Language A HL 1 – Written Assessment
Question: How is the incident on page five a metaphor for Anton’s quest throughout the novel?
In the prologue of the Assault, Harry Mulisch broadly foreshadows the entirety of the novel through an underlying, quintessential theme that provides great insight into human nature. The image of the solitary man depicted in the opening scene reveals the generalized theme of an unchanging continuity between the past, present, and future that in the protagonist’s case, can only be broken by the will and/or desire to endure pain by dealing with and forgetting the past; an ordeal that serves as a comparison to Anton’s quest of self discovery thoughout the novel.
Tying this universal theme with the characterization of Anton, Mulisch portrays how the protagonist’s identity is significantly based on his[Anton] childhood experiences, which reveals his[Anton] curious and innocent nature. Anton’s innocence is revealed through his thought process: “Anton used to think that Carefree meant a place where cares entered freely, not a place free from cares”(3). Only a child would note nuances in words to give them more meaning. Anton’s inclination to make literal, child-like observations about his surroundings factors his approaches to situations in his later life, including his outward display of defiance to accept his own mistakes when confronted with the truth. In addition, in the aftermath of World War II Anton speculates on retrieving a capsule replete with knowledge: “Inside the capsule. . .be of interest long before then?”(11)Anton’s curiosity reflects his potential because of his thirst for knowledge. The protagonist’s thirst for knowledge and child-like naivety remain with him, setting the stage for hardships and adversity in his future.
For example, after the heart wrenching incident in which Anton is separated from his parents, his child-like curiosity leads him to discover his own weakness; “It was much more painful. . .wrists crossed under his chin”(28). Unable to defend his family, Anton puts much blame on his inability to take care of his family without fully realizing his duty as a child. As Anton grows he encounters many more hardships that he is unable to handle without fully realizing his duty as a child and with the maturity his age implies. For instance, when Mrs. Beumer invites him his attention drifts to his surroundings and he avoids many of the questions through a tangential thought process that is his undoing. Making his life much more difficult than it should be, Anton shares a likeness with the man on the barge in the prologue of the novel. Similar to the way the man “planted the stick sideways in the bottom of the canal, grasped it firmly, and walked backwards”(5) Anton uses an equally difficult means of handling situations--- deliberate evasion.
By taking the path less traveled by, Anton finds himself living in stasis though recurring episodes of past memories that hinder his psychological development. The death of his brother, Peter Steenwijk, and that of his father and mother caused him great suffering as he made transitions from childhood to adolescence and finally to adulthood. When Anton returns to Harlem, his home and the general setting remind him of the painful past, which he leaves behind without any semblance of peace, but only of disturbance and uncertainty:“Care, care…It was wartime, one big disaster, my family was murdered, and I stayed alive”(117). His perceived ignorance reflects on his complex characterization. The actual events diminish in impact, but they still remain in his memory and affect him to such an extent that he decides to become an anesthesiologist, an irony in and of itself. This pattern of stasis can be directly related to the motion of the man on the barge because he stays in the same place as barge moves through the water as Anton’s development remains stagnant although he changes physically....
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