Chapter 2: Life as a Hostage

The night has passed and the hostages begin to awake in a state of confusion. It is clear that the terrorists are unsure of what their next move is and later that morning, there is a sudden knock at the door by a man named Jaochim Messner. He is a representative from Red Cross and his services were requested in order to negotiate the situation. Due to the language barrier, Gen severs as a translator between the generals and Messner and after lots of discussion, they reached an agreement which involved releasing both ill and female hostages in return for food and supplies that the terrorists needed in order to survive.

While reading this chapter I kept putting myself in the position of the hostages and couldn’t fathom the amount of trauma they must be going through. Seeing the condition that Roxanne Cross’ Accompanist is in was extremely concerning to me. He looked considerably worse than all of the other guests in attendance, his skin appeared to be a moon shade white, and his eyes were rimmed in bloody red. He could even support himself enough to stand up and would faint at any attempt. His reaction seemed so dramatic to the point that Roxane began to wonder if he was playing possum in order to be released. All of these characteristics made me wonder whether or not this was caused by trauma or an actual sickness.

Torture and the taking of hostages have been around ever since recorded history.I found that the psychological impact of being taken hostage are quite serious and can be compared to radical incidents and other types if disasters. When focusing specifically on ones reaction, one of three things can happen. The first is a cognitive reaction, which results in impaired memory and concentration, confusion, the reoccurrence of memories and dreams, and denial. After finding this out I recalled from the beginning of chapter one that Mr. Hosokawa was experiencing this very reaction, specifically being in denial. The book expresses the feelings that are going through Mr. Hosokawa’s head “He bore the very burden of responsibility. All of these people had come for his birthday. By agreeing to a party under false pretenses, he had contributed to the endangerment of every life in the room.” This brings out a more sensitive side of Mr. Hosokawa that we haven’t been able to see much of so far in the reading.

The second type of reaction is emotional. In this type of situation, hostages go into a state of shock and numbness. It entails a lot of anxiety build up, which often times leads to depression and guilt. All of the hostages in Bel Canto could be classified as having this type of reaction after what they had to go through. The last type is a social reaction. When a person has this type of response one often times extracts them from society and become irritable when memories of their experience occur. Its difficult to tell what is going through everyone’s head because we have only been exposed to a few peoples thoughts but I would guess that most people are experiencing an emotional reaction.

I am not currently aware of the seriousness or how long the guest at Mr. Hosokawa’s birthday are held hostage but if it continues for an extended period of time it may lead to a term called “learned helplessness.” This results in hostages believing that no matter how much they try to improve the conditions, nothing is effective. This state of mind was identified in many concentration camp victims described as a walking corpse.

This type of captivity can often times lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms. For situations as serious as the Holocaust, the symptoms can last a lifetime for but each hostage taking generates its own unique dynamics on victims of such a situation. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been studied extensively in the recent years due the trauma former hostages tend to go through. Treatment is effective but requires a therapist with extraordinary sensitivity, experience, and patience. When hostages are released it’s essential for them to receive medical attention and connect with loved once in a safe and secure environment. As for the hostages in Bel Canto, we don’t know what is going to happen. The situation seems very different than what typically happens when people are taken as hostages. The terrorists are noted as “reasonable people” and have already begun to negotiate after just 24 hours of being in control. With that being said, I think it is important to keep the effects of being held hostage in mind when analyzing the characters thought and feeling through out the rest of the book.

Alexander, David. “Kidnapping and Hostage-taking: A Review of Effects, Coping and Resilience.” JRSM. 2009. Accessed September 7, 2015.

Hanbury, Raymond. “Adjusting to Life after Being Held Hostage or Being Kidnapped.” American Psychological Association. July 16, 2013. Accessed September 7, 2015.

Silove, Derrick. “The Psychosocial Effects of Torture, Mass Human Rights Violations, and Refugee Trauma: Toward an Integrated Conceptual Framework.” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. April 9, 1999. Accessed September 10, 2015.


3 thoughts on “Chapter 2: Life as a Hostage

  1. courtfesette says:

    Hey Anna!
    I found your research to be quite interesting. Being a psychology major, I definitely recognized some of the terms you used, such as “learned helplessness”. In psychology I learned that the root to all stress is due to some form of change, which is exactly what these hostages are going through- change. Not only is this change, but a dramatic change. Where they sleep has been changed, their daily habits have been changed, and most importantly, how they are treated has been changed. Even though the terrorists are being reasonable, they still treat them as if they are not individual people, but rather dogs in a hound. They feed them, take them to the bathroom, and then make them lay back on the ground in their dirty clothes.
    Something else you mentioned that stood out to me was about the effects of a cognitive reaction. A cognitive reaction “results in impaired memory and concentration, confusion, the reoccurrence of memories and dreams, and denial.” I found this interesting because quite a few of the characters in this chapter kept having dreamy flashbacks of a better time. Thibault, for example, would have memories of his wife jumping into the ocean and diving under the waves. Ruben Iglesias also had a memory of a simpler time when his governess, Esmeralda, was sitting under a tree with his three children having what seemed to be a picnic. Both memories came during a stressful situation. For Thibault, his memory appeared when he began to realize his wife would be separated from him. Ruben’s memory occurred while he was having his cheek painfully stitched up by Esmeralda.
    I agree completely agree that it will be useful to keep the effects of being held hostage in mind while reading the text, because how they are effected will not only predict their actions, but also foreshadow what will happen later on, like how Thibault’s worries stressed hints of the women being released first; which they were.

    -Courtney Fesette


  2. katelynzander says:

    Throughout your research I see a majority of the focus on the life after being hostage. While we have just learned the women and ill are released there are many still being held inside the Vice President’s home. Gaining a better understanding on how someone may act while still in a hostage take over may be beneficial to deepening our understanding of the actions that the characters in further chapters.

    I found an article by Ellen Giebels,1 * Sigrid Noelanders,2 and Geert Vervaeke, called The Hostage Experience: Implications for Negotiation Strategies. This article helps us better understand how someone may act during a siege and as to why they are acting this way. While under captivity hostages will begin to develop certain coping mechanisms to handle their situation. “These coping mechanisms are usually directed at reducing stress and regaining some sort of control. Victims of prolonged captivity may start keeping a diary, make detailed plans for the future, or gather information about their situation.” Another point that this article makes is a focus on the relationship between a hostage and their captors. This relationship created will be crucial throughout the future chapters. We already see the priest trying to create a bond with one of the younger terrorists by calling him “son” and letting me know he doesn’t have to do this. Within humanity there is a need to belong. “This need is generally considered to have an evolutionary basis, because it is beneficial to survival (Ainsworth, 1989). Therefore, it may become particularly salient in lifethreatening situations, such as hostage-takings. The positive bond that may develop as a result is known as Hostage Identification Syndrome (Turner, 1985; see also Wilson, 2003) or, more popularly, as the Stockholm Syndrome”

    I believe learning more about this Hostage Identification Syndrome may become beneficial throughout the entirety of this book. After learning about this syndrome I contemplate that we may see some relationships build between the hostages and the captors that may not seem “right” or as if a hostage is turning toward the dark side.


  3. ballen68 says:

    Hey Anna! I also did research on the psychological states of hostages. What you found is much different from what I was looking at however, which made it enjoyable to read your findings! Hostages all react in different situations, and their reality and their perception of what reality was in the hostage situation is what makes them view it differently. That is what I think makes people have conflicting stories when telling what they experienced or saw the same exact event. What you mentioned however is the specifics of what makes them do this, which is the 3 different types of reactions that a person can have in a certain situation like this. I think that emotional is most likely the most common. It’s seems to be the most rational response, and less extreme response.
    I found it interesting also that you were able to sympathize with the accompanist. Most others in our class were not sympathetic, but rather like, “wow come on man, suck it up and be a man for Roxanne!” The fact that you sympathized with him is just an example of how people can be in the same situation, read the same words, be told the same story, yet see something and experience it a totally different way. I too was somewhat sympathetic towards him, because I tried to put myself into his shoes and realize what he had on his shoulders. He truly feels like he is in charge of protecting a masterpiece of art, something very special. That has to be a lot for a guy. I don’t think I would react that way, but it allowed me to see how someone might could choose or be forced to react in such a way.
    – Bryson


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