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Themes of Forgiveness in Literature

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1691 words Published: 27th Jun 2017

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Themes Of Forgiveness In Novels

Forgiveness. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is ‘an action or a process of forgiving or being forgiven’. On the other hand, Bråkenhielm (1993) said that the difficulty of defining forgiveness is because it is very much like love, it is ambiguous. Also, that there is no single concept that can define what it is. But there are many authors who tried to define forgiveness in many ways, two of these ways are: in psychological perspective and in theological perspective, respectively. One of the many authors is Canale (1990), according to him, forgiveness is a therapeutic agent in psychotherapy and that it is a cognitive restructuring that complements the emotional aspects of dealing with pain and resentment in therapy.

Forgiveness cannot be described or defined using only one concept. In this paper, I will discuss four of the most popular books in relation to forgiveness. These books attack different aspects of forgiveness. It is very interesting to know that one simple word can have multiples and multitudes of different applications.

In this paper, the following books will be discussed briefly:

  • Author: Robert Enright and Joanna North
  • Title: Forgiveness: A Bold choice for a Peaceful Heart (1992)
  • Author: Robin Casarjian
  • Title: The Handbook of forgiveness (2005)
  • Author: Everett L. Worthington Jr.
  • Title: The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness
  • Author: Simon Wiensenthal
  • Exploring Forgiveness by Robert Enright and Joanna North (1998)

This book is a compilation of 12 great, touching short stories that will teach any person how to deal with one of life’s toughest issues. This will help you face real and deep problems with acceptance and confidence in a positive way.

To start with, Chapter 2 of this book tackles about a mother who forgave her daughter’s murderer. The title of the article is: ‘the power and reality of forgiveness’. It is a very sad but inspiring story. If you come to think of it, how can a mother forgive her daughter’s murderer? It is very unusual but it is the right thing to do. This was just the beginning of it. The mother didn’t instantly forget what has happened to her daughter. It took her lots and lots of strength to face her daughter’s murderer and tell him that she doesn’t want him to be killed. Instead, she appealed for a lifetime imprisonment without bail. It was hard for her, but she realized that it was the right thing to do. After the tragic event, the mother became a part of a team that motivates people who suffered the same pain that she did. Today, she probably enjoys her life with her conscience clear helping other people cope up with the same situation as she did. This is what is meant by “power” and “reality” of forgiveness.

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Another point stressed in the book is that of Joanna North, on her article named, ‘The “Ideal” of Forgiveness: A Philosopher’s Exploration’. It is a clear, thorough explanation on what forgiveness is, what it is not, and other aspects of forgiveness such as its multiperspectival nature. North (1998) said that forgiveness is more than just acceptance of the person who have been wronged. Forgiveness is multiperspective in nature, in the sense that it takes into account the point of view of the wrongdoer: the process of being forgiven, the process of acceptance of forgiveness of the wrongdoer from the injured party. This acceptance of forgiveness is commonly known as self-forgiveness of the wrongdoer. When these two concepts have been joined together, process of forgiveness and self-forgiveness of the wrongdoer, then, we will have a bigger understanding on what forgiveness is really all about.

Forgiveness: A Bold choice for a Peaceful Heart by Robin Casarjian (1992)

In this book, Casarjian (1992) stresses that forgiveness frees us from fear, which is an underlying feeling behind resentment. Furthermore, it focused on a broad range of topics, from why to choose forgiveness, forgiveness for your family, forgiveness for yourself, and lastly, forgiveness for the world. Also, Casarjian (1992) said that forgiveness equals peace. Forgiveness, regardless of the situation or problem, gives the peace that we really want and yearn.

According to Casarjian, forgiveness is the means of the heart to mend itself and make it whole again. It gives us the freedom to love, sincere love. When we experience forgiveness, or we accepted forgiveness from others, we are transformed, giving us a fresh start. Furthermore, it tells about how our physical health may improve if we practice forgiveness.

It goes beyond understanding others, to how they cope up with the situation. Forgiveness must not be dependent on somebody else’s readiness or willingness to forgive. It explains that each person has his or her own way of letting go of their pain and anger. Let them be. Respecting them is another aspect of forgiveness. Not letting your self-forgiveness be dependent on the other person’s feelings or emotions.

The Handbook for forgiveness by Everett L. Worthington Jr. (2005)

In this book, Worthington (2005) describes that forgiveness isn’t just a science, it is also an art. This discussion can be found in chapter 1 of the book. In this discussion, I will be focusing on the questions answered by Worthington in chapter 1.

One question is: “How does forgiveness affect the participants in the forgiveness process?”. According to Worthington, forgiveness involves a wrongdoer, a victim, and sometimes a third party, for instance, a small range of the society. For the wrongdoer, some might actually be able to forgive themselves easily, some may not. But, one thing is for sure, for a transgressor that is forgiven, response is a must – both intraphysically and interpersonally. This implies that the experiences of the perpetrator are interlocked with the experiences of the victim. For the victim on the other hand, forgiveness is dependent on the personality and experiences of the victim. Some people might forgive easily, some may not. This accounts to a number of personal characteristics. Also, forgiveness can also involve people around you: relatives, neighbours, etc. This is why crimes affect society. In most tribes, wrongdoings can disrupt the harmony of it. That is why forgiveness is a crucial subject. Worthington summarized that forgiveness is a complex summary of intrapersonal process, interpersonal process, and interpersonal process within societal and political context.

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Another interesting concept presented in the text is the benefits of forgiveness. Like what Casarjian (2005) mentioned in his book, forgiveness has a lot of benefits: physical, mental, relational, and spiritual health. The explanation is a trivial one. According to Ludwig et al. (2001), Unforgiveness is stressful and makes people drown in their negative thoughts. This results in different negative consequences, be it physically, mentally, relationships, or spiritual health. Also, a survey in 2001 associates fewer poor health conditions in elderly people with forgiveness. Moreover, forgiveness lessens the anger, pain, and other negative feelings that a person experiences.

Another interesting concept discussed in the book was correlation of primate conflicts with human forgiveness. This was a study about the reconciliation behaviour of Chimpanzees and Macaques. The observed responses to conflict was kissing and the so-called ‘hold-bottom ritual’. Kissing in Chimpanzees was a sign of reconciliation between two former opponents. The conclusion of this study was that it was unable to prove that the former opponents have forgiven each other; the positive side was that the behavioural correlate levels of anxiety reduced or lowered after the reconciliation between the former opponents.

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness by Simon Wiensenthal (1998)

This is a very intriguing book that aroused the minds of many thinkers and writers. It is about a concentration camp prisoner who was subjected to an unexpected situation wherein a dying SS (German militia) man asked for his forgiveness after having participated in the Jews genocide. His response was to walk away. Nothing. He questioned if his response to the situation was right or wrong. He confronted the reader that if the reader was in his place, what would the reader do.

Wiensenthal wanted to pose a question to the reader, that in the case wherein the author already exposed his tragic situation. Wiensenthal wanted the reader to put their fit on his and question his mind, ‘What would I do?’. This is a question that not only tickles the minds of the reader. This question poses a more serious predicament to consider his/her personal moral and ethical beliefs. These moral and ethical beliefs influence our actions greatly towards negative situations like crimes, justice, compassion, and individual responsibility.

Further reading of the book contains the responses of 53 different men and women about the question posed by Wiensenthal. The respondents came from different backgrounds. Their responses acted as pillars for the readers to be able to contemplate on their own perspectives. His work I believe was to wake up the readers, to stand up, to think, to survive and face the obligation it entails. As what he have said, “Survival is a privilege which entails obligations. I am forever asking myself what I can do for those who have not survived. “-Wiensenthal (1989), p. 351.


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