Good or Evil: Lack of Dichotomy in Harry Mulisch’s The Assault

Topics: Love, Nazi Germany, Light Pages: 5 (1513 words) Published: October 3, 2014
Language A: literature - Part 1 Written Assignment May 2014 Word Count:

Good or Evil: Lack of Dichotomy in Harry Mulisch's _The Assault_

_The Assault_ by Harry Mulisch begins when the entire Steenwijk family, except for the youngest son, Anton, is murdered in retribution for the assassination of a Nazi collaborator, though, in reality, they have no hand in his death. Eventually, characters are introduced throughout the novel who could arguably be blamed for the Steenwijks' deaths. These include Truus Coster and Cor Takes, resistance fighters who commit the assassination of the Nazi collaborator, Fake Ploeg. However, throughout the rest of the novel, Mulisch introduces their motives and personalities, which collide with what is expected of Truus and Takes. This contrast between expectations and true character help to put forward the universal theme that there is no such thing as an entirely good or evil person.

Anton first meets Truus in a prison cell under a police station after her planned getaway fails. However, before the actual meeting, Mulisch gives several hints as to the character of Anton's cellmate, all of which describe a cold-hearted criminal. Firstly, the environment of the police station is described as very gloomy and bleak: "Downstairs it was cold again. A short hall led, below all sorts of pipes and wires, to some iron doors painted with yellowish paint full of rust spots. A weak, bare light bulb burned on the ceiling" (31). This descriptive imagery with diction such as "cold," "yellowish," "rust," and "bare" evoke negative responses and foreshadow a scene that, reflecting the environment, is not so happy either. Also, the cell itself is so dark that Anton tries to see anything, "the darkness filled [his eyes] like black water" (32). This simile showing a suffocating lack of light is also symbolic of the lack of love that the darkness instills within Anton, drowning him in despondency. The police that lead Anton to the cell also reveal that Truus' cell "should be solitary" (31) and address her harshly: "'You'll have company, but keep the boy out of it, will you? He's had enough misery, thanks to you'" (37). This, combined with traditional social prejudices, paints a criminal who is the worst of the worst, because not only do policeman suggest that she is the cause of Anton's misery, but they also fear placing other criminals into the same room with her. Even Anton succumbs to this expectation: "All about him [Anton] could feel the presence of the man who must be in there somewhere" (31). Anton assumes that a person capable of committing a murder must be a man due to social stereotypes of criminals.

However, Mulisch debunks all of those social stereotypes and prejudices as he introduces Truus' character and motives, beginning with her gender: "The gentle voice of a woman. Suddenly it was as if a great danger had been averted" (32). The fact that Truus is a gentle woman does not make her seem so much like a brutal murderer. Throughout their conversation, Mulisch portrays Truus and her actions as very gentle and soft: "He touched her fingers. She took hold of his hand and pulled him close. On the cot, she embraced him with one arm and with her other hand placed his head against her breast" (38). Truus becomes the model of a tender woman for Anton so that later on, when Anton marries his first wife, he realizes she and Truus have the same expression in their eyes. This certainly would not have been the case had Truus lived up to the expectations of the cold-hearted murderer that was first expected of her.

Also, the environment, which has a sliver of light in a sea of darkness, reflects the complexity of her actions, which are not entirely dark either. Truus helps Anton to see the light: "As he calmed down, he began to see a pale strip of light under the door and kept his eyes focused on it" (33). Once seeing this light, Truus tells Anton that this strip of light is symbolic of love:

'In the...

Cited: Mulisch, Harry. _The Assault._ New York: Pantheon, 1985. Print.
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