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The Holocaust: Sophie’s Choice

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In William Styron’s book Sophie’s Choice Styron explains the effects of World war 2 on an American, a Polish person and a Jewish person. Sophie, the polish women, who is forced to make a very difficult decision during the war, a choice that, affects her mental state of mind for the rest of her life

Stingo, the American and narrator of the story struggles to find inspiration for his writing career while also discovering his families past. Nathan, the Jewish man who is hopelessly in love with Sophie a holocaust survivor, lashes out in anger and questions her about her past. Sophie’s Choice uses three characters guilt to portray the hardships of World War 2 and the mental instability it has caused.

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As the film opens in 1947, Stingo arrives in Brooklyn and looks forward to embark on his writing career. One would expect the plot to delve into Stingo’s writing career. Unfortunately, the story line takes a major turn after Stingo hears a quarrel upstairs where Sophie and his boyfriend; Nathan, are living. Stingo goes upstairs to investigate only to meet Nathan who has just knocked down Sophie. What a ludicrous way to meet one’s neighbors for the first time. The following morning Sophie invites Stingo to a walk and she apologizes for the disruption they caused him the previous night. Nevertheless, this walk draws Stingo to Sophie who opens up and pours her past to him. It emerges that Sophie survived the Holocaust and this experience haunts her every time. Before this misfortune, Sophie had Josef as a lover with whom they had two children. Her family died in the hands of Gestapo while she does not know the fate of her son taken away by the Nazis. On the other side, Nathan is not haunted by any ghosts but is entangled in alcoholism coupled with mental imbalances. Though he works as an aid for a research group, he claims to own the research project that would actually earn him the Nobel Prize. He assaults Sophie but somehow she chooses to stick with him. After Stingo learns of Nathan’s mental imbalance, he (Nathan) threatens to kill both Sophie and Stingo forcing them to flee to a hotel. They become sexually intimate that night but Sophie sneaks out and goes back to Nathan. Stingo wakes up to find Sophie gone prompting him to pursue her

Unfortunately, by the time he reaches Nathan’s house, Nathan and Sophia have already taken cyanide and they are dead. One would wonder why this film has to title Sophie’s Choice. What choices did Sophie make? Well, the night that Sophie spends in a hotel with Stingo, she divulges the choices she had to make. During her stay in the concentration camps, she was forced to choose whom to die between the two of her children. By making no choice, she would risk losing both of them; therefore, she chose her son to live and her daughter to die.

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In the United States there is a more severe case that women of color are confronted with and with which a parallel can be drawn with Sophie’s encounter with the doctor at Auschwitz

Women of color, typically African American women, are not only faced with the issue of gender discrimination but also with the color of their skin. Sophie although was not forced into a sexual act with the doctor, she was disrespected because the doctor obviously saw that she was feminine and vulnerable. Hence he made sexual advances at her (Styron, William, 1992). As she tried to deal with problems with racism, Sophie lied that she was German in order to win the favor of the doctor. Crenshaw mentions rape and battery as some of the violence being done to women of color. The former is rather complicated when investigations are being done, and one would even wonder if the victim will be given justice or she will be stigmatized as being the perpetrator of the crime. Carstens mentions that in rape cases, not only are the victims considered as victims of circumstances such as abuse but their involvement in the rape is also questioned (295). Women are interrogated in some cultures when they report a rape case. Whiles evidence is required in order for prosecutions to be made, some court proceeding can be very embarrassing to women and their families. This may discourage other victims of rape to come out and report the abuse. I have personally witnessed a rape victim being questioned by law enforcement officials who demanded the victim to produce substantial evidence that she had been raped. Everything including the underwear she wore at the time of the incident had to be cross examined in the public eye. Unfortunately the lady in question was married, and this did not sit well with her husband and his family. The humiliation she suffered whiles her abuser was still out on the loose was so overwhelming that she decided to end her life. Issues revolving around rape can be more complicated if the rapist is a public figure who is very influential. Women who find themselves in circumstances such as these would rather prefer to keep mute about it and endure the pain, or will come out public and endure humiliation. In either case these women become victimized physically and emotionally as the memories will linger on throughout their lives. I strongly oppose the notion that Sophie also played a role in the death of her child simply because she spoke to the doctor. It would rather be more questionable if she had been quiet all the time, for any mother who fears that her child was in danger would do anything based on her intuition to protect her child. If Sophie had been the betrayer of her own predicament, she would not still be mourning the death of her child. If only she had known that she was going to be asked to choose between her two children by condemning one to death and saving the other’s life just because of what she said, she would not have uttered a word. Knowing just what to say in that sort of situation is extremely difficult. One might expect, for example, for her to grieve for all of those who were taken in the concentration camps. However, the experience was more complicated. The Dachau camp, for example, had “a wonderful pool for the garrison children[and was] ever so much nicer than Auschwitz” (Styron p. 218). So it was difficult for Sophie to predict what would happen from one day to the next.

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For the most part, Styron may not be persuasive as a philosophic mind Evil and William Styron meditating on history, but that does not diminish his genuine strength. So powerfully does the novelist bring Sophie to life that she seems less imagined than remembered. As we read her story, we bear witness to her fatality, and it is the word made flesh that remains with us in the end.

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Carstens, Lisa. “Sexual Politics and Confessional Testimony in ‘Sophie's Choice’.” Twentieth Century Literature 47. 3 (2001): 293 – 324. Print.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé Williams. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.” New York: Routledge, 1994. 93-118. Print.

Schorsch, Kristen. “Why Do Women Lie About Domestic Violence? To Protect Their Abusers.”

Southtown Star 21 May 2009.

Styron, William. “Sophie's Choice.” New York: Vintage International, 1992. Print.

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