(Written by Martha S.)
Let’s talk about self forgiveness real quick.
One of the things we talk about at length in our last episode is whether or not granting oneself forgiveness is valid or not. We talk about forgiveness as a two-way street, and I believe some pretty strong words are used in relation to Briony seeking to forgive herself for the lies she told during Atonement. I will admit to you now, dear readers, that I don’t remember what side of the argument I came down on in the episode; if I was against the concept, I am now revealed to you as a fraud and charlatan, because I’m about to talk to you about narratives that hinge on self-forgiveness as a means of character growth.
I recently finished listening to We Were Liars by E. Lockhart on audiobook, which was a fascinating listening experience, as the story unfolds in fits and starts as Cadence, the main character, recovers her memories of a summer previous when something terrible happened (but no one will tell her what). She has returned to the island owned by her grandfather, which serves as a family summer destination, to spend the summer with her three best friends before they start leaving for college. The only thing is, as the summer progresses and Cadence’s memories return, you (the reader) realize that not only did something horrible happen, but that Cadence was the cause of it – and only by remembering and acknowledging what she did, and forgiving herself for it, can Cadence move on from it.
Here is where that difference between forgiveness and absolution comes in as well, I think – Cadence forgiving herself for what she did does not absolve her blame or guilt, but at least puts her in a position where she can recover mentally from what happened (in the case of We Were Liars, the tragedy was an accident caused by rashness and foolhardiness, and whether or not Cadence forgives herself, this doesn’t change – what CAN change is whether or not she learns from, and moves on from, the accident).
In Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner (one of my favorite emerging YA talents – his superb debut novel The Serpent King won the Morris Award last year for best debut novel by a new author in the YA world), Carver Briggs is dealing with the fact that his three best friends died in a car accident probably caused by one of them answering a text from him while driving. While I as an adult human can look at that and say “It is not your fault, Carver, for sending that text – your friend should not have been texting and driving, that was a choice he made without you,” Carver is a teenager without such insight and spends the novel trying to reconcile his continued existence while his friends are buried one by one. He seeks to be able to forgive himself, while pursuing the forgiveness of the families of his friends.
Did you think I wouldn’t find a way to link in Hannibal? YOU THOUGHT WRONG, DEAR READER. (Honestly, it was either this or Supernatural, since those shows encompass so very many of my favorite storytelling tropes.) Season 3, episode 2, “Primavera,” largely deals with Will Graham coming to terms with the fact that he’s willing to forgive Hannibal for the events of the past two seasons – I like this example because the forgiveness itself isn’t in doubt, simply Will’s acceptance of that within himself.
Last, for something I haven’t figured out how to work into conversation about seventeen thousand times, consider the movie Captain America: Civil War. One could argue that many, nay, all of the events in that film are the result of Tony Stark seeking a way to forgive himself for the events of Age of Ultron. He sees a way to moderate his guilt about creating a homicidal AI that destroyed a country by yoking the superhero group he’s been kind of de facto in charge of for two movies to a larger governing body. He may as well be screaming “Please love me again, I promise I’m a good boy.”
I would also argue that he never figures out how to forgive himself in this particular film, which is why he can’t fully commit to Cap’s side of the argument. But forgiveness is a process, whether it’s facilitated by oneself or someone else.