Christa Wolf's Cassandra

In the novel Cassandra written by Christa Wolf the primary character Cassandra is considered to be an outsider. As the novel progresses it is prominent that Cassandra alienates herself from her family and the rest of society through the idols in which are supposed to instill faith for the Trojans. These idols include Helen and the Trojan horse. There are many others that are weaved subtly into the text such as calling Priam “almighty,” or the launching of the second and third ship. A motif that has been found in Cassandra is the need for false idols to create necessary faith. In other words this can be stated as the belief in deception in order to keep on living.

At the beginning of the novel Cassandra believes in these idols just like every other Trojan character in the novel but as she begins to realize the truth behind the idols she alienates herself through her actions. Her acceptance and understanding of the idols also alienated her because she is the only one which truly knows the truth.[1] This creates conflict between Cassandra and her family and the Trojan society. Cassandra is also labeled mad due to her different opinions and therefore is constantly being pushed away.

The idol of Helen holds a power over all of Troy even though she is nonexistent. Helen is never in Troy, and yet a war is fought over her. Both the Greeks and the Trojans believe, or feign belief that she is imprisoned within Troy's confining walls. Priam and his retinue act as though she exists as well as the Greeks. This is evident when Calchas snidely comments to Cassandra “Can you really?”[2], when Cassandra mentions returning Helen. Both armies use Helen to drive their men and women to war but both know she doesn't exist. She is false, but without her neither side would have a reason to fight. As Priam states, “All you have to do is make sure the army does not lose faith in the phantom.”[3] Priam's statement drives the fact that Helen is the army's faith to fight and without her they would crumble. Luckily, the majority of the people never find out, and the faith to defend their city is not lost. The population believes in the deception in order to create necessary faith.

Priam's opinion is clearly that the false idols are needed to create necessary faith while Cassandra creates conflict against that. Constantly, she argues with her father about revealing Helen, causing them to drive apart from each other. She even refuses to refer to him as “our almighty king”[4], which is a title that is supposed to instill faith into the wavering army of Troy. This is because the diction used, almighty, labels Priam as god-like, mirroring the Greeks demigod hero Achilles who instills courage in his army. Cassandra chooses instead to call Priam “father” or “King Priam,”[5] and is not willing to even give this little deception freedom. Small things like this drive Cassandra away from Priam as well as the rest of her family.

A simple two line, direct conversation between Cassandra and Priam summarizes their relationship after the Helen debacle begins. Priam says “Once something has become public knowledge, it is real.”[6] And Cassandra retorts, “So. Real like Helen.”[7] The syntax of short passive sentences used by Cassandra shows the sharpness of her attitude towards Helen. The period in that sentence creates a double meaning: “So real like Helen”[8], is Cassandra giving an example to what Priam said, and that she has become so real as to exist through the deception, and therefore Cassandra is being sarcastic and taking a stab at the falsehood of Helen's existence. This second meaning of the quote comes from Cassandra seeing no point in lying about Helen and believing that “No one can win a war waged for a phantom.”[9] The irony in this statement is huge for Eumelos, since he is a big endorser of deception in the book. Eumelos is Cassandra's 'No one' but ultimately Eumelos does win; he held Troy under his control, and he speaks of surviving for himself, where he believes Cassandra's warning of the Trojan horse, but is not willing to ruin the Trojan's sense of victory. It is not that no one can win, but the No-one does win in the end.

Speaking of the horse, it is another false idol used to create faith. The horse was an infamous deception. Cassandra states “my Trojan people believed what they saw, not what they know.”[10], saying that they know that this horse is false, yet they accept it anyway. Cassandra tries to convince them to keep it out, because she knows the secret behind it, but the Trojans take it in anyway and say “She's crazy, that one”[11], all due to her disbelief in the false idol. Cassandra is characterized as mad and alienated by not conforming to the false idols.

The whole situation in which Cassandra is labeled as mad is ironic since that the one labeled Mad, Cassandra, is the one that is the most clear-seeing. Cassandra is clear seeing partially due to her gift of prophecy from the curse that Apollo had placed upon her. Cassandra fights for her beliefs and in turn she is treated as a crazy woman causing her to become an outsider. The more she does not believe in the idols, the madder she is considered to be becoming. But it is she, the mad woman who is the only one who sees the truth.

During the launch of the second ship, Cassandra can be noted as one of the crowd: “All the Trojans had cheered just as I did when the Second Ship set sail”.[12] Christa's Wolf's diction, to add on the “just as I did” creates the feeling that Cassandra was part of the group, but the way it is said leaves a tinge of disgust from Cassandra's voice, in a way saying that she is no longer part of the group. This is another example of a false idol: Cassandra notes that “We swiftly varied our mistaken judgments to avoid seeing the sinister reality behind the glorious faade.”[13] Just like for Helen, everyone purposely ignores the horrible reality to be able to feel good about what is happening. At this point, Cassandra is characterized as part of the group, but as the book progresses, she fades away as she creates conflict about other idols.

“Woe, woe, woe. Do not let the ship depart!”[14] Cassandra shrieks as Paris announces the plan to “fetch the king's sister back from the enemy.”[15] Cassandra does not want to release this doom saying, “the ultimate estrangement from myself and from everyone”.[16] Cassandra herself realizes that going against the system, where the faith is created by false idols will cause herself to become alienated, but yet she still lets her voice push out.

Cassandra is alienated by being locked in a room, physically separated from the ceremonious, pride creating, launching of the third ship. Again, for the group of the general populous in which “they crowded around to receive their portion of sacrificial meat and bread,”[17] everyone is brought together without Cassandra and therefore causing her alienation. This physical separation symbolizes Cassandra's mental separation from the others in the novel that occurs as well. “Not a sound penetrated the inner courtyard onto which my window looked out”[18] Not even having a sound come through the walls is a metaphor that drives for the fact of complete separation.

“Woe, woe, woe. We are lost, woe, we are lost!”[19] If this quote sounds familiar it is because the author Christa Wolf wanted to emphasize the effects of repetition of Cassandra shrieking woe over and over again. This thus creates a link between these events, where Cassandra is alienated for her non-belief. The diction used “woe”, also creates a very negative tone during both these events, as this word has a connotation of sadness and crying and darkens the reader's mood while reading.

Overall, false idols in Christa wolf's Cassandra, are used to create necessary faith. Furthermore, Cassandra's waning acceptance of these idols through the book ironically characterizes her as a mad woman, when she is the only one willing to accept the truth.

Bibliography

  1. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988
  2. “Rewriting Kassandra: Christa Wolf's re-visioning of the myth” Available [Online] http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a911251672&db=all January 11, 2010
  3. “Rewriting Kassandra: Christa Wolf's re-visioning of the myth” Available [Online] http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a911251672&db=all January 11, 2010
  4. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 81
  5. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 61
  6. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 65
  7. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 65
  8. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 85
  9. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 85
  10. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 85
  11. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 69
  12. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 135
  13. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 136
  14. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 36
  15. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 36
  16. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 59
  17. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 58
  18. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 59
  19. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 60
  20. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 60
  21. Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Page 68

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