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.
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.