Walk the Line: Straddling the Boundary Between Two Worlds
It is an often overlooked and underwhelming experience in a day of the life of an average person. That instant that they approach a threshold, and are about to cross over. Most remember the events after that boundary have been passed, but some remember the happenstance that preceded it. I’m sure most Americans can recall to the second, the minutiae in which they were involved when they were informed of the events of 9/11. I remember my class, activity, and surrounding classmates. Other crossings are vaguer, or built into society and law, but have little bearing on the psychological status that accompanies it. Adulthood is marked when one reaches the age of 18, but are you truly an adult, do you have the maturity, wisdom, and experiences necessary to make competent, informed adult decisions? I know adults that are still quite youthful in their attitudes, despite their age, and children who have experiences and mentalities beyond their years.
So how do we compensate for this shift between worlds, where do we mark the lines, and define what is one thing but not another? What stands as the divide, and why are we divided? Try as we might to label ourselves as one thing or another, we are more often than not, pulled in more than one direction, and must assert a balance to prevent ourselves from being moved in a direction not of our choice. Nella Larsen’s Clare Kendry, Nafisi, and Satrapi, are all faced with existing on the boundary of two worlds, struggling with maintaining the balances in their lives and reconcile the divides by which they exist, making sure that all the sides of them that dwell within are protected from one another.
Clare is a person at war with herself. As much as she has attempted to distance herself from her heritage in order to obtain the opportunities that she feels that she is entitled to, the part of herself that she has denied for so long has made itself known, and refuses to be silent any longer, forcing her to take action, leading her on a collision course on which the two aspects of herself are forced to confront one another, with disastrous results. “If it hadn’t been for that, I’d have gone on to the end, never seeing any of you. But that did something to me, and I’ve been so lonely since! You can’t know. Not close to a single soul. Never anyone really to talk to”(Larsen 54). Her attempt at rectifying the imbalance within herself, which had swung too far in one direction for her tastes, was selfish, but understandable, as no one carries within them one piece, but many, all of which come together to creates the picture that is us.
The external aspects of Clare’s life are in conflict, with the persona that she projects with her husband and everything related to her married life, and the social circles in which she travels to reclaim the counter-aspect that she cannot acknowledge, and with the internal aspects of her heritage, the inherent stigmas of the two races in which she embodies, and the prevention that one side from dominating the other. The disunity of Clare is an embodiment of the world around her in it upheaval, its attempts to right the imbalances currently contained within.
Clare’s internal miasma was a reflection of the status quo of society at the time, a detriment she attempted to escape at all costs, no matter what the risk. Even though it was barely in the ether, the Civil Rights movement was an internalized back drop; a society embroiled in a war of words and will. Marjane Satrapi was as familiar with this upheaval as Clare Kendry was. Both nations were blanketed in revolution, with varyingly violent reactions by rule of law. One nation’s progression towards equality is a juxtaposition of the other nation’s inverse transition backwards.
Satrapi is articulate in the beginnings of her double consciousness, starting from her childhood and onwards into adulthood. We see her as a young revolutionary, eager to affect change, but innocent and ignorant of the ramifications of her actions. As she matures, we see the balance of rebellion and acquiescence that she and her family must strike before, during, and after the war in order to maintain their survival. “I finally understood what my grandmother meant. If I wasn’t comfortable with myself, I would never be comfortable”(Satrapi 43). Her compromises and manipulations in trying to articulate her place in the world, the search for her niche, leads her to mistakes, including marriage that doesn’t last.
Satrapi is enmeshed in a world in flux, attempting to recapture its history, culture and progression forward, in reestablishing fundamentalist doctrines and mores. Even when she is able to escape the war-torn country, she is still engaged in battle in attempting to defend the actions of her kinsmen in their bouts for freedom. Iran’s revolution was an attempt to release itself from totalitarian rule, and unfortunately, the successor rule proved even less adequate than the previous. The loss of her national identity is a reflection of the loss of her nation’s identity as a modern landscape.
If I had to guess, I would think that Satrapi and Nafisi were peers, generationally speaking. Both would have born witness to Iran’s schism, and resulting embattlement between factions attempting to remake the nation according to their group’s ideology. Both may be able to compare mental snapshots of their country, and pinpoint the fraying threads of the tapestry that barely holds the current paradigm together. Satrapi’s departure from home was less voluntary than Nafisi’s, but both are able stand against the political pressure to wholly conform to the standards of society in favor of seeking their own identities for themselves.
Nafisi contrasts the world outside her home, a prison of rules and doctrine dedicated to the false reality of a perceived threat against the decadent west, and its ever encroaching invasion of the righteous Islamic Republic of Iran, versus inside, where experience and fiction provide a path to truth not easily found. Nafisi and her students are able to create a safe haven against the dictatorial interference in their everyday lives, by dictating what is and isn’t appropriate for its citizens. By adhering to the standards of society, against what they know is right, they are in essence camouflaging themselves, and their own intellectual rebellion against the status quo as it stands.
Nafisi and her students are forced to walk a fine line, staying true to their inner selves, and presenting an acceptable presentation outside of themselves for the world to see, when they are not gathered for class. Using fiction as a springboard, they are able to carefully unravel reality from perception, truth from acceptance, and extreme from unknown, both in the fictional works they discuss, and the state of the society in which they live. The nature of their existence is something they are better able to dissect, and interpret, thereby understanding better the underlying insidious plot to enslave the human soul. “We were all victims of the arbitrary nature of a totalitarian regime that constantly intruded into the most private corners of our lives and imposed its relentless fictions on us”(Nafisi 67).
Across all the tales told by each woman, there lies at its heart the same message: You are more than what society tries to make you into. Clare, Marjane and Azar are all fighting a battle against a society that is trying to remake them in their heart of hearts. They attempt to navigate the convergence of worlds between which they walk, as a part of their survival. They each rebel against the structure of the classes they exist in, dictated by society as to what their place is, something they all try to break free from, some more successfully than others. Though the span of time and location divides them, they are all share the same stance, crossing the boundaries laid at their feet, and defying the threat imposed on them for their transgression of not accepting the status quo. They all refuse to be constricted by the shackles imposed on them for being born as they are.
The world is a study in duality, light and dark, female and male, pain and bliss, hollow and whole. It has long been the attempt to establish the boundaries between two things, with a distinct designation as to when one crosses the line from one to another. However, as time passes, where the line resides, and just how clear it is, becomes a matter of great debate. From the beginning of our lives, we are in constant conflict, not only within ourselves, but as we grow, with the authority that holds sway over us. We walk a tight rope that as we grow becomes a high wire, with an ever shrinking safety net below us to catch us, should we fall. Our balance is maintained, but we are faced with many wires from which to choose, but have no perception as to the conditions ahead of us, nor the ability to watch our steps.