History and memory

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emory helps form the basis of history, whereas history can be used to clarify fragmented memories. For a true understanding of the past there has to be a balance between documented evidence and personal experiences and memories. In Mark Baker’s nonfiction biography ‘The Fiftieth Gate’ (1997), and Roman Polanski’s film ‘The Pianist’ (2002) have both reconstructed the past through a combination of memories and historical documentation.

The interplay of historical documentation and memories is critical for an accurate portrayal of an event. ‘The Fiftieth Gate’ follows Baker’s own investigation into the history and memories of his parents to understand the events of the Holocaust. He adopts a style of writing similar to Midrash, a religious method of biblical interpretation of ideas, to bridge the gap between the past and present. Intially memories are inconsistent for Baker. They can leap out “at him, like a jack-in-the-box”, the simile enhancing the notion that memories are unpredictable and therefore not entirely reliable. Baker’s value of historical exactness over memory is seen through the juxtaposition of his father’s shared experience against his mother’s lone survival. He sees his father’s past “written on page of history shared by other survivors” while his mother “could not point to anyone”. As the novel progresses, this preference for history over memory is diminished. History is characterized as cold and lifeless being: “papers (that are)…echoes of the past, dark shadows without screams, without smells, without fear”. The repetition of “without” emphasizes the lack of emotion present in historical accounts. At the end of the novel Baker arrives at the rhetorical question “Why do I crave the contents of this single lone sentence…when all it says is what she has repeated throughout her life?” while summarising his mother’s experience.
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