The Chantal Chawaf Newsletter, Volume I, Number 4 (Winter 1998)
"No Redemption Here"
by Rachel Morgan, Humanities and English Literature graduate from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, USA
This essay was written during the Spring 1997 semester for Dr. Kristin Switala's "Introduction to Philosophy" course, designed for undergraduate freshmen. Students were to analyze Chawaf's novel, Redemption, and argue whether or not redemption could actually occur for the main character, Charles.
In Chantal Chawaf's novella, Redemption, Olga Vassilieff will not be able to redeem her lover, Charles de Roquemont. In order to achieve redemption, Charles will have to move past the guilt of his crime and forgive himself. "He was losing weight, he looked emaciated" (p. 6). Charles knows he is guilty and his body is literally being destroyed by the shame of his crime. Redemption is not possible if one is suffering from memories, physical repercussions, or mental anguish due to the crime. Continually remembering the crime, one can not move past the remorse into redemption. Charles does not want to be redeemed. "Once again Charles was this traveler lost in masculine violence" (p. 71). If Charles desires redemption, he must repent the actions of his past; however, he does not entirely do so. Charles finds himself thinking and feeling the same violent emotions he knew with Esther, now with Olga. The art he produces, the mutilated words, is evidence of his still present lust for violence.
If one person is able to redeem another, Olga cannot redeem Charles because she is not willing to sacrifice enough of her desires and wants to give Charles the proper consideration he needs. "Suddenly Olga wants to live, at all costs. Charles is leading the way and she is ready" (p. 46). Olga must spend the hot Parisian summer alone with her work. Charles presents an escape from her monotonous life. Even if Charles' redemption were in Olga's control, she is too concerned with filling her empty life to concentrate on saving another person.
Redemption requires a search for truth, and Charles and Olga are not seeking truth. "A woman could revive in him the mother from whom this son had not been weaned" (p. 35). Charles is trying to make Olga that "woman," that mother, a healer. He is seeking her for his "extrauterine" birth. By asking Olga to be someone she is not, Charles is shunning the truth. With Charles and Olga both fumbling around in lies and false expectations, they are nowhere close to redemption. In Christian theology, which the novella Redemption is strongly dependent upon, only God can save a person, no one else can. Therefore, Olga or Charles cannot be redeemers. "He is touched by the Holy Spirit ... although Charles resists the temptation with all his might" (p. 4). This book questions the existence of God. It does not argue for or against the existence of God, but by placing the crux of this argument in the Christian context of the book, it should be noted that only God can forgive. According to Christian values, Olga cannot save Charles and Charles cannot save himself; he must ask God to forgive him. Charles, even though he is ready for some sort of change, is not sure whether he even wants redemption from God.
It is difficult to know any certainties about redemption, yet several arguments remain clear. Charles, because he does not want redemption, cannot escape the memories of his crime. Olga is not willing to sacrifice enough of her desires in order to save Charles. Both characters are not seeking the truth, and Charles is not sure if he wants redemption through Charistianity. In light of all the uncertainties and variables of Charles' and Olga's relationship, it is unlikely that Charles will ever achieve redemption.
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