Past Importance in Middlesex and The Lacuna
Although the past has chronologically been removed from present time, “the past is never dead and buried. In fact it’s not even past,” said William Faulkner. The theme of time is a common expression in American literature, as is seen in The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver, and Middlesex, by Jeffery Eugenides. Both authors demonstrate the importance of the past by showing past historical event and how they have changed the lives of the characters. Kingsolver and Eugenides use the past and express it’s importance, rather than considering it “dead.”
In the Lacuna, the past was an important part of the present because Lev Trotsky’s past followed into his present, and affected the main character, Harrison Shepherd’s, impression of humanity. When the reader meets Shepherd, he, a young boy, often goes to “the sea again for most of that day,” and has little regard for time, much like when he is older, which contrasts with Trotsky’s past – a past stuffed with important previous actions (Kingsolver, 7). “A false telegram on a train” forced Trotsky to live abroad for the rest of his life, demonstrating the past sets a precedent for the rest of one’s life (Kingsolver 244). Because Trotsky was constantly tracked and under the pressure of death from that point forward, each living moment is more valued. Because Shepherd had such a simple life, with so little regard for the past, is difficult for Shepherd to understand this until Lev is killed. On August 27, 1946, six years after Lev’s death, Shepherd says, “Last week, on the day itself, even the bedroom was too uncertain a place,” inadvertently expresses his grief about Lev’s death (Kingsolver 326). Because Lev was the only father figure in Shepherd’s life to actually call him a son, his death carries much weight for Shepherd. Suddenly, Shepherd’s understanding for the concept of the past is elevated. Before, the past was just a time period that had already occurred, to Shepherd, but Trotsky’s death was caused by Trotsky’s actions 13 years previous to his murder. This realization of the importance of the past is carried with Shepherd, allowing him to better understand the importance of the past.
The importance to the past is also impressed upon Shepherd when his is accused of being a communist, because of ties to the Mexican Communist Party. The American government, already understanding the danger in past experiences, becomes freighted by the prospect of Shepherd’s Communist background and what he might be preaching to the American public when his previous jobs become public knowledge: a translator at the Trotsky trials and a faithful cook to Diego Rivera. The American public, openly fearful of the prospect of the communist party rising in the United States as it did in Russia, completely stops reading Shepherd’s New York Best Selling books because of a “ ‘Ban Harrison Shepherd’ window display,” claiming that Shepherd is a communist (Kingsolver 473). The United States has tried to learn from other countries mistakes, in their past, but are taking measure to the extreme, shutting down livelihoods of innocent people. Never before had his past so drastically effected his present. He finally realizing that he can’t part with his past decides he has to “kill” himself to create a new life.
In Middlesex, Lefty and Desdemona do not need to kill themselves to separate themselves from their past, just move to a new country and get new legal documentation. When they decide to marry, they have to distance themselves from the sibling relationship they once shared. the Smyrna fire allows Lefty was able claim, “ ‘Everything was destroyed in the fire! I lost all my papers!’ ” to the French officials, enabling them to escape Turkey under French visas that state Lefty and Desdemona are married (Eugenides 61). This fortunate turn of events allows the couple to distance themselves from their past, however, they use this as a crutch and do not consider how the past will effect the future. When Doctor Philobosian mentions, “ ‘We know most birth deformities result from the consanguinity of the parents,’ ” Desdemona’s pregnancy is terrorized by her secret past sibling relationship with Lefty (Eugenides 116). Again, Desdomoa is lucky because Zoe and Milton are completely unaffected by their parent’s secret love affair, however, when Desdemona is enlightened to Calliope becoming Cal, she “lived now amid memories and dreams, and in this state the old village stories grew near again (Eugenides 526). Her past, that she tries so hard to distance herself from is stuck in her gene pool, not allowing her to escape. The past is too engrained in a person’s experiences and reactions for one to truly separate them from it, which is what Desdemona finally understands, when confronted with the inevitable fact that Calliope’s XY chromosome is initially her fault.
A person’s past actions and experiences effect the present reactions. Harrison Shepherd is haunted by August 20th because he watched his father figure be ice picked to death, just as Desdemona is frightened of fires, after watching her whole life burn in the Smyrna fires. However, in the Lacuna, neither Trotsky nor Shepherd try to distance themselves from the past. Instead they welcome the past and try to learn from it. In Middlesex, Desdemona wants to pretend the past doesn’t exist, but because of her narrow mindedness, when the past does resurface, it is more of a shock. The past is not “dead,” so it should not be treated as though it is. “The past is not even past” because it still effect the actions of people in the present.
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