My Response to: Of Love and Other Demons
Uncertainty as a Means of Control in Of Love and Other Demons
Of Love and Other Demons, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is an example of post-colonial literature. In it, Marquez explores many ideas related to the issue of the imbalanced clashing of cultures, in this case, the Spanish culture, the Native Colombian culture, and the culture of the imported slaves. One issue Marquez explores in depth is uncertainty. The uncertainty in the novella comes from conflict, whether it is the obvious conflicting statements of characters, or the more general conflict between the colonizing and colonized cultures. This clash of cultures creates the uncertainty of how the colonizers will stay in power. In this case, the Spanish use religion as a tool for exerting control, leaving behind the church as a vestige of their imperialism. Marquez shows how the church, which is the dominant social force, exploits uncertainty to establish control and benefit its own power.
One character which personifies many of the ideas of uncertainty is the Marquis. Firstly, the Marquis is uncertain about his religion. At one point, Abrenuncio, a secular character, says, “I would have sworn you were an unbeliever,” and the Marquis replies, “I only wish I were” (50.) At face value, this shows that the Marquis has conflicting views about religion—he does not want to believe in it, but, for whatever reason, he feels he must—however, there is also a deeper meaning to these words, which Marquez reveals in other parts of the novella. The reason this quote is important, is because the church represent more than just a religion. Christianity is the religion—and a vestige—of the colonizers, meaning that it is one of the tools used to control the colonized peoples. It is the deciding factor which causes the Marquis to send his daughter away. The Marquis tells Abrenuncio, “I am convinced it was a commandment from God” (72). Yet, despite this level of conviction, the Marquis’s uncertainty never leaves him, as later, Marquez writes that, “He was tormented by guilt for having abandoned her to her fate in the courtyard of the slaves” (110). Here Marquez shows how, for the Marquis, uncertainty about the religion directly mirrors his uncertainty about Sierva. In this way, Marquez demonstrates how religion is a controlling force: the more uncertainty the Marquis has about Christianity, the more uncertainty he has about abandoning Sierva to it, but the more certainty he feels he has in it, the more willing he is to abandon Sierva. The church, in essence, controls the Marquis, despite him losing his faith at some points in the novella.
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Marquez also shows the Marquis’s fluctuations in the feelings he has for his daughter. At times, it seems as if the Marquis does not love Sierva, as Marquez says, concerning why he sent her away, “To this he attributed her silences, which could last for months, her explosions of irrational violence, the astuteness with which she outwitted her mother when the girl put the same bell that had been hung around her wrist on the cats. The greatest obstacle to knowing her was her habit of lying for pleasure” (110). Yet, Marquez also implies that the Marquis loves his daughter when he shows the Marquis playing the song he used to play for her on the flute and Marquez writes, “It was a revelatory moment. The music told Delaura what the Marquis had not been able to say about his daughter” (111). As Abrenuncio notes in this scene, it shows the Marquis’s love for Sierva, which is, again, uncertain throughout the story.
Marquez also shows how the church exploits uncertainty to exert control. For one, it is not even clear in the story whether Sierva has rabies, or is possessed, yet the convent takes her in anyway. Marquez writes that Sierva was put “in the farthest cell of this forgotten corner … ninety-three days after she had been bitten by the dog and showed no symptoms of rabies” (63). That few people question the church’s choice to exorcize Sierva despite not having any pretense of evidence for it shows how much control the church has. The Marquis does have his reasons for sending her to the convent, but these reasons constitute symptoms of neither rabies nor possession.
On a deeper level, the church even controls uncertainty itself, or, in other words, the church decides what uncertain events mean. So, just like they use the Marquis’s uncertainty about Sierva to claim she is possessed, they also use uncertain events around the convent as further evidence of possession. Marquez writes, “From then on, nothing occurred that was not attributed to the pernicious influence of Sierva Maria” (69). Things which the nuns cannot explain, they simply blame on Sierva, thus serving to reinforce the uncertain idea that she is possessed. For example, the death of Father Aquino. Marquez writes, “At eight o’clock, with the sun already hot, the servant girl went to the cistern for water, and there was Father Aquino, floating on his back and wearing the breeches he kept on when he slept. It was a sad, widely mourned death, and a mystery that was never solved, which the Abbess proclaimed as definitive proof of demonic animosity toward her convent” (135). Delaura discusses this idea of dealing with uncertainty, and provides a warning about it when he says, “Sometimes we attribute certain things we do not understand to the demon, not thinking they may be things of God that we do not understand” (80). This quote nicely shows how the church uses uncertainty. Rather than work to explain things, the church simply uses a type of circular logic to say that that which cannot be explained, explains the church. They use uncertainty both to stay in power and to control the people’s lives.
Have You Read Of Love and Other Demons? (Did You Enjoy it?)
Related to this in a more general sense, are the questions Marquez raises about the society through the lens of uncertainty. One of the first questions Marquez raises under this category is why the society even assumes Sierva has rabies in the first place. At first, it seems Sierva does have rabies, because of all the talk of rabies and rabid dogs. Marquez even describes the bite when he writes, “At last [Bernarda] found it: a little break in the skin on her left ankle, with a scab of dried blood and some almost invisible abrasions on the heel” (13). However, even when she is sent to the convent nearly one-hundred days later, she is still showing no symptoms. The Marquis has his reasons for sending Sierva away, and the convent has its justification for claiming Sierva is possessed, but that does not explain why the society as a whole seems to have forsaken medical science. Abrenuncio is a secular doctor, and he believes “after so many weeks it did not seem probable that [Sierva] would contract the disease (rabies),” (115), yet, even though Delaura agrees with this sentiment by this point in the story, he acknowledges that them sharing this opinion “would be you and I against everyone else” (116). Marquez here is using this idea of uncertainty to question why a society would place religion and superstition above science, and Marquez ultimately condemns this by showing the resulting death of Sierva not from rabies or possession, but from the whole ordeal of the exorcism. He writes that she died of “love,” but this only after she had been exorcized five times and had starved herself (147).
Another question Marquez raises is why religion is able to persist, despite its harmful side effects in a culture like this. Marquez points out that “Disbelief is more resistant than faith because it is sustained by the senses” (58). This would imply that religion should not be able to sustain itself, yet it does, which forces the reader to ask why. The answer Marquez seems to provide is that it is uncertainty which allows the church to persist. For evidence, Marquez provides the Marquis as a sort of case study. The Marquis is uncertain about his religion, and uncertain about his daughter, but the church exploits his uncertainty to get the Marquis on their side. If the Marquis had stronger convictions, he would not have sent Sierva to the convent. In this way, the answer of why religion persists is that it preys upon people’s uncertainty.
Marquez creates uncertainty in the novella both for the characters he creates, and for the reader. By using magical realism, Marquez makes it impossible to tell what is real, and what is not, which fits into this perfectly. That, combined with characters uncertainty about their own lives, religion—the inherent uncertainty within religion itself—and society, creates a stew of doubt, which forces the reader to question everything in the novella. Sierva’s compulsive lying makes it difficult for characters in the story to discern the truth. Sierva goes so far as to lie to the nuns about being possessed. This not only creates uncertainty among the characters, but also in the reader, as Marquez forces the audience to ask themselves questions like whether they can blame the nuns for their actions, considering Sierva led them to believe she was actually possessed. Other things, like never answering the mystery of how Father Aquino died, also create uncertainty. The church attributes Father Aquino’s death to Sierva’s possession, and while this seems highly unlikely, without any actual answer, it is impossible for the reader to refute this claim on the basis of evidence. Ultimately, the main purpose of all this uncertainty is to show how the church maintains its control over the people it is colonizing. However, many of the uncertainties the characters face are universal uncertainties spanning across time and across cultures, which forces the reader to examine the issue on a larger scale.