By Portraying the Three Main Character’s as Representations of Science, Art and Religion, Mcewan Creates the Central Conflicts
The central theme in Enduring love, is that of love; a expression so formidable and irresistible that it withholds the capability to bridge the gap of perception between those who viewpoints or outlooks regarding the world are diametrically opposite; this being Clarissa, Parry and Joe who all represent the views of Art, Science and Religion in the novel - By Portraying the Three Main Character’s as Representations of Science, Art and Religion, Mcewan Creates the Central Conflicts introduction. However, in relation to love, love only bridges these differences, it does not alter any differences that the characters have (due to their opposing views) in relation to their perspective.
Throughout the novel, it seems that each of the characters mentioned are unable to fully share each other’s perceptions regarding the nature of love; due to the core beliefs of Science, Art and Religion that they hold. This ultimately causes the central conflict in the novel. However, although the character’s core beliefs lead to conflict, it can also be argued that conflict in the novel arises from the characters forming there own truths; an example being when Joe’s refusal to tell Clarissa about Jed’s initial phone call.
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Furthermore although the characters have polar opposite opinion, before the introduction of Parry, they were sharing a goal, a common perspective – however with the introduction of Parry it can further be argued that conflict arises due to the workings of Jed Parry – who unleashes the once tamed underlying conflicts between Joe and Clarissa. Although the characteristics of Art and Science are diametrically opposed, the conflict which arises in the novel due to these differences are discreet, yet at the same time obvious. This conflict arises between the two main protagonists in the novel, between Science and Art, between Joe and Clarissa.
Joe is a man of Science who has inherited an overriding need to establish facts and rational thought. His use of language further reflects this. In many of the expressions he uses to describe events in the novel he uses the language of mathematics and physics to rationalize the incidents that occur. “mathematical grace” and “comforting geometry”. These two terms are based on mathematical imagery which can be viewed as an objective truth, one which is definite and can be for sure. The use of the term “comforting” suggests that maths and logic provide Joe with a sense of security, a sense of purpose.
Joe throughout the novel uses this “comforting geometry” to form his infrastructure of the world and it’s events and when this concept is challenged throughout the novel, conflict ensues. Joe’s rationality is further evident in the letter he writes to Clarissa describing his love for her. “sincerity would permit me the facts”. Joe’s attempts at defining his love systematically through the term “permit me the facts” suggests that Joe is emotionally detached – which is also evident in his description of John Logan’s death in Chapter 1 of “the closing down of neural and biochemical exchanges”.
The use of the terms “neural” and “biochemical” agin infers a tone of wisdom and intellect – the constant repetition of terms such as these reinforces Joe’s emphasis on logical reasoning in the novel. Clarissa’s characterization is the polar opposite compared to Joe’s – Clarissa establishes truths which are subjective and therefore differently from Joe, these truths are irrational, based on emotions and empathetic traits which are ultimately understanding.
During the fall of Logan, Clarissa uses literary imagery to describe the ongoing events of “ hurl’d headlong flaming from the Ethereal Sky” whereas Joe uses the imagery of science – “little stick figure followed….. like a drop of viscous fluid”. Compared to Joe who views love as a scientific absolute, Clarissa views love as a metaphysical one, an abstract concept that is both beyond the scope of physics and rational thought. This constant clash between almost two periods of Romanticism and Enlightenment. would always result in conflict between the two characters. The writer of the Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins explains that “ consolation is harder for science to provide” and this can be witnessed as the first source of conflict between the two, with the two characters requiring different needs or conclusions after the death of Logan. Clarissa needs to know that Logan died for a reason by describing the fall “as a challenge that no angel could resist….. denied their existence”.
However, the response from Joe is one of certainty and rationality – “did it need denying? ”. This question is challenging Clarissa’s ability to embrace a mystery and the tone of certainty conveyed in the use of the term “did it need” further reflects Joe’s belief that his word is law, its imperative; this leaving no room for enquiry. The use of the term “trapped in genes” said by Clarissa further conveys a tone of entrapment and alienation regarding Joe’s insistence on reason in their relationship and demonstrates the constant struggle between these two characters.
Ultimately, although Joe is able to derive comfort from rational thoughts, Clarissa is unable to conform, as it challenges her idealized and romantisised opinion on love – this further representing a form of conflict in the play. This is a further point of conflict in the novel; Joe is ultimately driven by the desire to “know and understand more”, where by he is unable to be uncertain and applies logic and reasoning in his pursuit of the truth.
This in comparison to Clarissa who adopts a relativistic approach to both love and life; arguing that a constant need to rationalize actions or thought along the lines of Science, is stripping nature of it’s true meaning to a point where that true nature is forever lost. Both Clarissa and Joe are unable to fully share the perceptions of one another regarding the nature of love and this contributes to the conflict between the two in their relationship. “metaphysics and science were such courageous enterprises….. set against human nature” – Joe.
This quote implies that to hold absolute truths like those held by Joe and Clarissa is courageous, as those beliefs are constantly being challenged by other people. Furthermore, this quotation conveys Mcewans message regarding the nature of truth and how objectivity is hard to ensure due to the truth being based on the person’s perception which is influenced by what they believe – either Love, Science or Religion. Joe reflects this. Joe’s emphasis on logical reasoning combined with his profession as a scientific journalist, influences not only his own views but also his narrative and his overall perception of events.
McEwan conveys the idea, of how truth is rarely not influenced by personal thoughts through the contradictory nature of Joe’s character. Joe at one stage considers his sorbet, “lime”, however when questioned, later claims the flavor “apple” and during chapter one, he claims that he was “not the first to let go” of the rope that held the balloon, however, later on in the chapter he claims that “the child was not my child and I was not going to die for it”.
These contradictions represent Joe’s irrationality when feelings or emotions are involved; yet he is not able to recognize this in himself as he does in other people. Personally, I believe that this is a representation of McEwan doubting Joe’s outlook in the novel and questioning the infallibility of Science and conveying the belief that even the most rational of men are liable to irrational tendencies. Conflict further ensues due to the clash of theories between Science and Religion and this conflict manifests itself through the relationship between Jed Parry and Joe Rogan.
Jed Parry is a representation of Religion and faith in the novel; the existence of God cannot be scientifically or rationally explained and therefore due to the lack of evidence, Joe adopts the belief of Charles Lyell of “ the earth was a lot older then the 4,000 years defended by the church”. At the beginning of the novel we are presented with an almost religious fundamentalist who has an absolute image of God.
Jed claims that he wants to bring Joe closer “to God through love” and after the death of Logan, Jed suggests that him and Joe should “pray together”. Instantly, through the use of the repetition of biblical references of “god” and “pray” and “heaven”, we perceive Jed’s reaction to be that of irrationality and unnatural fevour due to the fact that his religious outlook is not adopted by the majority of people and therefore our sympathy for Jed, via from Joe’s perspective is educed. However, further study of the novel suggests that madness is an underlying theme of all of the central protagonists in the novel; whether this is Joe’s sudden persistence on buying a gun where he “cracks at last” or Clarissa when due to unbarring circumstance was unable to bear children where she has been driven to a point of “disabling grief”. The idea that all characters experience some form of madness, seems ironic as each of them believe their own onstructing of the world and the truth and therefore all the narratives in the novel are unreliable due to the fact that they see the truths rather as ‘they are’. Joe uses Science to substantiate his claim that there is not a God and claims that the even thought of him adopting this view is “embarrassing” – this in contrast to Jed who uses Science to help substantiate that there is a God – “ the more we learn about the intricacies of god’s creation the more we realize how little we know”.
Jed Parry presents another view regarding the nature of love. Jed views love as a way to bring Joe closer to God but Joe Rose challenges this idea as he believes that love is an evolutionary trick which ensure’s human survival. However, Jed’s love for Joe completely defies this thought and Joe cannot view the survival value in members of the same sex having a relationship and therefore through interactions with Jed we witness Joe’s attempt to rationalize Jed’s love over him – “you keep using the word love….. are you talking about sex? ”.
This question conveys a tone of confusion and disbelief, Joe cannot understand the obsessive love that Jed permits over him and this confusion further leads to conflict in the play because it results in Joe almost over rationalizing subjects that in reality are just not rational. On Joe’s initial meeting with Jed, Joe claims that he wanted Jed to “see the truth……. because no one was listening”. Joe attempts to explain that there is no God through the use of Science. Jed reflects his disgust at Joe’s views through the use of the metaphor “dirty washing” further conveying the tone of disgust and repulse.
Through the interactions between Joe and Jed, we realize that Jed is utterly convinced that his truth is the real truth and even when his views are challenged by Scientific evidence, his conviction strengthens; throughout this, McEwan suggests that being so confident in your theory can blind you and result in the mistrust of other theories (which in some cases make more sense then your own) and this further contributes to the causing of the primary conflict in the novel. However, not all of the conflict arises to the conflict between Science, Art and Religion.
After the balloon accident the perceptions of the narrative is shared by both Joe and Clarissa when it comes to recounting the past events – resulting in minimal tension and creates a relatively more stable form of love between the two. “There was comfort in reiteration” “kiss my palms” and “we”. These terms reflect the harmonious context post the ballon event before the introduction of Parry. The use of the terms “kiss” and “palm” conveys a tone which is serene and accommodating and the constant repetition of the term “we” further emphasizes the close relationship between Clarissa and Joe during the initial stages of the novel.
However, conflict arises when Joe fails to inform Clarissa about the phone call from Jed and therefore Clarissa begins to form her own truth about Jed Parry; it can be argued that if the phone call was shared with Clarissa then the two could have shared a common idea regarding who Jed was (if he was a threat or a friend) and would have strengthened the love between the two. This contributes to the conflict in the relationship as Joe admits that it was “his first serious mistake”. The breakdown of trust is first reflected when Clarissa starts to doubt Joe’s series of events – “his handwriting is rather like yours”.
Our breakdown of trust is a direct result of Joe’s unreliable narratives, which signify a turning point in the novel, as our opinions of Joe alter and we view him in a more negative light and the sympathy which we once viewed towards Joe when Clarissa doubts him regarding Jed is reduced. As an unreliable narrator, we understand that through his altered version of the truth (due to his insistence on Science), everything his says cannot be relied on, the facts are distorted; an altered truth is formed.
Furthermore, although the central themes of Love, Science and Religion are almost simplistic and obvious in nature regarding the conveyance of conflict in the novel; the undertone of complexity that lies in between each of the themes, disregards any argument of the novel being contrived and simplistic in stature. An example of this complexity between the themes of Science, Art and Religion can be viewed through McEwans message regarding your views relating to belief systems.
McEwan suggests that we are incapable of escaping a tunnel vision mind (created due to are beliefs) which is self constructive and is essentially also destructive. A lesson from reading the novel is that we should hold our own initial beliefs lightly and be open to new evidence or alternate views – this will reduce confrontation between individuals. Overall the reasons of conflict are clear. Science is based on truth, facts and rational thought; there is an obligation to predict and prove a theory or hypothesis. Art is an expression that uses human interpretation to construct a reality.
Religion interprets an event as being due to a omnipotent higher being. Each belief system contradicts the other and therefore it is understandable how people with different contexts for constructing perception could come into conflict with one another. Although, the lack of communication between Clarissa and Joe contributes to the lack of trust between the pair; the clash of ideas between all three characters allowed this broken trust to be exploited by Jed Parry and therefore is the main source of conflict in the novel.