Saturday, May 20, 2017

Let her voice be heard

I sigh. “No one should learn the sordid facts of that horrible thing, that assault.”
“Why shouldn’t they?”
“Because,” say I. “That would be like violating my daughter all over again.”
“About that,” says Bathsheba, “you’re quite mistaken.”
“Am I?”
“Yes,” she says. “You are. In your mind, history belongs to the victor. Triumphs should be glorified, failures—glossed over.”
“But of course! That’s the way it’s always been.”
“It’s been that way, perhaps too long.”
“What d’you mean, perhaps too long?” 
“I mean, the way it’s always been isn’t necessarily the right way.”
“What other way is there?” I ask, and without waiting for an answer I press on, with great ardor. “Every day I dedicate myself, with everything I have in me, to one project: committing my story—or at least, the better parts of it—to the books, for the sake of the House of David, for the sake of my descendants and the entire nation. My version of events, setting up a model of a shining hero, will live on, in our times and for posterity.”
“For what purpose?”
“To excite the mind for greatness.”
“A valiant effort,” she says. “You are a victor among victors, and without a doubt, yours is a story to be remembered, in all its parts. But why not allow the victim her voice?”
“By which you mean what?”
“Look, if history belongs to the victor, it follows that cruelty is lionized, and that the names of villains, murderers, robbers, and rapists are hailed, in war and peace alike, at the expense of silencing the names of the conquered.”
“I get it, I do.”
“Do you, really?”
“Yes,” I say. “With a little less luck, my name could’ve been stricken off the books, or mentioned in passing as a traitor. If Saul had it his way I could’ve remained a nobody.” 
“I’m glad you see it my way,” says Bathsheba. “Singing the praises of the victors is fine—but then, if that’s all we hear, who will speak for the downtrodden?”
She has a point, which is why I must argue against it. I close my hand upon the scroll, and shake my fist in the air. “History admires those who are strong! It is this that makes me strive to achieve great things.”
Bathsheba gives me a look. 
“If history ignores those who are weak,” she says. “then the name of your daughter will be lost.”
“It’ll be hidden,” say I, “to protect her.”
“Her suffering will be obliterated, and so will her identity. It’ll be as if she never existed.”
“Given what she’s gone through, it’s for her own good.”
“Is it?” 
I hesitate to answer, because she makes me doubt that which I have held true all my life. I hate it when that happen.
With an amused smile at me Bathsheba says, “I can just imagine your scribe, Nathan, chewing the tip of his quill, so he may spit out something lyrical yet benign about your daughter, something that will obscure who she really is, and how bravely she tried to overturn her fate.”
“I can see him in my mind,” say I. “I can just hear him mumbling, under his beard, as he scribbles something like, ‘Now that her brother is a fugitive she lives alone in his house, with no one to talk to, a desolate woman.’”
“Give her a voice,” says Bathsheba, in a tone that is intense, and full of pity for Tamar, and for all of us. “Let everyone hear how a woman does all she can, with such amazing courage, to resist a rape. Let her story be told!”

In this excerpt, David and Bathsheba go out to their private place: the balcony where they made love for the first time. Here they argue, quite passionately, over the right course of action in the wake of the rape of Tamar, his daughter, at the hands of Amnon, his son. This crime has gone unpunished, because David loves both of them and cannot bring himself to restrain his son. At the same time, he wants to protect his daughter from gossip and exposure. He tries to silence all reports of the rape, while Bathsheba tries to convince him to let his daughter's side of the story be heard. Let her story be heard!

The argument has a larger connotation when it comes to the role of history. Should it record only those who are victorious--or should it give voice also to the downtrodden? What is the right balance between the two sides?

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