I feel like there are a lot of “what-ifs” in this novel. I know if can be frustrating to speculate about what could/should have happened in novels, but I also think it helps form a better understanding of the characters to wonder how they would react in slightly different circumstances. This novel also leaves a lot of room for speculation since the author leaves so many characters and relationships underdeveloped.
What if Montie had seen Miriam with Bob before they both set out to war, or if Roscoe had told Montie about what he’d seen? We talked a lot in class about Bob’s hypocrisy regarding his relationship with Miriam and his judgement of Montie’s relationship with Blanche, but do you think he would have acted any differently if he were aware that Montie knew of his relationship with Miriam? Would Montie have thrown that relationship back in Bob’s face in that moment? Would that have made the situation worse, or would Bob have been forced to back down a little? Probably the former. Bob may have faltered a bit out of surprise, especially if he actually weren’t aware how Montie’s knowledge of his relationship with Miriam, but ultimately I think Bob would have made matters worse for Montie if he had tried to fight back against Bob.
The biggest “what if” is the ending: what if Montie hadn’t bothered trying to save Bob? We talked in class about why Montie needing to be “the hero.” The author felt the need to give Montie that role within the narrative because, as a black man, he could not have been the character who sees the white officer wounded in the trench and leaves him there to die. Even though Montie would have been completely justified in leaving Bob, the audience at the time that this novel was written would not have accepted those actions from Montie. So he has to be the hero. What struck me, however, is that Bob says “But I want to thank you” (68) before Montie has even made the decision to get Bob out of the trench. All Montie has done at that point is put a tourniquet on his leg, prop him up, and give him some water. So what if that’s all Montie had to do? He can still be seen as a hero of sorts by crawling into the trench and assisting the man who stripped him of his rank. Saving his life was hopeless, but at least he made him a bit more comfortable in his last moments. Meanwhile Montie waits out the gunfire until it’s safe to leave the trench, and survives.
I’m gonna talk mostly about “Moonlight” because that has been my favorite section of The Forbidden Zone so far. We talked a lot in class about what the moonlight (or the moon itself) represents and why it makes Borden so uneasy. Dr. Scanlon brought up the short story that we read by Richard Aldington, “The Case of Lieutenant Hall,” in which the main character constantly sees the face of the man he killed in the moon. I was also thinking about the representation of the moon in the poem we read by Thomas Hardy, “I Looked Up from My Writing,” in which the speaker feels as though the moon is judging him. I know we touched on similar ideas in class, but with the connection of the representation of the moon as something that passes judgement on people in those two other works, I started thinking that it made Borden uneasy in “Moonlight” because it was casting it’s judgmental light over the war itself. Like it was not only judging Borden as an individual, but instead the war as a whole that humans have created – the battlefront, the trenches, the tent hospitals with the mangled dying men – and the reason that this judgmental light disturbs Borden so much is that, since she’s powerless to make the war go away, she has to deaden herself to how horrible it is and find sanity in the routine of it. And the moonlight’s illumination of the horribleness of the war doesn’t make that easier.
We also extensively discussed the personification of Pain, Life, and Death, and also about the gendering and sexualization of Pain specifically. I think Dr. Scanlon touched on this briefly in class, but Borden personifies a lot of concepts and sounds in this section. The sound of cannon-fire: “…that giant’s voice. He is a friend – another familiar, monstrous friend. I know him.” The moon and its light: “In a dream I see her, in a crazy hurting dream.” Pain: “She is the stronger. She is the greater. She is insatiable, greedy, vilely amorous, lustful, obscene.” The grass and trees: “What are they saying?…They keep me awake with their awful whispering.” All these things are treated as more human than any of the actual humans in the story. The men are just “heads and knees and mangled testicles…chests with holes as big as your fist, and pulpy thighs, shapeless; and stumps where legs once were fastened.” Borden dehumanizes herself and the other nurses as well. They walk around as dead, empty shells because they made themselves that way, because how else are they supposed to survive the war? Both the men and the women involved in the war have lost so much of their humanity and sense of self that the only things left with any personality are the sound of cannon-fire, and the sound of the wind through the grass and the trees, and the moonlight, and Pain, Life, and Death.
So on that cheerful note, does anyone else want to go off about Moonlight?