The Facts Behind The Helsinki Roccamatios English Literature Essay

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It is important to point out that this essay is not trying to be an argument for a particular interpretation of the short story. Rather it attempts to show it from a different angle, and to shed light on different layers of realities that for the writer of this essay surfaced in the reading. Martel leaves doors open for different interpretations. Although one can doubt that it was intentional on his part, if in the reading these interpretations could come up, then they were born in the reading nevertheless. Martel's short story is so full of pretences, paradoxes, imaginations, faked realities that the reader feels a bit confused when reading the story. Historical events, family matters (both imagined, and real), personal concerns are all present on different levels, and Martel mixes them constantly throughout the story. The borderlines between these layers are blurred, and in my opinion, are slowly washed away. Imagination, and the escape to a dreamworld are obivous motifs in the creation of the Roccamatio family. Even the idea of a pseudo-family bears in it the possibility for adventurous interpretations. Pretence also plays a big role in the story: Paul pretends to be Paul Beatle with George Beatle on his side, Smetoan makes his last speech in Latin, and the T4 experience is full of 'seem-to-be'-ness (appearance of medical operation, disguised showers, falsified death certificates, urns containing ashes). Even the narrator pretends to smile: „I smile. I go down to the basement to cry." All these examples are clear messages that things are not always what they seem to be. In the story, historical events connect to real life experience, which again shows the existing link between two different layers in the story, but also shows the subjectivity of history itself. When Paul and the narrator feels optimistic, history talks about inventions, patents, discoveries, birth, and all sorts of prosperous events, but when life seems darker, history is all about wars, tragedies, and death. However, even historical events can be seen as something artificial. History has always been a fragile topic for its unrealibility. History can be told, and perceived a billion different ways. The facts can only tell as much about the actual events as one can comprehend about them. Facts are differently perceived by people of different nationalities, people of different ages, and people with different educational backgrounds. The narrator and Paul forces such history on us that is dependent on their moods. They pick random events from each year painting a particular kind of picture about the world. Furthermore, even for them bare events mean completely different things: the astronomical discovery about the Milkyway, and about the position of the Earth in the Universe gives the narrator hope, while Paul concludes that we are lonely. The arbitrariness of history, but also of creating the Roccamatio family is further stressed when the narrator uses the verb to make in the following sentence: „I make 1929 one of our finest stories". The narrator takes full responsibility of creating the Roccamatio family, as he also has full responsibility of narrating the story for us. He has in his hands the power of divine creation. We believe everything he says. We feel the presence of the narrator even in the writing process overcasting the author himself. The strict structure of the text soon disintegrates as historical events are written in the same format as the supposed real events. It first happens when the narrator talks about the year 1912 and the Minimum Wage law. This part of the text is not typed in italics and is not positioned in the middle. Furthermore, at one point in the text it is like a flight of fancy: it mixes historical facts with Paul's birthday, and within the same sentence it talks about the Roccamatios. This whimsicality of the text clearly calls attention to the interdependence of these events, and that we must not examine them in isolation. Mentioning Boccaccio's Decameron is also a very good example showing the narrator's intention to call attention to the fact that stories can exist within another story, and also to show the timeless nature of these kind of constructions. Not to mention all the paradoxes present that make the whole story even more complex: Joseph Stalin portraying himself as Lenin's greatest defender, the Manhattan project, that will in due course cause the death of many. Even the narrator himself is struck by the paradoxical nature of the happenings as he mentions how strange it is that Paul's illness tries to rob his time, and in the same time it leaves so much of it on his hands. With such a many-layered construction of the story, in which history proves to be only quasi real, and in which different realities are so openly manipulated, we can justly feel the freedom to pick up on this kind of manipulation and find hidden meanings and seemingly far-fetched interpretations of the story. As the narrator uses a metaphorical guideline, and the „transformative wizardry of the imagination" stating that „Only the imaginary must count", we cannot be denied of the same. After considering his detailed guide on how to create an imaginary world,:

"If our story was to have any stamina, any breadth and depth, if it was to avoid both literal reality and irrelevant fantasy, it would need a structure, a guideline of sorts, some curb along which we blind could tap our white canes."

we can begin our journey of discovering further cosmoses of the story peeping through hidden doors that were locked until now.

We have to start our journey from the end of the story when on the corridors of the hospital the narrator bumps into the nurse. This encounter opens the door for a whole new interpretation. Although it can be argued that Martel did not have the slightest intention to leave room for such crazy ideas, one cannot go past this door without poking his head in for a glimpse. This scene is very crucial and brings some solid substance to this untangible world. Her handwriting is described as incredibly legible:

„For some reason I'm amazad at her handwriting. Nice round clear letters, with i's precisely dotted and the t's neatly crossed. Incredibly legible. Christ, if you compare it to my handwriting, so jagged and messy."

It is hard to imagine that this long, and precise description of the nurse's handwriting has no underlying meaning in the story. Furthermore, the narrator's unexplainable surprise of reading such a legible writing underscores the importance of this part. It is contrasted to his own jagged and messy handwriting in a way as if it was the clashing of two different worlds. Her handwriting represents something solid in their everchanging, fragile world which lacks any solid substance. Their world of floating bubbles is instantly burst by the nurse's down-to-earth approach. We can feel a conduct of life that is rational and clear, and is sharply contrasted to their limbolike state.They live in an amorpous world of storytelling, and it is the nurse who wakes them up: „I'm sorry about your boyfriend.". This sentence can strike (over?)ambitious readers as Martel's deliberate punchline to turn everything he built up in the story so far upside down. At the beginning of the story the narrator detaches the Roccamatios from either his or Paul's family:

„But what I really want to tell you about, the purpose of this story, is the Roccamatio family of Helsinki. That's not Paul's family; his last name was Atsee. Nor is it my family."

It is very interesting to have this so much pronounced. To emphasize the detachment of the Roccamatios so desperately from their own lifes shows some kind of eager need to escape from reality. This reality can be Paul's illness, but can also be the reality of the Roccamatios themselves. If we turn the table around we can see the Roccamatios inventing a story about an ideal Canadian family where Paul is the centre of the universe, the Sun King. Looking through this door that Martel left open for us - in my opinion intentionally - we can reconstruct the story of the Roccamatios as reality. The narrator invents the story of the Atkees, creating full-fletched characters revolving around his friend Paul. The reality in which they live is too harsh to bear, so they escape to a world of the imaginary. It was mentioned earlier that in this short story we feel as if the narrator took over the story. It can be also seen as if the text itself came to life. Through this black hole, the story of the Roccamatios will start to construct itself as the true reality. The narrator starts the story with an „end", namely with the death of Sandro Roccamatio. And as an end is always a beginning of something new, this will be the beginning of the Roccamatio story. Floating along this new stream of reality, we can reasonably assume that Paul (Roccamatio) had a father who died starting a chain of events that slowly ruined Paul's life and also the lives of the rest of the family. A fall-out with his brother further worsens family relations. His story of alcoholism makes life even more unbearable. And as the narrator writes: „The story just stumbles along, unbelievable, unexplainable" - and turns into a tragedy when his sister (Loretta Roccamatio) drowns herself. When the narrator presents the „Loretta story", we can read a news item about Sacco and Vanzetti who were executed on the base of false charges. The senseless nature of the world disturbs the narrator, as well as Paul, and even the reader. Life becomes a futile battle which we are forced to fight. The strong desire to get out from this world is further accented in Paul's desperate cry: „I want to get out", and he repeats it twenty or thirty times. Then the narrator says: „I am stopping the Roccamatios. I want out." - even he cannot handle it anymore. Later Paul is forced out from the family business, but life's cruelty shows its true forces when another family member is strangled on the train for no apparent reason. From all these terrible events one can easily understand why they want to create a parallel existence in which Paul has a family everyone would wish for. In the Sun King allegory the narrator depicts a family that conducts a life in which Paul has a special position. Having a position like this in the family may only be because of his sickness, but compared to reality in which his family falls apart, while he struggles with a fatal sickness almost completely alone, it is a pleasant and soothing idea to play with. The narrator's great care to depict family members with such close attention makes their hideout world more believable. As we are also made to believe in this world, they can slowly shift their life from an unpleasant sphere to a better one. The narrator tells us about the way they started to shake hands pretending they were Europeans, with the intention to further misguide the reader. I, however, see this handshake as a vow of silence between Paul, the narrator, and Martel about their secret world, which in my opinion, is only broken by the author himself.