others. Babette unites the community through her dinner in many ways.
First, the idea of a French dinner brings the townspeople together in a panic. Second, the dinner itself provided an opportunity for conversation and forgiveness for a town that has become “somewhat querulous and quarrelsome”. As the night goes on, those in attendance realize that this is a night that they will never forget. Therefore, Babette’s dinner healed the community by uniting them in fear, opening a dialogue, and creating a lasting memory.
The sisters and Babette have very different ideas of what a French dinner is. In fact, “the idea of French luxury and extravagance next had alarmed and dismayed the Deans daughters”. The sisters assume that the dinner will be a modest occasion, as their lifestyle suggest. Yet, Babette intends it to be a “love affair”. This frightens the sisters because they are incredibly resistant to change. For instance, when each was younger they had the opportunity to leave their life and start a drastically different one. The entire town shares this resistive trait; they almost let Babette live with them because she is foreign. Yet, once they did there were immediate benefits. “The old Brothers and Sisters, who had first looked askanced at the foreign woman in their midst, felt a happy change in their little sisters’ life, rejoiced at it and benefited by it.” The sisters are shocked and confused when they realize that Babette will bring in goods from outside of their town, asking “But what goods Babette?”. As this happens barrels of wine, a turtle, and other foreign items come into the kitchen. Martine shares her fears of these ingredients with her Brothers and Sisters. The group takes a vow to not talk about the food they will be served. Although there is much discord in the community, they manage to come together to find a common solution. Therefore, Babette’s ornate French dinner unties the frightened townspeople.
The dinner elicits conversation out of the townspeople, allowing them to be open and talk freely about their qualms. “Usually in Berlevaag people did not speak much while they were eating. But somehow this evening tongues had been loosened.” Conversation around the table is light, happy, and focused on anything besides the meal they are eating. The guests turn their relationships with each other around; Conflicts are worked out, debts forgiven, and love renewed. For example, two women, who used to fight, talk about their childhood in the town, Brothers admitted to cheating one another, then pardon each other, and old lovers forgive themselves and each other for the past. Finally, the General and Philippa get the reunion that they have always wished for. Although it took time, the tension between the parishioners towards each other is softened. The feast allowed for the parishioners to come together and, consequently, become a better community.
Finally, the feast will have long-term effects on the community. The parishioners treasure their memories, especially those of spiritual miracles. During the dinner, one Sister reminisces about a time that the Dean had promised to preach a sermon in the village on the other side of the fjord. However, the journey across the river was too risky. The next day the river froze over, and the Dean walked across it to give his sermon. All at the dinner appreciate this memory because they remember how they felt witnessing this event. The dinner evokes similar feelings of togetherness and amazement. “They had seen the universe as it really is”. The dinner brought clarity to the parishioners that they will not forget, specifically the idea that focusing matter of the now is much more important than focusing on matters of the past. Babette’s dinner will help the townspeople always remember this lesson and put it to use.
To conclude, by uniting them in fear, opening a dialogue, and creating a lasting memory, Babette’s dinner healed the townspeople. The French dinner manipulates the parishioner’s resistance to change by bringing them together in fear. Having a common enemy, allows for the townspeople to talk to each other as equals. Miracles are held as treasured memories; therefore, the dinner’s healing effect will always be remembered. The healing of each individual’s difficulties allowed for the entire community to heal – even Babette. Babette’s life is marked by tragedy, and this dinner allows her to get some closure on her past. Intentionally or unintentionally, Babette’s healing helps others in her community to find peace with their inner turmoil and, consequently, their outer turmoil. Babette’s Feast teaches that sometimes facing one’s fears can be a healing process, especially with the help of good food.
The Limitations of Women’s Opportunities in “Babette’s Feast”
Throughout the text of “Babette’s Feast,” Martine and Philippa are described only as beautiful and fair, unlike their father who is portrayed as a dean and prophet, acknowledging his accomplishments directly to his worth, where as the sister’s worth is determined solely by their looks. Babette’s feast has many elements of sexism, that causes the two main characters to have a hindered world view. Given a different and more generous set of opportunities than they were, Martine and Phillipa’s lives could have been drastically different.
Achille Papin and Lorens Lowenhielm both exclaimed to have fell deeply in love with the women and upon first glance, wanting to be with them forever, purely based on their appearance and simple mannerisms. This shows just how little men of that time thought of their wives, showing them off as prizes rather than a woman to be respected.“…prizing the maidens far above rubies and had suggested as much to their father.” The Dean describes his daughters as merely an appendage off of him, rather than their own persons. “But the dean had declared that to him in his calling his daughters were his right and left hand.” In this quote, their father means to say that Martine and Philippa are such a large part of his everyday routines, that he would not be able to do it without them. This hinders the women’s ability to leave and start their own lives or families if they wish, because of their father’s need to have them by his side. We see huge examples of sexism here, as the men are able to think and move with much freedom while women are expected to stay where the men want them. Even for those who enjoy or are content being carried along by the men in their lives can never say that for sure because they have never felt life on their own terms. A considerable part of them is taken away and locked in a respectable, makeup covered box that they must carry with them. “And the fair girls had been brought up to an ideal of heavenly love; they were filled with it and did not let themselves be touched by the flames of this world.” Martien and Philippa are only described using kind and fair words throughout the text, focusing more on their beauty than anything else.
The only time any skill of any kind is listed about the sisters, is when Achille Papin arrives and points out Philippa’s beautiful voice. “He did not mention the Opera of Paris, but described at length how beautifully Miss Philippa would come to sing at church, to the glory of God.” When speaking to the Dean, a man of very religious ways, he played on what he knew about him, that he was a man of God and would want nothing more than to please Him however possible. Achille Papin knew that what he spoke of was an offer that the Dean could not refuse; an offer to better his and his daughter’s relationship and connection with their savior. The Dean was a smart man, well educated in many languages and with a wealth of religious as well as academic knowledge, he stood much taller than his daughters, and it can be presumed by the text that he liked it that way. “Their father had been a dean and a prophet, the founder of a pious ecclesiastic party or sect, which was known and looked up to in all the country of Norway.” The women and Norwegian community continue this idea that their father (the Dean) is all knowing and a highly important religious figure, even after he has passed. “His daughters had long been looking forward to this day and had wished to celebrate it, as if their dear father were still among his disciples”. This leaves Martine and Philippa little to no opportunity to make their own decisions, or have their own opinions or careers. They are surrounded by men, who take on a role of power and dominance, most of them decorated in flashy medals, with uniforms covered in perfectly pressed ribbons, proving their value and worth. The sisters grew up with no powerful woman figure, only men who degraded them down to lesser than themselves.
“Babette’s Feast” ultimately shows the sexist world that Martine and Philippa have grown up in, and how the community around them supports these ways. Throughout the text, many examples of this is shown when the sisters are unable to lead their own lives, forced to be at their father’s mercy, even after he is gone. The unfair world view these women have been given is result of years of accomplished men being put before them.