Black and White

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.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

6 thoughts on “Black and White

  1. “And live justly.”

    I agree.

    But I think many may not understand what that word “justly” means.

  2. The logical fallacy of presentism has evolved into the reigning paradigm from which to judge all history.

    Those demanding “dialogue” and “a conversation” about difficult subjects are the very ones promoting the explosion of labels – “mansplaining”, “whitesplaining”, “x-splaining”, etc. – that seek to silence all ideas that are not aligned with the new orthodoxy.

    It is all very frustrating.

  3. C.S. Lewis said it best (as he so often does):

    “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.

    All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions.

    We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, ‘But how could they have thought that?’—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill.

    The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.”

    I can only imagine this is worse among those who do not even bother to read books at all and get all of their information from Youtube and Reddit.

  4. Excellent quote!

    I was told a certain level of vandalism/violence is being advocated and performed against Church icons, and reminded those recounting these tales that similar vandalism and violence occurred in my youth. But it did inspired me to trot out Anouilh to criticize the unquestioned absolutism that seems associated with both the violence/vandalism and some who seem to think this is new.

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