The Theme of “Self Exploration and Quest for Belongingness” in Nancy Huston’s Novel Fault Lines by Dr Sandhya Tiwari
The life of the children belonging to the families caught in the web of self exploration, nostalgia, audacity of modernity etc. is adversely influenced. In this paper Nancy Huston’s Fault Lines is explored to study these aspects substantiating the aforementioned repercussions thereupon in general the family and specifically the children. It is analyzed through this study how the life of an individual is reduced to distorted-self, because of the unfulfilled desires and untapped emotions.
The Theme of “Self Exploration and Quest for Belongingness” in Nancy Huston’s Novel Fault Lines
Nancy Huston’s eleventh novel received much critical acclaim. Fault Lines protagonists are children of four different generations of the same family tracing their history traveling back in time, from California to New York, from Haifa to Toronto and to Munich. Though the central theme of the novel Fault Lines is Nazi atrocity; on re-reading the text one can find a subtle portrayal of the variation in the attitude of the same age group children but belonging to different generations. The engrossing structure of the novel makes it all the more appealing, where once you identify and understand the characters the plot stands out for.
The children, the protagonists in the novel, starting with the contemporary 6-year-old boy Sol to the narrative of his father Randall when he was 6, followed by Randall's mother Sadie and then Sadie's own mother Erra reveal their innermost thoughts in the form of observation, which in turn is tuned because of their maturity and psyche. With this clever structure, and a wickedly critical and smart view of world politics, Nancy helps us see firsthand how history gets erased and re-invented, and at the same time hints at the way how our perception of history changes with the influence of present.
Nancy draws the character of Sol, an arrogant boy from California, with biting specificity and detail, in the process exposing the dark side of American self-conceit, narcissism and undue child adulation. Through the character of Sol, she unfolds, is the adverse impact of technology on a young mind. Sol learns almost everything: from murder to molestation, seduction to resurrection sparing none. His inquisitive exploration and the knowledge about things, which are normally forbidden for children, make him feel he is an all-powerful and all-knowing roughneck. Sol's parents have child-proofed the house by covering the electrical sockets and putting soft corners on the entire furniture, but as soon as Sol is alone, he enthusiastically searches for images of pornography and torture on the Internet.
Nancy’s award winning novel is a subtle comment on how the life of an individual is shaped, and apart from the experience the predominant factor being the society. Though the human beings often feel proud of the technological advancement and the comforts, the underlying bleak side is hardly under consideration. Even careful parents are not able to ascertain the vicious impact of modernity based on technological advancement on the children. Added to this, in the predominant nuclear family structure of the society the young minds are exposed to the panorama of eternal truth and are hence the scapegoats of technically advanced modern society. Unable to comprehend or more aptly by miscomprehension, today’s children tend to believe that they have outgrown childhood and are but whiz kids.
Exposure to technological advancement mars the innocence in the child where he assumes himself to be the omnipotent.
In playschool I have to hold back so no one will guess the truth about my super intelligence my super plans my superpowers. (Fault Lines, p-31)Nancy spares us neither the outrageous vulgarity of the hypocritical environment in which Sol's parents raise him, nor its appalling effect on his personality. Sol is convinced he is some sort of messiah, born with a congenital birthmark which bestowed on him all the superpower. His mother believes he is destined for great things but Sol is not exposed to the real life of a child where he has to learn things the way other boys do like self-care, to protect from electrical appliances and others stunt his growth by overprotecting him. The pretentious and malnurtured boy falls into the trap of being a megalomaniac even without a subtle notice either by the child himself or his parents.
The second narrator Randall is curious about why women do not show their full body when the child grows, why they show it to the husband, what the age of a child is when women think the child who once was a suckling baby has grown up and so on and so forth. But the questions in the mind of Randall are justifiable on the grounds of child curiosity, whereas Sol’s attitude is altogether that of a spoilt, brazen child bereft of innocence. He learns about the devastating impact of war between the Jews and the Palestinians, during the family’s one year stay in Haifa.
The third narrator Saddie is happiest only "when she can hold forth against evil". Kristina, her mother the last narrator, is so absorbed (obsessed) in singing, that she has little time for her daughter, Sadie, a tormented child buries herself in books. As an adult Sadie drags her family around the world in her obsession to know the truth about the Nazi Lebensborn—"fountain of life"—programmes designed to create a master race of Aryan children for the Third Reich.
Fault Lines shows the gradual corrosion of childhood innocence in the reverse chronological order beginning in 2004 and going back to 1982, 1962 and 1944. And this can be attributed mainly to the pretentious parenthood, though unconscious. An eloquent spokesperson of multiculturalism and hybrid existence Salman Rushdie equates love with a happy blend of differences:
I wanted to cling to the image of love as the blending of spirits, as mélange, as the triumph of the impure, mongrel, conjoining best of us over what there is in us of the solitary, the isolated, the austere, the dogmatic, the pure; of love as democracy, as the victory of the no-man-is-an-island, two’s-company Many over the clean, mean apartheiding Ones. (The Moor’s Last Sigh, p-289)Rushdie in The Moor’s Last Sigh, which was written by him at a time when he was forced into hiding after the world famous ‘Rushdie affair’, reveals his intense desire to be heard. In the character of Moraes or the Moor, Rushdie depicts his own need for self expression. Likewise Nancy’s characters in this novel resonates the same yearning to be heard, to be loved, and to be understood.
When the narrators are dwelt in the chronological order it is Kristina the first narrator, who is at the threshold being the creator of the disconnected and discontented life spreading through four generations. Kristina’s unaccepted and unprincipled way of life leaves the lovelorn daughter heartbroken. Adoring arrogance the mother neglects the child, yet asserts she loves the daughter the most. After having borne a love child, Kristina is again in an affair with Peter, who she believes would promote and make her popular as a singer. Immediately after marrying Peter, she wants to rechristen herself as Erra. Peter tells people know the singer Krissy Kriswaty and to make that name popular he devoted two years of his life. In spite of undemonstrative disagreement from Peter, she swivels around repeating the name Erra.
Love defines the way of life, transcending divisions of religion and race. Love triumphs in their way of life as is evident in the marriage of a mother of a love child with her second lover. Betrayal of love for the sake of an illusory freedom and the material rewards mar the life of the young Saddie. As remarked by Salman Rushdie in his novel Shalimaar the Clown, Love betrayed turns into anger and revenge.
All that remained between them [Boonyi and Shalimar], perhaps, was hatred, but this yearning hatred-at-a-distance was surely also one of love’s many faces, yes, its ugliest face. (Shalimaar the Clown, p-263)H.H. the Dalai Lama opines the same feeling:
Mother leads an appalling loathsome life yet the daughter is trying to make order out of chaos as a child. Sadie never wanted to show even the gravest of emotions like fear in front of mother and grandparents. The We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.Suppressing her emotions Saddie learnt to remain quiet out of fear of rejection from grandparents, who wanted her to be bold often which connotes depriving the child the minimum affection and a few comforting words and out of fear of losing the “luxury” of staying with the mother. She wanted to impress her mother to allow her to stay and that she will not be a trouble to her mother.
The blocks are long and I’m afraid of getting lost, I’m afraid of dogs, I’m afraid of being kidnapped by a bunch of hoods but I want to prove to Mommy that I’m a big girl and wouldn’t be a burden on her if she let me come to live with her so I swallow the fear each time it rises…. ( Fault Lines, p-186)Kristina madly in pursuit of fame sets a bad example for her daughter. Smoking and drinking till odd late hours, sleeping till late into the morning, ignoring the daily chores till they become urgent needing immediate attention. Saddie in turn becomes a more responsible and matured girl. The nightmare where her mother slips tiny babies into brown envelops on which she writes the names in red ink and drops them in someone else’s mailbox upsets her. Saddie was unfortunately exposed to the extreme lifestyle—grandparents were over-strict whereas her mother was very liberal—and she grows into a responsible child who serves bed tea to her parents.
Kristina, having had led an unhappy childhood herself, attempts to be a loving and caring mother. But her unintelligent handling of happenings in life results in turmoil. She was impressed by Joannhe, the boy who was adopted, to believe that the inmates of the family are callous. Their hatred is racist driven and they rather want to put an end to the German race. In no time she even starts stealing things on the impetus given by the same boy. She appears to be carried away by the fantasies of a care free life and gets influenced by him. The boy asks her to steal the jewellery and accompany him so that they can live freely forever. He also suggests her that she could sing and become popular.
Although there are several competing centers of attention identifiable with the thematic concerns in the novel Fault Lines by Nancy Huston, the Nazi atrocity, impact of war, exploitation based on caste and class system, type of upbringing, human craving for love and affection are some of the central ideas that constitute more or less the focal point of thematic significance since they provide the premises underlying the fictional structure. Caste system, though seemingly related to the Indian milieu and some other societies, has a universal dimension, which needs to be re-introspected.
- Huston, Nancy. Fault Lines. UK: Atlantic Books, 2007.
- Rushdie, Salman. The Moor’s Last Sigh. London: Vintage, 2006.
- Rushdie, Salman. Shalimar the Clown. London: Jonathan Cape, 2005.
- Huston, Nancy. Mark of an Angel. UK: Vintage. 1999.
- Huston, Nancy. Instruments of Darkness. US: McArthur, 1997.
- Divakaruni, Chitra Banerji. Dark Like the River. Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1987
- Divakaruni, Chitra Banerji. The Mistress of Spices. London: Doubleday, 1997.
- Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies. New Delhi: Harper Collins, 1999.
- Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Houghton Mifflin Company: USA, 2003.
- Rushdie, Salman. Midnight Children. UK: Jonathan Cape. 1981.
Dr. Sandhya has participated and presented papers at various conferences of national and international repute, and enjoys teaching literature, ELT, and communication skills. She has passion for teaching which she believes is the noble profession.