Commentary and Analysis of Susan Griffin’s Our Secret
World War 2 wasn’t just a war, it was a wake-up call. The people of the world were confronted with the face of true evil, and had to accept the harsh reality that our fellow man can commit atrocities beyond comprehension. The events of the war not only cause us to gasp in horror, but also make us reflect on how such evil could originate in the first place. In order to understand how such a disaster could ever take place, one must take a deeper look at the human psych; this is the basis behind Griffin’s work, Our Secret. In this collection of stories and reflections, the author does not just focus on one key aspect of man’s nature. Our Secret is littered with a myriad of topics such as child upbringing, societal stereotypes, and psychological development. Some are evident at first glance, while for others it is necessary to read through Griffin’s work several times before you catch them. In a way, reading this essay was like solving the picture puzzles I used to love as a kid. You might not know what a single piece represents at first; it often only becomes clear after looking at the completed picture on the front of the box.
In one of my favorite passages from the story, the author states, “To most of existence there is an inner and an outer world. Skin, bark, surface of the ocean open to reveal other realities. What is inside shapes and sustains what appears. So it is too with human consciousness.” (Griffin, 341). In this passage from Our Secret Griffin delves into the factors that shape a child’s mind, and the vast influence that one’s surroundings have in developing his future personality. The reference to an “inner and outer world” represents the basis behind the author’s musings. For a child, the outer world is the self-image that he conveys to others. Simply put, it is how he sees and understands himself. This is an ongoing process for a child; After all, projecting a sense of self is infinitely more complicated throughout ones youth, when he is still trying to understand who he is and how he fits into society.
While the outer world is an important factor in one’s early development, it cannot even begin to materialize without the hidden mechanisms of the Inner World. Griffin’s idea of the inner world can be thought of as a sculptor, with the outer world representing the clay that he molds. In an art exhibition, the clay sculpture is displayed for all to see. Behind the scenes, it is the sculptor’s efforts to mold and shape the clay that allowed his creation to take shape in the first place. It is through ones Inner World that his personality and sense of self are molded before being put out on display for others.
What takes place in a child’s Inner World? Griffin points out that “At a certain age we begin to define ourselves, to choose an image of who we are.” (Griffin, 341) The question we must ask ourselves is as follows; how does one establish a guideline for defining himself? After all, a child cannot develop his personality until he determines how he wants others to view him. In order to come to a decision, it makes sense that an impressionable youth will take cues from his environment. Family, friends, and society all can hugely impact how a child feels he should be. By observing behaviors, norms, and stereotypes, he can shape his own personality accordingly. It is important to note that this process includes covering up personal characteristics that one feels must not be shown to others. This internal struggle encompasses the meaning of the idea behind the “Inner World”.
Griffin’s contemplations go on to include the effect that this inner conflict can have on a youth. In short, he will ultimately cease to remember his original self. In its place, he inserts the artificial personality that he molded to accommodate the desires of others. It is through this concept that one can see the importance of a child’s upbringing. The environment in which a youth is raised has a direct impact on his Inner World, which in turn shapes his Outer World. A cruel parent can pass on this cruelty to his son. Societal norms can isolate a child, or make him repress his true self. Through these processes, someone’s original sense of self can easily become twisted and warped. This is how monsters like Himmler are created. When considering the atrocities that took place during World War II, I tend to question how any person, no matter how evil, could make decisions as cold and heartless as those of the Nazi Officials. It is commonly known that important figures in the Nazi Party would often send proxies to their meetings. Behind this seemingly casual action, there is an interesting psychology that Griffin discusses. “In disowning the effects we have on others, we disown ourselves” (Griffin, 367). I found this quote to be incredibly insightful. It is much more common for bullies to pick on an unfortunate victim in groups. This is because in doing so, one can distance himself from the morally unsound act. It is easy to say “My friends did it, I was under their influence.” This allows a person to seperate himself from his actions. By denying oneself, it is much easier to make morally unsound decisions like the ones that led to the genocide of the Jewish People.
Throughout her essay, the author inserts seemingly miscellaneous information about cells and missiles. During my first reading of Griffin’s work, this bizarre duo seemingly had no relation to each other. After going through the work again, I felt I was better able to understand why Griffin chose these particular references. Like many people, both cells and missiles have a destination from which it is hard to deviate. “The missile is guided by a programmed mechanism. There is no electronic device that can be jammed. Once it is fired it cannot stop.” (Griffin, 336). There is a set of plans that they must follow, and choosing to do otherwise is not an option. This concept can be related to both Leo and Heinrich, who both committed unforgivable crimes towards their fellow man. Rather than look at them as evil psychopaths, the author chose to analyze their lives and try to understand how they ended up committing such atrocities. She believed that perhaps the events in their lives pushed both of these men on a set course, with “evil” as a destination.
Griffin’s work serves as an excellent social commentary and analysis of the horrific events that transpired before and during World War II. At first glance her writing appears to be an unorganized and unfocused collection of events and philosophies. However, after closer inspection it becomes clear that Griffin has chosen a great method of analyzing an event as large-scale and complicated as the Holocaust. By tying in multiple ideas and events, she is able to approach a topic as multifaceted as the Holocaust from several
angles, rather than just one. In this way, the author does a great job of tying together her thought processes to give the reader insight into one of the greatest tragedies of human history. Through Griffin’s social commentary, the reader able to better understand what shapes and defines human nature. The significance of analyzing her work cannot be overstated; after all, those who fail to understand history are doomed to repeat it.
Bartholomae, David, and Tony Petrosky. Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. Print.
Commentary and Analysis of Susan Griffin’s Our Secret