Chapter 3 – A Martyr of Love

We, as the audience of Anne Patchett’s Bel Canto, see in this third chapter the release, and further planning of release, of the majority of the hostages. The sheer number was not a burden the terrorists were prepared to bear. However, in keeping Roxanne Coss hostage, we can again be reminded of the themes of gifts and beauty and what makes a person valuable. Coss’s continued captivity leads to an act of what could be seen as reckless heroism by her accompanist, who had been ill for quite some time.

The illness, which I had originally assumed was out of stress and to demonstrate the variation of responses in hostage situations, was actually due to the fact that he was diabetic and choosing to go without his insulin. He did so to stay with Roxanne, and ensure for himself and the rest of the artistic community, and perhaps even the world, her safety. We also learn that while the accompanist confessed his love openly to her not long before the party, Roxanne did not return the sentiments, instead being fairly cruel to him in hopes of making him stop.

The reaction of all in and out of the house was what really made this act of heroism stand out to me. Most of the men inside the house assumed that the accompanist was Roxanne’s lover, and that his death proved that he had loved more deeply than any of them could have been capable of. Patchett describes the integrity and courage the accompanist inspired in the rest of the men – “now they had to try to live up to the standards he had set her, and that they now considered him “their accompanist” (p. 87). However, Patchett also explains that “love that offers its life so easily, so stupidly, is always the love that is not returned.

The death of the accompanist even began to seep its way into the minds and hearts of some of the terrorists, particularly General Benjamin. This death made him fearful that their demands for the release of high-security prisoners would not be met in time; for, he was looking forward to the release of his brother. The death of this stranger, to a man surrounded by death every week, had the profound effect of making Benjamin realize that even those who are relatively safe can die.

Those standing outside the house were outraged at the death of a man, and began shouting, “Mur-der!” Messner also reveals his anger in the manner with which he conducts the later negotiations in this chapter. When Father Arguedas saw that the man was very nearly dead, he performed the ceremonial rights of the Catholic Church, without even being sure the man was Catholic.

It seemed to me, perhaps in light of last week’s research, that the men in the house made the accompanist into a kind of martyr for love, the picture of which I think Patchett reinforced with Father Arguedas’s performance of the Catholic ritualistic rights. This made me wonder, “What makes someone a martyr?” I let the avenue of my research take me towards Christian, or more accurately Catholic, martyrdom.

The Catholic Church has a rich history of honoring martyrs, even designating feast days for some of them. This goes back to the early days of Christian persecution during the reign of the Roman Empire, and even some Biblical figures. The classical definition of a martyr was someone who died for their faith in Christianity while proclaiming their faith in public; the word martyr actually means “witness”. However, Lawrence Cunningham in his book The Catholic Heritage voices the controversial question of whether all of the Christians awarded the title of martyr by the Catholic Church can truly be called martyrs. He explains that sometimes these men and women died more for sociological or political reasons, and lists the missionaries who perhaps represented “mere extensions of the colonial powers” in Africa (p. 21). He furthermore allows that in all the various arguments of this question, there seems to be one thing that is clear: that “there is something socially subversive about tenaciously held religious belief.”

In another publication, “Truth and Consequences: Past or present, just what makes a martyr?”, Cunningham discusses the argument of Thomas Aquinas that one “may die for the faith in the broad sense of giving witness to the truth that the faith encompasses,” and thereby be considered martyrs. It is this reasoning that Cunningham uses to discuss why we can give the term martyr to contemporary Christians dying for their faith; for example, the Christians in parts of the Middle Easr who die because they are singled out for their Christian beliefs.

One idea that really caught my attention in reference to Bel Canto was that Cunninham focused not just on beliefs in truth and justice as motivators for martyrdom, but also love. He really stresses the idea that love, particularly which lays down its life for another in conformity to what Christians believe about Christ’s crucifixion, is a key element of what makes someone a martyr. This draws a very clear comaprison to the accompanist. The inspiration and sort of universal reverence the men inside the house hold because of and for the accompanist serve to reinforce this idea, as these are common to people when regarding one they consider a martyr. In additon, the social outcry of those outside the house, furthering an almost political statement against the terrorists, demonstrates the social and political tension Cunningham discusses.

Cunningham, Lawrence. The Catholic Heritage. New Ywork: America Press, Inc., 1996. Web.

Cunningham, Lawrence. “Truth and Consequences: Past or present, just what makes a martyr?”. US Catholic 66.12 (Dec. 2001): 36-40. Ebscohost. 15 Sept. 2015.


2 thoughts on “Chapter 3 – A Martyr of Love

  1. hcelemen says:

    This was an interesting take on the accompanist’s death. Seeing him as a martyr makes his death more admirable and worth remembering versus a tragic death due to an unrequited love. His death revealed so much more about his personality and character than he did alive. I began to see him as loyal, faithful, and devoted person who is willing to risk everything for the sake of doing what he believed is right. He showed everyone in the room how to give yourself up to love completely. It’s hard not to admire his bravery and stubbornness because he knew what was wrong with himself and I am sure he was well aware of what would become of him if he didn’t get treated. Yet, he stayed. His belief that Roxanne is someone being the most valuable person and needing protection spurred him on. Of course, his unrequited love begs the question of whether he also did it to spite her and make her feel guilty about rejecting him. However, not once did he act as though he harbored ill-feelings towards Roxanne. It’s the fact that love, which you mentioned being the key to martyrdom, that made me understand why someone would die for their belief because how else can someone act so selfishless but still be remembered as selfless in the end? Love is something everyone must have experienced at least once in their life and had to fight for, therefore, everyone in the room could see why he died for such a cause. I am curious to see if there are anymore characters in the book that will be labeled as a martyr. Thus far, we’ve noticed Father Arguedas challenging the terrorists when he needed to do the last rites. Will he also die fighting for his belief or will he be able to convert the terrorists and set them on the right path?


  2. Michael Pedersen says:

    Good post!

    The death of the accompanist was a huge moment in the book and this chapter and your analysis of it shed some much needed light on how the other hostages reacted and, as a result, coped with this situation by thinking of the accompanist as a martyr.

    Although I didn’t consider the accompanist’s act “heroic” the way you described it from the perception of the other hostages makes me wonder if this is simply another coping technique. That is to say, the other hostages may be mentally putting the accompanist on a social pedestal in order to distance themselves from him and thus cope with the idea that they might be the next to die. They want him to be “their” accompanist by skill alone. This separation of how the hostages are mentally defending themselves while simultaneously physically distancing themselves from death could be interesting to explore.

    Very intriguing look at the Catholic classification of martyrs. As you mentioned from your research there are those who question the definition and legitimacy of the Catholic church’s martyrs. Perhaps it would be interesting to research into the process and the authority behind the decision to classify someone as a religious martyr within the Catholic church.

    In your last paragraph you mentioned how Lawrence Cunningham thinks that love, as long as it coincides with the Christianity’s version of love as it relates to Christ’s crucifixion. As another avenue for your research it could be interesting to find the historical origin of the first martyrs and whether more of them were considered martyrs for their faith or for their love.

    Overall, interesting, cohesive post that really dove into the Catholic mindset to analyze the accompanist’s death.


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