Monday, January 20, 2014

Anna's Tragic Dilemma

"I have urged them not to be ashamed of being alive, since they have no possible reason for being ashamed of having sinned." So wrote Saint Augustine (De Civitate Dei, II, 2) to console "women of of holy and devout chastity who felt felt the pangs of shame at their treatment by the enemy, although they have not lost their resolute purity."
Too bad Saint Augustine wasn't in residence at Downton to counsel Anna Bates in the painful aftermath of her horrendous rape by Lord Gillingham's vicious valet! Of course, Anna has thus far proved impervious to the counsel of the wise and compassionate Mrs. Hughes (unlike tom Branson, who seems to recognize a real friend and prudent adviser when he finds one). So what would make anyone think she'd be any more receptive to Saint Augustine's guidance in this matter?
Anna's tragic dilemma has a practical component. She fears Mr. Bates would react by killing her assailant and end up being hanged after all, having escaped that fate in the previous season. That legitimate worry would certainly warrant a prudent, well thought-out approach on Anna's part to telling her husband. But surely, especially with the helpful Mrs. Hughes at her side, Anna could conceivably have managed it. Did the script writers consider this? Or did they really just want to create more drama by disrupting the Bates' seemingly too happy marriage? The best thing Anna has going for her is her marriage. Yet she seems on the verge of blowing that up rather than allowing her husband to help her get through her grief and shame.
Anna's dilemma illustrates the unique pain and suffering of many victims of rape. But Anna's dilemma - what to do, whom to tell, how to relate to husband and colleagues -  also highlights, it seems to me, a larger issue. I refer to what seems to be a seemingly widespread human tendency, when confronted with a serious personal crisis, to isolate oneself precisely when reaching out is what may be called for, to withdraw from community when engagement would serve far better. That happens so often in so many sad situations - in families, friendships, and relationships of all sorts. If only we could learn instead to engage and rely on others rather than withdraw into and rely on ourselves!

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