Well, I doubt that I'll change your minds but...
Posted by Hil on February 10, 1998 at 19:15:08:
In response to Ok, time for my rant?, written by Cheryl on February 09, 1998 at 11:07:12
... okay, here goes.
I can't say I like the ending any more than any of you. Oscar's death and its implications are shocking and tragic. But I do find it acceptable and in keeping with the context of the whole book, and it emphasises the point of the book in a way that is stronger than any other way Carey could have concluded it. We initially feel betrayed, but in the larger context, to do otherwise would have been the real betrayal.
Carey asks us to consider life as a gamble. In a book riddled with religion of various denominations, clerics of various orders, and strange spirits, he asks us to consider that rather than life being controlled by God, our lives and histories are instead governed largely by random incidents and circumstances.
I don't think it is any coincidence that the time-frame Carey chooses is the same as that of the emergence of Darwinism, and the religious doubts that that brought to society, stemming from the idea that we are no different to any other species: that humans, like other species, evolve and survive directly in relation to random events in their environment, rather than being subject to some divine influence.
Carey not only shows his characters struggling with those doubts, but also places us readers directly into the hot-seat by involving us so vividly with his charcters that we can't help but share being tossed and turned with them as they get buffetted by these random events. This is why we feel so appalled by the ending, because we are so involved, and it seems so unfair. But at heart we know tragedies, as well as great joys, happen everyday, quite randomly, inexplicably, and sometimes because of the slightest apparently-inconsequential thing. Life's a gamble. Carey could have chosen to give us a random great joy at the end, but I don't think his point would have been made as strongly, or as bravely.
Carey is always paradoxical however. He asks us to consider life without divine intervention, and yet gives us a divine saint of a man as the anti-hero. And the divine saint of a man commits every sin in the book, and remains a saint. I love this, as it says that ordinary people have the spark of divinity in them; divinity is an element of humanity, rather than anything to do with religion; and goodness can be recognised where you least expect it, and quite apart from religion.
The ending also asks us to consider the question of faith and salvation. Oscar and Lucinda talk about the gamble of faith, and the premise that the best odds for salvation are to believe in God. The events leading up to the ending ask the characters, and therefore us (although we have been asked this throughout the book), to consider that there is no God, and therefore no possibility of salvation. Oscar and Lucinda both realise too late that whereas they had thought the glass church was about their faith, it was more about their love for one another. Carey implies that their love would have been the surest bet that they could have taken, surer than horses, or the wager of faith. Again I like this 'go for life and love now, its the best bet' philosophy.
And one last aspect: There is an implied optimism and grace in what we find out about Lucinda's life after Oscar. Oscar's death, if you like, enables Lucinda to fulfil all her promise in life and achieve good things for ordinary working people :
'Lucinda was known for more important things than her passion for a nervous clergyman. She was famous, or famous at least amongst students of the Australian labour movement. One could look at this letter and know that its implicit pain and panic would be but a sharp jab in the long and fruitful journey of her life. One could view it as the last thing before her real life could begin.'
Which makes me wonder if - again paradoxically - there is in Oscar's story, a deliberate parallel with Christ. People feel angry, sad and betrayed with that tragedy too, but they also find redemption and hope in it, and don't generally blow raspberries at the author!
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