Chapter 2: A mediator and a governess

Chapter two goes on to scrutinize the hostages during their dilemma as they contemplate what will happen to them in the hands of the terrorists. Fear is an undeniable companion in this whole ordeal. It makes one reflect and review their life, from the decisions they made, things they loved or hated, you’re most important person, to the things you things you wish you could still have the chance to do. Ann Patchett engages the reader in this chapter by showing them different thoughts and perspectives from different characters she identifies. I could tell that this circumstance brought change to some of the characters. For example, Simon Thibault realized that his love for his wife was restored like “that old sensation, the leaping of his heart, the reckless flush of desire”. It wasn’t until he came to this “specific and horrible” country that he was able to take the time to appreciate what he has and been taking for granted. Mr. Hosokawa reflects on how his birthday is the reason that most of the people that came to attend the party are currently part of this dilemma. He especially feels awful that it’s his fault that Roxanne Coss got roped into being a hostage. Part of him feels responsible for these people because he gave in to his selfishness of meeting and listening to Roxanne Coss with a misleading pretense of agreeing to bring industry to this country in exchange.  Father Arguedas reflects on his love for opera competing with his love for his God. It is this same passion and interest that led him to be at the party because he also wanted to hear Coss perform. I thought Victor Fyodorov was funny because all he wasnted to do was get another smoke in. Ann Patchett shows us that it is during these times of grave circumstance that we may realize that the first thing that pops up in our mind may be what we value most. The hostages are bound by the fear they hold so in their minds begin to make connections to the people in the room as a way to find comfort in each other. I agree with the Vice President’s statement when he admits amidst his pain that it is easy to unintentionally make attachments to certain people when forced in this kind of situation.

The appearance of the Joachim Messner from the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), so calm and collected, meant the beginning of negotiations between the terrorists and the police. I was surprised when the terrorist group admitted that they are not La Direccion Autentica but La Familia de Martin Suarez. However, this confirmation brought much relief knowing that this type of terrorists can be reasoned with and that there is a better chance of the hostages remaining unharmed during the negotiations. Thus far, the Vice President has been the only one harmed. Messner’s roll as a mediator brought up questions about the ICRC: Why did Messner have to give up his vacation to take part in this hostage crisis? Why couldn’t they find someone else to do the negotiations? Does it have to be someone from the Red Cross? Is he expected to risk his life when negotiating with terrorists? What is the purpose of the Red Cross organization? So I did some research and learned that this is a humanitarian group that has operated worldwide since 1863 with the purpose of “helping people affected by conflict and armed violence and promoting the laws that protect victims of war.” 1

They are tasked with acting as a “neutral intermediary”, which requires an independent and impartial person acting as an advocate of peace and go-between in situations of armed conflict and internal violence. They must ensure the safety of all participants and act in their best interest, “the overriding aim is that any action taken relieves the suffering of those whose lives have been disrupted by conflict.” 2 The Vice President also mentioned that they help victims of earthquakes and floods by providing them with provisions. The ICRC have very important tasks that include facilitating the passage of civilians and goods between government-controlled areas and even the transportation of the bodies of fallen fighters across the frontline to allow their families to bury them. In this case, Messner is acting to facilitate the release of these hostages by first evacuating the women and sickly in exchange for supplies and provisions, which thankfully he succeeded in doing at the end of this chapter. His job requires that he is involved not only with the hostages but to come into peaceful terms with the terrorists to ensure the hostages’ safety. I believe that this is a very dangerous job that doesn’t guarantee his own safety but he seems experienced in dealing with this kind of situations.

Another character that stood out to me is Esmeralda, a young country girl acting as the governess of the Vice President’s children. Ann Patchett also mentions that she’s from north, which is indicative of her coming from North America. She calmly and neatly stitched up the Vice President’s face. The people in the room seem to greatly underestimate her abilities because they were surprised at how well she did and how she knew about sterilization. She even mesmerized the terrorists. I also noticed how intimate and dependent the Vice President’s children are to Esmeralda. A governess is usually a woman employed to teach or train children in a private household. Since she is from the “north”, I would speculate that she is likely there to teach the children English. Now, a governess would typically have a bachelor’s degree to be eligible. 3

This is quite similar to nannies in a sense that they care for the children but a governess’s primary job is educate them whereas a nanny must provide for the child every physical, emotional, and mental needs. This made me want to learn more about service workers like nannies, primarily because those are common here in the US. If I knew the exact setting or country in this novel I would’ve liked to make a comparison. I found a national survey for domestic workers reporting them being subject to low pay, low benefits, limited contractile agreements, and issues on their health and safety at work and from what I gathered here, a governess seems to be better off compared to other domestic workers like nannies . However, what I found most interesting is that the report pointed out that most families treat nannies like family. 4  The children that those nannies or governesses care for can get quite attached to their because of their constant presence and caring demeanor. This shows that someone will develop feelings of attachment and love for another person who shows their capacity to care and love for them.


One thought on “Chapter 2: A mediator and a governess

  1. dgromels says:

    I remember you saying in class that at first you thought that the role of a governess is similar to that of a nanny, which is a misconception I shared before reading your post. I had read about governesses in books for my Restoration literature class last semester, but I never fully understood what their actual role was within a household. I think reading about governesses in books like Moll Flanders, Fantomina, and Emma made me think of the occupation as a thing of the past, but Bel Canto suggests that wealthy families in other countries continue to employ governesses.

    After reading your post, I became curious about the demographics of governesses in the Restoration period compared those of today and decided to do some research. Governesses during the 18th century were generally middle-class, unmarried women who were well-educated and had been trained in etiquette. In fact, some of the great literary minds of the period, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Brontë sisters, were governesses. While the governess was viewed as having a lower social status than a member of the family she served, she was also considered higher than a typical servant. Governesses received either very low wages or were compensated only with room and board in the homes of their employers, and they were often viewed as a threat to the family due to their sexual availability to the husbands and their attachments to the children. (When I read this, it reminded me a lot of the potentially inappropriate thoughts the Vice President was having about Esmaralda in Chapter 2.) In your post, you mention that governesses generally aren’t paid very well and don’t receive the benefits and protections typical of non-domestic jobs, so it seems like little progress has been made for governesses even since the 18th century.

    Brandon, Ruth. Governess: The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres. New York: Walker & Company, 2008. Print.

    The Governess: An Anthology. Eds. Broughton, Trev, and Ruth Symes. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. Print.


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