This post is about the current discussion of race in America. But I’m not talking about two different races in the title. I’m talking about the way that some people want to see the world, as divided between those who are either completely good or completely bad.
When I was in college, I studied Jean Anouilh‘s play, Antigone. This was an 1944 version of the classic tale of how the daughter of Oedipus defiantly buries her two dead brothers against the orders of King Créon. The 1944 Antigone insists on seeing all things as either wholly right or wholly wrong, expressed in the original production by her wardrobe consisting of only white and black. Her refusal to yield results in her beloved and her mother dying, as well as her own execution.
In the 1944 play, Antigone tragically only realizes that some situations are neither wholly black nor white after all is destroyed. Jean Anouilh symbolized this by portraying Antigone dying with a multi-colored belt.
King Créon ends the play in conversation with a young page who is awed by the power of his ruler. In response, Créon says, “It would be better to never be king… [but] I must put one foot in front of the other, like a laborer at the doorway to the beginning of their day.”
All too many are now acting like Jean Anouilh’s Antigone, proclaiming that every past life and each current act ought to be judged according to their narrow interpretation of right and wrong.
The past is not black and white. There were nuances and difficult, heart-wrenching decisions to be made. Nor is it clear that moderns eager to destroy/deface icons of the past are acting based on an accurate understanding of past events.
Back to Jean Anouilh – his was a great feat, to produce a play under Nazi occupation of France that (properly understood) was a biting critique of Nazi rule.
Idealism unencumbered by humility or wisdom was arguably the great flaw of Hitler’s regime. Let us neither be guilty of the same, nor let us lash out of those so guilty and in so doing become also guilty of the same (as depicted in Eugene Ionesco‘s play, Rhinoceros).
Breathe. Love. Forgive. And live justly.