Lately I’ve been on a Mario Puzo reading-spree, and as such I have been considering the themes that seem to be prevalent in all of his work. Along with the importance of family, he seems to emphasize the irrelevance of thought or intent when matched up against actual action. The protagonist (or so it seems, it’s sometimes hard to understand who he intends to be portrayed as evil or good, perhaps intentionally) in most of his books seems to emphasize the importance of actions above all else. There are several points in The Last Don where Don Clericuzio (the head of the last remaining large Mafia family in the book) speaks about how utterly unimportant thought and intention are when faced up against the actions that they ultimately lead to. Now, I have spent a lot of time over the last few days pondering this, and I’ve decided that it’s kind of narrow-minded bullshit.
I think one of Christianity’s most redeeming characteristics is its condemnation of even thought of “sin.” It’s important to realize that someone’s motives are what color their actions, and that no one can have an accurate picture of basically anything about anyone without at least starting to delve into the why and the how rather than the what of their actions. If snap-judgements and stereotyping are the hallmarks of assholes, then let me tell you, boy-howdy, we live in a world full of assholes. I’m not saying that I am immune to this stigma – I too make snap-judgements and use stereotypes all the time. However, I approach each of these assumptions that I make with an air of skepticism, where as some other people are far too over-confident about their intuitions.
I heard Michael Savage last night say probably the stupidest thing I have ever heard. He was talking about the Iranians and their anti-semitism and quoted the part of Leviticus 20 specifying the punishments for performing certain sexual taboos, highlighting the one about beastiality. He then goes on to argue in a completely straight manner that the reason for the Iranians’ anti-semitism is that they want to eliminate Jews so they can eliminate the Old Testament so they can have sex with animals. Seriously, this is one of the craziest intuitive leaps I have ever heard of. While I already regard Michael Savage as one of the most narrow-minded, idiotic personalities of our time, I was actually onboard with him throughout his rant (for the most part) before this point. Anti-semitism is totally fucked up, and as a super-power we should do everything within our ability to destroy any proponent of any possible genocide. However, his Leviticus argument just totally threw me off-guard. It’s like, dude, if you want to make a good point you want to try to make as few low-blows as you possibly can, and making a race-wide implication about beastiality is one of the lowest blows you can deliver.
Returning to my original point, perhaps one of the problems with Puzo’s narrative is that he writes in a third-person limited fashion that moves between characters as the focus, whatever that specific style of writing is called. A style like this detracts from the reader’s ability to connect effectively with the characters. Wait, let me restate my point. Perhaps Puzo wrote his narrative in this way intentionally in order to further his point. Let’s examine works of literature written in the first person in order to better understand this thesis. In fact, we can examine two counterpart pieces of literature to make my point absolutely: Beowulf and Grendel.
In Beowulf, the original inspiration for Grendel, it is very clear who the protagonist and antagonist are. Beowulf is a hero and Grendel is a villian, but this of course cannot be the entire objective truth because we are only allowed to hear the thoughts of the Geats, never are we able to hear the thoughts of Grendel or his mother, because they cannot speak. However, in John Gardner’s own telling of Grendel’s story (which is a first-person narrative from the perspective of Grendel himself), it is clear that Grendel is a poor, tortured soul whose evil demeanor is only a result of humanity’s rejection of him because of his appearance. This is an important, important, important, very important thing to consider. Nobody could read Grendel without, for lack of absolving Grendel of all of his crimes, at least feeling a little bit sorry for him and saying to themselves, “Oh, maybe he’s not such a bad guy after all…” It really is quite a tragic story. Puzo argues the Sicilian point of action over intention, but when you look at it that way, it’s really a fairly weak argument (not that I don’t have Sicilian pride).
If we can feel sorry for Grendel, why can’t we feel sorry for blacks and other minorities living in the ghettoes and in the projects and in whatever other inhabitable (by our cushy, mid-to-upper middle class standards) settings for the events in their lives that transgressed and caused them to be the way they are, whether they’re drug-dealers, rapists, murderers, or just don’t know how to speak good English (which is not to say that all or even the majority or minorities fall into one of these categories)? I guarantee you the same racist who condemns minorities for the way they are as a result of events beyond their control would feel sorry for Grendel. You know what? I would even venture to argue that the same racist would feel sorry for a minority after reading his testimony if he believed he was white. Racists try to rationalize their warped opinions by pasting their generalizations on attributes that they think are common in those who they are condemning, but of course it’s all a facade. Grendel killed hundreds of Geats and I wouldn’t condemn him.
This post has nothing to do with that Peterkin guy, though. Fuck him, I hope he dies in prison.
“My heart was light with Hrothgar’s goodness, and leaden with grief at my own bloodthirsty ways.”
–Grendel (From Grendel by John C. Gardner)