Thursday, January 06, 2011

Anna Kavan "I am Lazarus" - Spoiler!

The short story "The Brother" is another stunner. The narrator talks of being a sickly child, well taken care of by his mother while his brother is hardy and beautiful. He tells us that he has great regret about his treatment of his brother. He was always quarrelsome and hid behind his illnesses to be unkind to his brother and his friends. The brother was kind and always tried to bring a smile to the narrators face, though he was never rewarded with one.

The love the narrator got from his mother, he was entitled to because he needed to be taken care of, being sick often and unable to get around. "I was puny, weak, incapable of tying my own shoelaces without gasping for breath, my complexion was sallow, my hair stringy and dull, my manner lifeless or boorish and petulant (72)". He says he never really noticed the wear and tear his care was taking on his mother. He was entitled to this care, why should he worry how hard it was on his mother.

He gets a bought of flu and gives it to his brother, though he assures us that his brother was only mildly effected by the illness. As they are recouping in study, in the same room which hadn't happened for a long time, his brother initiates a conversation. "...(he was) begging my pardon if he had hurt me in some way, and asking if we could not make an effort to get on better together, if only for mother's sake (75)." The narrator says that he wanted to make amends, that he felt a "softening towards him (75)", but he was suddenly taken with a seizure. The mother wants to go get the medication he needs, they have none in the house, but the brother decides to go. The narrator encourages this plan of action and the brother goes in to the cold winter weather.

The brother gets pneumonia, his mother commands the narrator attend the death bed. The narrator feels she is uncharacteristically sharp with him.

The fearful sound of his breathing was so loud that it seemed to be inside
my head. I had the sensation of participating in the agony of a man being
tortured to death, and my shudders became so uncontrollable that I was
afraid of falling upon him. At last words came; clear, and yet not like
human speech at all, they came from so far away.

It's a pity.

It was like listening to a voice speaking across oceans and continents. And
after a long delay, very softly, so that none of the others heard, followed two more words.

For you. (76)
What does he mean? He pities the narrator, then the truth is revealed when his mother comes in later to see him in the study. He senses that he can no longer rely on her comfort so does not even look at her as she comes in.

The silence between us became intolerable and I stammered something intended
for consolation, saying that at least we still had each other.
Yes, you are all that is left now, she said in a low, grave tone, while
her eyes appeared to be studying me with the same unnatural and dispassionate
consideration that I had bestowed on the tablecloth.
And suddenly, as she stood there looking at me so quietly and steadfastly
in the quiet room...I realized everything, my own blindness, the horror.
It was not I but my brother whom my mother had loved all along. He was the
treasure of which I had robbed her for all these years and of which I had deprived her for ever.

As if she knew what was in my mind she remarked:

You were always stronger then he was, and now you have managed to get rid of him for good (78).

How chilling is that??? All along he thought that because of his frailness he had been able to keep all of the love of his mother. When she asked the brother not to try and make amends with him it wasn't to keep the narrator from getting upset but the opposite. When the narrator would make rude remarks to the brothers friends, she asked him not to bring them around not to appease the narrator, but not to embarrass the brother. He has skewed the whole situation his whole life.

Is this what we do? Do we really know how people feel about us, or do we just see what is convenient. I think the brother all along had been protecting the narrator from knowing the mother's true feelings, and that is why the pity. Now that the brother was dead the narrator was going to know that he wasn't the center of his mother's love and devotion. The theme of this book is how the mind works, and I think that his seizure is timed to keep him from making amends with his brother. His mind wouldn't let him make this move, the move that would have kept the family together. An excellent 15 minute read!

Kavan, Anna. I am Lazarus. London: Peter Owen, 1978.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi. Anna Kavan is one of my favorite writers, and I'm very happy to find your posts about her work. Please keep writing!