Chapter 2: Admiration & Love

Patchett goes through great lengths to convey the significant impact that love and admiration can have on an individual in the second chapter of Bel Canto. Different characters have their own unique effects on their wives, husbands, and admirers. Here I’ll give my take on a few I noted while reading the chapter and explain the characters’ behavior with research. Perhaps though understanding this concept we, the readers, can use it to our advantage in understanding where Patchett might lead us next.

Esmeralda – the hired help for Vice President Ruben Iglasias’ daughters – charms all of the characters held hostage in the room. In the scene where she walks down the marble stairwell with the sewing kit for Iglasias’ wounded face “everyone in the room look[s] at her, the way she move[s] so easily, the way she seem[s] completely comfortable…” Of all the characters, however, Iglasias appears to admire her the most; so much that “the Vice President was moved to say the girl’s name, ‘Esmaralda.’” And when she was the one to perform the task of stitching Iglasias’ face, he returned practically to a state of solitude, where he “…thought her face was kind in the beatific manner of saints, even though she was not exactly smiling. He was grateful for her serious brown eyes, which were now just inches from his own. He would not close his eyes, no matter how great the temptation. He knew that he would never again see such concentration and compassion focused on his face even if he were to survive this ordeal and live to be a hundred.” When Iglasias was having his face sewn up, he was made restless at the thought of “…when it was over, when her hip was no longer pressed against his waist.”

According to Time Magazine author Jeffrey Kluger, love and physical contact with other human-beings can drive us to perform tasks we wouldn’t normally otherwise consider (Kluger). The thought of sexual reward – and not typically procreation – is often reward enough for most humans to go way out of their way. Still further research suggests that married individuals outlive their single counterparts – another benefit many scientists do not yet fully understand.

As Patchett writes so much of the admiration from one character to the next I couldn’t help but wonder if she might somehow use this to suggest a future outcome through foreshadowing a character’s actions. When French Ambassador Simon Thibault’s wife wraps her arms around his neck at the thought of being separated she tells him to “let them try,” suggesting she would never leave her husband’s side without putting up a fight. This led me to believe that the couple would be separated in a later scene and sure enough, women were shortly-after separated from their husbands and children were separated from their fathers. This is one example where the connection fueled by admiration and love foreshadows the characters’ fear; how might we predict the future chapters to play out using Patchett’s subtle hints and use of foreshadowing?

Iglasias later considers “how quickly one could form attachments under circumstances…” like the ones he and everyone else in the room are facing: “Roxanne Coss was the one he had always loved; Gen Watanabe was his son; his house was no longer his own…” This had me thinking about human behavior during hostage situations. Do we actually so readily come to such conclusions without a significant check of our reality?

According to Major P. Murphy of North Atlantic Treaty Organization, captives are “are highly stressed and prone to impulsive behaviors” during the Initial phase of a hostage situation. During the first hours and days after capture – the Intermediate phase – “…reflection upon one’s life” is a “common reaction” (Murphy). Murphy discusses how these types of thoughts are considered unhealthy given the situation; hostages should keep a sense of humor about their environment and keep their mind occupied with positive thoughts and memories. After conducting this outside research I wonder how the thoughts of the hostages will take shape now that they have been separated from their loved ones. Will their states of mental health deteriorate? How will they cope with the predicted temporary separation from their second beings and how will this impact potential recovery efforts?

In conclusion, Patchett writes of the love and admiration shared between the hostages toward each other. Although I’ve only given a few examples in this post, many more actually exist (i.e. between Mr. Hosokawa, the accompanist, and Roxanne Coss). The strong power of admiration can drive human-beings to do the unthinkable and has already proved itself a reliable means of foreshadow. I look forward to using this knowledge to better understand where this story might lead.

Works Cited

Kluger, Jeffrey. “The Power of Love.” Time 19 Jan. 2004: 62-65. Print.

Murphy, P., and K. Farley. “Hostage Survival Skills for CF Personnel.” 1 Jan. 1997. Lecture.


3 thoughts on “Chapter 2: Admiration & Love

  1. dgromels says:

    Hey Colin! I really enjoyed that you looked at thematic aspects of the novel from a more scientific, psychological perspective in your post. The information you included about love and physical contact makes me wonder about the relationship between Esmaralda and the Vice President. The way he describes her acts (“like a kiss” she bites the thread, causing him “pain and pleasure”; her hip “pressed against his waist”; he felt “temptation”) certainly seems sexual, yet his wife is sitting in the same room. The children view Esmaralda as their mother and the Vice President as their father, which creates a kind of inadvertent domestic relationship between them. Perhaps the Vice President is somewhat attracted to the maternal nature he sees in Esmaralda that his wife lacks, and he has never taken the time in his busy schedule to realize it. It is as if the stress of the hostage situation has created a sense of defamiliarization for the Vice President and his guests who look at a maid in such an appreciative light.
    I think this relates to the other part of your research about the psychological stages of a hostage situation. The Vice President seems to be somewhere in between the initial phase and the intermediate phase, as his admiration of the governess is uncharacteristically impulsive and passionate, but he is also reflects on the maternal qualities she has displayed in the past and the way he has responded to her before.
    After reading your post, I was curious about what comes after the intermediate phase in the psychological response of a hostage, so I took a look at the article you sourced. It mentions that long-term containment can cause a number of serious stress-induced conditions and the development of Stockholm Syndrome. It will be interesting to see if the hostages develop any of these as they stay in the Vice President’s house long-term.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. hcelemen says:

    Colin, I like how you delved into the psychological aspect of this chapter as you dissected each relationship between the characters. Your findings gave me a better perspective of how high stress situations such as this affects a person’s mind and causes them to cope in different ways. You took it even further by indicating how Patchett used these connections as a way to foreshadow the events in the book. It makes me wonder how these connections causes the characters to form bonds without regard to status, station, or discrimination. Your post also made me think of other forms of physical contact and what motivates these bonds to form. Is it the instinct to survive as shown in the interaction between Roxanne and the young terrorist boy as she allowed him to hold her hand in admiration? Is it the need to protect like the accompanist who draped himself over Roxanne to hide her from the terrorists? Is it the need to understand and offer guidance like Father Arguedas reaching out to another young terrorist boy? I believe that the human behavior is unpredictable but physical contact is something we all yearn for and find comfort in, much like the little boy that cuddled into Esmeralda’s arms. I am looking forward to seeing more from the terrorist’s perspective because after all that has happened in these two chapters, the question remains: Why did they want the President and what are their true intentions?

    In terms of some hostages being released at the very end, I couldn’t help but notice that Patchett purposely removed two of the hostage characters that were having selfish and egotistical thoughts while reflecting on their life, like the Monsignor who believes himself important and needing saving and the Doctor Gomez who faked illness and refused to give his services when it was needed. I’m sure most of the men in this party hold up-standing reputation and status, yet Patchett wanted us to pay careful attention to these two men’s attitude. It is normal human behavior to choose saving ones own life given the opportunity. Yet, someone like Father Arguedas even volunteered to stay behind with the rest of the hostages. So, I wonder, is Patchett trying to pose a question for the readers? If you were someone with the skills to offer help people in this sort of situation, would you choose to leave or to stay?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ballen68 says:

    Colin, awesome post man! It really was read some of the things you said about the connection between characters that I hadn’t paid much attention about. I honestly noticed more about the relationships you didn’t talk about than the ones you did, which is pretty cool. I think the relationship between the accompanist and Roxanne Coss is very interesting. It seems as if he almost does not love her, but rather that he loves what lies within her. Even going back to the first chapter where we see him laying his body on her to show he is willing to save her life with his because of her value, not because he loves her. In chapter 2 we see his love for her start to change as he no longer is willing to be there for her as much because he knows that she is going to be okay. Once he sees that the hostage takers are not planning to hurt her, he then starts to worry more about himself. Kind of interesting how his love is for her music abilities within her and not just her it seems.
    Also, the thought you had about how this will affect all the parties now that they are being separated is interesting as well. It could go both ways really. They could get more upset, because they’re loved ones are no longer with them. They could also react in a totally different way where they become more relieved mow that their loved ones are safe. That is something we will have to just wait and see for I guess!
    – Bryson


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