Chapter 2: Perception of Authority

In the second chapter of Bel Canto authority and the perception of authority has become a major component to understanding the motivations and character traits of key characters. As the guests settle into their new roles as prisoners it is interesting to see how their is a clear shift authority from the previous big names at the party. Our major characters like Roxanne Coss and Mr. Hosokawa are both pinned to the floor for the majority of this chapter allowing the author to explore many other individuals and their changing level of authority.

The main authority divide, of course, stems from the terrorist generals. The authority they seem to have over the “young terrorists” they command seems to be absolute judging by the way they bark orders with no complaint form the recipient. The cause for such authority derives from the type of ideological terrorism that the “La Familia de Martin Suarez” practices. Ideological terrorism, according to the journal of Behavioral Sciences and Law Volume 23, consists of a “violent struggle against economic, political, and social systems” due to a perceived “unjust authority and disillusionment with the established order.” Thus, the soldiers in this case, regardless of age, are simply following their own desire for a just government. As the old adage goes, in order to make someone do something they first must desire to do it themselves. [1]

The ideological terrorist type is unlike many other types of terrorism that rely on the “Us vs. them” mindset because the reason people join the cause is for a shared desire to correct a currently unjust system whether that be economic, social, or political. As a result, this type of terrorist organization is so much more relatable to people so they are much more likely to comply with orders and recognize the soldiers’ authority. Furthermore, the soldiers gain even more authority through their non violent actions against the hostages, instead they often come off as kind and observant of many social norms. After all, the soldiers don’t want to harm anyone they simply wanted to spur political change in the most direct way possible – by kidnapping the president.

With the introduction of Father Arguedas and Monsignor Rolland we get our first real glimpse into the authority that religious figures have in this situation.The reaction of the young terrorist as he ponders “How does one not answer a priest? How was it possible not to go if called?” sheds a lot of light on the situation these children grew up in and how they respect religious and spiritual leaders. In this scene it is clear that Max Weber’s types of authority are at work again but this time its traditional authority which is the belief “in the sanctity of tradition” and the idea of the “eternal yesterday.” People utilizing traditional authority do not have written laws per se but instead have a lineage of individuals considered by people to have communed with a higher being or beings. [2]

It is also very revealing how the child is afraid of the generals finding out about him talking, even more so because it’s with a priest. As Jerrold M. Post and Anat Berko note in their article “Talking with Terrorists” in order to gain an empathetic connection with terrorists it is important to avoid challenging the interviewee’s views or criticize their actions. Going along with this idea really shows how skilled Father Arguedas is as a priest and as a mediator opening up connections to the opposing party. With Father Arguedas deciding to stay with the hostages this authority imbalance may play a larger role in the ongoing narrative. Joachim Messner also takes a page from the “Talking with Terrorists” article by trying to connect with the terrorists through universal themes, life difficulties, and his own personal experiences. [3] Messner’s carefree attitude is easy to ridicule but from this perspective his vacation story and casual aura could be very intentional.

A subtle but ever present ongoing type of authority also presents itself by how the hostages organize themselves on the floor. Those of a high status like Mr. Hosokawa and Roxanne Coss tend to get the few sofas that are in the room while the people “of the lowest ranking” must lay on the hard floor of the entry way. Max Weber, world renowned social theorist, has three type of authority: traditional, rational-legal, and charismatic. From these core types Mr. Hosokawa and Roxanne Coss seem to be of the charismatic authority type due to their extraordinary achievements and personalities. To the average person they seem a cut above the rest.

In conclusion, authority is everywhere in this chapter. The generals have authority over the soldiers through ideological reasoning, the soldiers have authority over the hostages through kindness and empathy. The priests have authority over the soldiers through traditional, religious authority. All the while Mr. Hosokawa and Roxanne Coss still maintaining a socio economic high ground while forced to lay on the floor. The way people attempt to assign authority in this chapter is important because it can hint at where one’s loyalties truly lie.




2 thoughts on “Chapter 2: Perception of Authority

  1. courtfesette says:

    Hey Michael!
    I liked how you did thorough research in order to analyze what type of terrorists the “La Familia de Martin Suarez” are. After reading your research on ideological terrorism, “La Familia de Martin Suarez” definitely fits the description.
    “Thus, the soldiers in this case, regardless of age, are simply following their own desire for a just government. As the old adage goes, in order to make someone do something they first must desire to do it themselves.” I found this comment you made to be very insightful. While reading the book I wondered why the young boys would join a group where they are barked at and ordered around; your comment, however, reminded me that they are not being forced into this “terrorist” group, but instead they want to be a part of it. Just like the generals, the young boys have been oppressed. The latter look up to the former for guidance and for change. The generals are actually trying to help provide the young boys with a better and brighter future rather than an oppressed one, and in order to do that they must establish authority through dictating demands and requests.
    While reading I too found it strange how much attention and respect were given to the priests. After realizing that the “terrorists” are normal civilians with a desire to reform their government, I then saw that priests are still important to them. They grew up with what you described as “the belief ‘in the sanctity of tradition’ and the idea of the ‘eternal yesterday.'” Just because they are committing a sin, doesn’t mean they are going against the church.

    -Courtney Fesette


  2. slaudeman says:

    I find it very interesting that you examined the way the Generals command the children. It seems to me that in the chapter, the children are somewhere in the middle of the conflict, but do not yet know what side of the conflict they wish to be on. You talked about ideological terrorism, which then brings up the question of knowledge. For the children, that might take the form of wondering if they know and understand what they are fighting for. There are any number of scenarios that could have taken place before the event of the novel. The children could have been forced into the group or even sold by their parents into the group, but it is not also possible that they could have joined willingly? Is it not possible that they could have also been at the butt end of the system and found a likeminded group in La Familia de Martin Suarez?
    On another, but perhaps slightly related, note, you touch on the child’s reaction to the priest. I found it interesting that the children respect the priests so much. It must also make you wonder if they grew up with families who were religious, or if that was the way they learned to live from some other source. The terrorist Generals also reference saying their own mass on Sunday, so perhaps there is a religious backing to the terrorist group? If there was a religious aspect of the group, it might still make sense that the children would be discouraged from talking to the priests, as those priests would hold some sway over them that the Generals may not be able to anticipate.

    Sara Laudeman


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