Patchett’s third chapter of Bel Canto tells the story of the accompanist’s tragic and final conclusion. A man with passion, the accompanist follows his heart and isn’t afraid to let his true feelings show, regardless of what others think. Those around him portray his actions with significant contrast as his story is fully unraveled and understood. Here, I explore the effects that death has on a human’s opinion toward another – before, after, and during.
The accompanist starts out as only a minor annoyance; no one is particularly opposed to his presence as he shields the one he loves from the terrorists. But as the scenes unfold into the bulk of Chapter Two, the hostages and us – the readers – begin to really show our hatred of the character and wish for his departure. And during the third chapter we finally meet our bitter goal – the accompanist dies. His death, however, is not as direct result of the terrorists’ actions but of his own; he chooses to spend only a few more moments with Roxanne Coss at the cost of his inability to source a syringe of insulin to save his very own life. Of course, we initially find his actions foolish and immature, although we quickly come to realize just how significant a figure the accompanist really is.
We are actually given more information on the relationship (or lack, thereof) between Roxanne Coss and her accompanist than the other hostages are. We learn of how he is fully and completely in love with her and is determined to prove that his feelings are true and organic. Unfortunately the significance of these gestures is not realized until after the accompanist is no longer a part of the story’s plot. The turning point in our opinion of the character is complete when Roxanne Coss discovers her accompanist’s need of insulin – he’s a diabetic. We learn he absolutely had not feigned his illness and that the symptoms he experienced were nearing the upper limits of physical and emotional distress. “A certain forced respect had been shown to the body of the accompanist, their accompanist, and now they had to try and live up to the standards he had set.” The hostages feel so connected with the accompanist after his death that they even begin to identify him as one of their own – a member of their “family.”
Humankind is a peculiar species. We oftentimes wrongly judge those of our own only to realize after it’s too late that those we judge have been more true all along. Beverly Raphael writes in the article on “The management of Pathological Grief” that humans react to death in primarily two ways: extreme anger and extreme guilt . In the case of the hostages, most seem to express a form of extreme guilt, where they begin to feel a deep connection to the accompanist after his death. The hostages show their “greatest vulnerability and capacity for change” at the time of the accompanist’s death; this trend is inline with those observed by Beverly.
Even the terrorists seem somewhat moved by the death of one of their hostages. They had not set out to kill anyone – their plan was to kidnap the President and leave. Instead, they hold the entire party hostage and even wind up feeling somewhat connected to those they hold. After the accompanist’s death, the terrorists slightly let down their guard by allowing the hostages more freedom to move around, eat, and socialize amongst themselves. The younger terrorists even begin to drift in and out of consciousness as they grow tired resting against the walls of the Vice President’s residence.
The grief cycle follows the courses of “shock and denial,” “anger,” “dialogue and bargaining,” “depression and detachment,” and finally “acceptance,” according to author Gareth Chick in his article on “The Cycle of Grief” . As the accompanist dies not long ago – we’re still in Chapter Three – the hostages have no had time to fully traverse the cycle and are only exhibiting signs of the earlier “anger” phase. “Shock and denial” is demonstrated when Roxanne Coss kisses her accompanist’s dead lips one last time. And the hostages begin to feel angry when they consider their own bodies readily producing insulin when all their friend needed was the very same. German pharmaceutical business tycoon Lothar Falken feels anger when he ponders his company’s high sales of insulin. He also shows anger as frustration when he vocally shares with Gen the fact that the dead accompanist would not bleed if later shot.
To conclude, Patchett brings the hostages closer together in her third chapter through finally bringing the accompanist to his tragic end. We can’t help but feel sorry for him not only because the death is brought about by his body’s physical lack of insulin, but also because of his choosing to keep true to himself and remain with his love – all while ignoring his body’s warnings. How will the cycle of grief play a role in the forthcoming chapters? Will the hostages ever make it to the final stage of “acceptance?”