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Memory is a means by which individuals can draw from experience they may have had in the past to use the information in current circumstance. It is essential in the lives of individuals, because without it learning anything in life would not be easy. George Steiner’s Return No More effectively illustrates the theme of memory leading to an understanding of the manner in which individuals are affected by returning home post-war. The thematization of memory is done through Falk, the protagonist of the story, two English soldiers who tend who reminisce about their survival in this harrowing experience, and an American who became a part of the underground reseau before feigning insanity and being taken to a mental home. In essence, memory is based on the fear that grips individuals as a result of the war. There is an uncomfortable state and the surprise of having survived a war based on the outcomes that had been evidenced. In Return No More by Steiner, the thematization of memory is done effectively by bringing out memory as a significant bridge in the life of individuals, a treatable condition, and as a sign of relieving guilt.
First, the thematization of memory is demonstrated through two English soldiers who are emotionally surprised by their survival in the war and the fact that they are able to return safely to their respective home countries. In the book, there is an description of two English soldiers who return back to their motherland after war in which they have been called upon to participate as part of their normal military duties. Specifically, this was against the Nazi. It is illustrated in the story that they returned to their village and could “hear the silence”. From this statement, there is clear information about their previous environment and how they feel after being released from the war or after the end of the war. Thus, it could be concluded that, according to their experiences, the war environment was full of extreme anxiety and fear. This is different from the peaceful scenario where they are free to do what they would, including having free thinking abilities. In this case, memory is basically themed as a transitional element in the lives of individuals, especially those who have experienced certain difficulties in the course of their lives. Memory is a relieving moment in the transition of these soldiers from a world full of war to a world where peace is dominant. For instance, the soldiers experience the ability to remember and think well once the war is over, and they are able to settle on their own without any form of disturbance. This is unlike the situation in Germany where they did not have the chance to think of remember anything. Thus, memory in this situation is instrumental in bridging the transition of these soldiers from a period of bruising war to a state of peace. They are able to link the events that happened during the war to real-world situations and evaluate the disparities in these two worlds, leading to an effective course of action, which is to always ensure that the world lives in the desirable level of stability. As a bridge, memory is a strong element that shows individuals the best of the world where there is peace and the worst of existence always characterized by war. Therefore, it is the choice of individuals to think and choose the best of the worlds.
Second, the thematization of memory is attained through a hospital situation where there is an illustration of the view that memory could be healed by a timely intervention of a qualified practitioner. The thematic demonstration of memory in the hospital environment comes through an American who have joined reseau and is drastically dominated by fear (Steiner 105). With the fear that had gripped him as a result of the tough situations of the war, the American decides to feign insanity and is taken to a mental home where Dr. de Veeld is the main practitioner. The hospital has always been a safe haven for Jews as well as individuals who had run away from the excessive murders that were taking place across the country. In line with the story of the American, it is clear that individuals have the capacity of losing their memories in some instances, but this might not always be the end of their memory capacities. Mental problems that come as a result of unstable memories could be treated with the right intervention provided by individuals such as Dr. de Veeld. As much as the American feigns a mental problem as a result of fear, the story themes memory as a fundamental element in a human’s life that can be disrupted by different factors, including fear. This means that it is significant to ensure that fear is controlled in the best ways possible to ensure that the mental capabilities are maintained at all times. The thematization of memory as a treatable condition is vital in demonstrating the memory of an individual as being in unstable state. Variations are always likely to come about because of undesirable factors such as fear. It is vital for individuals to have control over situations even under the influence of fear to maintain the stability of their own memories. In tandem with the story, having an unstable memory is not necessarily the end of one’s mental health, because of the availability of treatment opportunities. The story of the American who feigns insanity is used in the book to encourage individuals to seek medical interventions in cases where such situations arise. There should be no assumption that insanity cannot be treated, as there are many centers that treat these conditions.
Third, memory is also themed as an element that is able to take away the guilt of individuals, especially the kind caused by participation in horrid events, such as the war. This is demonstrated through a German, Falk, who is the protagonist of the book. Notably, Falk is destined to marry the daughter of a French farmer who billeted him previously. While thinking of marrying the daughter of the farmer, he tends to use his own memory to take away the guilt emanating from the war started by his country’s dictator Adolf Hitler. He believes that by walking down the memory lane on the best days he had with the farmer’s daughter he will be in the best possible position to overcome the guilt that faces him as a result of the war. He believed that he had returned too fast because the memories of the war were still fresh in the minds of individuals. For him, it would not have been necessarily appropriate to wed the French farmer’s daughter immediately after the war, as there had been no recovery in their own states of minds. He regrets having returned early for the marriage and tries his best to walk down the memory lane that would ensure he overcame the guilt he was facing amidst the murders that had occurred. In line with the situation that Falk faces, it is clear that memory can be used to bring back the best moments in life by overcoming ugly situations. This is through the binding love that exists between individuals. Memory is generally themed as an element of love that is always bound to overlook ugly and undesirable situations for a brighter life in love. It fights negative emotions such as guilt to bring the best out of individuals. Therefore, memory is themed as the best strategy to attain innocence and love instead of sticking to undesirable feelings in life, such as guilt.
In conclusion, memory is one of the key elements illustrated in Return No More by George Steiner. The story illustrates the killing of the Jews and the dictatorial regime of Hitler. The thematization of memory is widely present throughout the book and it is used in various ways, including acting as a bridge between the world of war and peaceful work. Soldiers have the ability to think freely in a peaceful state as compared to the war state where their thinking tends to stop. More so, memory is themed as a treatable condition in instances where an individual goes insane. The American is rushed to the hospital when he feigns insanity, demonstrating the fact that memory could be treated and should not be overlooked when individuals fall short. They should be given room for treatment because of the healing opportunities they have. Additionally, memory is themed as the link to the elimination of guilt. Falk finds it easier to fight guilt by going down the memory lane and thinking of his love to the farmer’s daughter.