”After Caravaggios Sacrifice of Isaac” is a short-story written by Rachel Cusk, and published in 2003. Love is the world’s most wonderful phenomenon, it is a force more formidable than any other, and love is strong enough to transform you in a moment. This the story of a man, afflicted by love. And like all good things – The more you care about them the more you have to sacrifice for them. The narrator of the story becomes a victim of this phenomenon, when he is given an ultimatum to choose between those he loves.
The story is told by a first person narrator, which means that we know what the character is thinking and receive their output on what occurs. Because of this, we get to know the character better in some aspects. We achieve a more distinct understanding of why he acts the way he does, by knowing the thoughts he has made around it. On line 27 there is an example of him explaining how his son changed the man was: “What I mean is that loving Ian made me expect more from life. It made me think there were better things out there”. In this short-story the main character Alan has gone through enormous change.
He developed from having little confidence in himself to adjust everything which he was not satisfied about. To elaborate, he goes through 3 phases in his flashback. In the first phase he had an ordinary life, married and with a job which he could not stand. He did not have any self-esteem, and was later astounded that he was able to live with it. This comes to show on l. 52 “I looked back at the life I’d lived and thought, how could you have done this and that, how could you have been so ordinary?”
The second phase begins when he becomes a father. This is the point where he got the first ray of sunshine in his life, and he found faith in that ray. Ian was the thing which he did different. All of his possessions and relations seemed trivial when put next to Ian. His son was the only thing he had ever completely loved. It gave him the belief that there were more wonderful things out there, and made him open to change. This is illustrated in the previous quote I used from l. 27. He still did not possess the courage to quit his job, but he had gotten more open to the thought of it. Moreover the narrator developed an interest for art during the second phase.
Art became his place of refuge, from the conventional life he lived, and also a place where he could tend his new growing feelings of the better life. In the story he describes looking at art as “When I looked at the pictures they told me not to worry, they told me everything was all right.
They were sympathetic, if that doesn’t sound too silly” (l.43). The paintings had a great importance in his life, and it is is also supported by the title “After Caravaggios Sacrifice of Isaac”, which is referring to a 15th century painter, who amongst other masterpieces painted Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac to God. Paintings gave the Alan the opportunity that later lead him to the next phase. He goes into phase 3 when he meets Grete, who is from Germany. She taught art history at a university and came to England on a one year exchange program. Grete boosted the effect which both art and Ian had on Alan, giving him the courage to take some risks and quit his job.
Grete was very interested in the narrator and he was just as interested in her. They quickly began having an affair, and the main character started living a life of duplicity where on the one side where Grete was along with an uncommon life, and on the other side where Ian was. Alan kept trying to take Ian with him to Grete’s side, but she would not let him. It was exactly how Grete had intended it to be like, when she engaged in this relationship.
This is seen on l. 79: “I remember her face, as if something had suddenly caught her eye, something beautiful and rare, something valuable. You love him, she said. Yes, I said. More than your wife? she said. Yes, I said. More than anything.” Grete’s agenda had right from the start been to see if she demanded it, she could make him sacrifice his son for her. This is the part of the story which resembles the biblical myth of Abraham and Isaac.
“After Caravaggios Sacrifice of Isaac” is parallel to Abraham and Isaac at many points. First of all, both stories are about somebody wanting the hero to give up their son who they love more than anything, to prove their devotion to them. With Abraham, God wanted him to offer his son to him, so that he could be sure that Abraham believed in him, but stopped him in the last second, because then he knew. With Alan, Grete wanted him to leave his son, and follow her to Germany, so that she could be sure that Alan loved her more than anything, but stopped him at the airport where she said “now I know”. The second point is that in Rachel Cusk story many of the characters represent the role in the biblical story of who they share the same first letter: Alan represents Abraham, Grete represents God and Ian represents Isaac.
The third reason the stories are parallel to each other is why the main characters are willing to sacrifice their sons. Alan is willing to do it because of love to this “very well educated and delicate and beautiful” woman, and Abraham is prepared to do so out of his faith in god. What the author may be trying to tell us by this, is that their reasons, love and faith, are basically the same thing. Furthermore that love is just as powerful as faith and that both should be treated with care and respect.
Rachel Cusk story does not end well for the narrator. He says on l. 8 “… it’s easy to forget how much children depend on you. It’s important for them that you don’t lose your authority.” The rest of the story reveals that he has not been dependable at all. Alan’s nightmares are conducted by this wrongdoing. He now lives with the shame of trying to abandon his son, which is also why he feels like Ian can look right through him, and see him as the inadequate father he almost was. In addition to all this he even has to live with the heartache of being left by the love of his life. I think Rachel Cusk wants the reader to consider an epilogue to the biblical story.