Friday, 29 June 2007

Themes Expressed Through Characters in "Captain Corelli's Mandolin"

Students will be asked to read this novel over the summer. It will be a more profitable read if they note and annotate the pages for themes and characterisation, etc. In addition to the Study Mat for CCM in a previous post students would be well advised to think about how the novel's themes are expressed through a range of characters. The themes and the characters related to them are given in note form below.


This theme is linked to morality. Corelli makes his honour personal. Corelli talks to Weber about his punishment of a man who attempted to rape Mina,  the girl who who had been purportedly "cured by the supposed miracle.” Corelli made him carry “A haversack full of Rocks. Yes. I did it because I imagined that woman was my sister. I did it because when he was well-cooked I felt a lot better. That is my morality. I make myself imagine that it’s personal.” (Chapter 48) de Bernieres constrasts this with people who believe in ideas more that they believe in people or, indeed, morality.

-Carlo (See below on love and honour)
-Doctor Iannis
-Doctor Iannis work as a doctor
-Drousoula (Her story is told by De Berniere’s in “A Bird Without Wings” which deals with the mass migration and exchanging of Greek and Turkish populations between the two countries.)
- Bunny
-Mextaxas fears for the honour of Greece. His fears for Lulu and Greece parallel Dr. Iannis’ for Pelagia and Greece.
“When soldiers are dead, when a country is devasted and destroyed, it is honour that survives and endures. It is honour that breathes life into the corpse (of Greece) when evil times have passed”. (The third person narrator gives Metaxas’s feelings on Greece and its forthcoming trials for its “personal and national honour.”) 29

Metaxas replies to the Italian ambassador that he knows that in fighting the Italians he will also end up fighting the Germans. Still, he adds in French “That it is a question of honour”. Page 96, Ch. 12.

Carlo on the Italian officers of the Acqui division:
Fortunately the officers of the division were honourable men, and if it were not for this fact, I am quite sure that the islanders would have gone into insurrection, as they very quickly did in those places occupied by the Germans.“ 160

The Doctor to Corelli on hospitality and honour while still maintaining his resistance:
“Kyria Pelagia will bring water, some coffee, and some mezedakia to eat. You will find that we do not lack hospitality. It is our tradition, Captain, to be hospitable even to those who do not merit it. It is a question of honour, a motive which you may find somewhat foreign and unfamiliar”. (At this point the Doctor is unaware of Corelli’s deep feelings on honour.) P. 170

Mandras shoots the old man because he does not want to “lose face” and “it was a question of being a man in front of other men, a question of honour.” 193 ( In this instance, honour is besmirched as a positive virtue.)

The communist andartes
The British and Americans (letting the Italians down)

A foolish sense of honour is counterposed with common sense. (General Gandin’s dithering. His attitudes to war belong to the First World War and not WWII.)

Nobility and sacrifice
Related to the theme of honour and linked with love and morality.

Various kinds of love

-Heterosexual between Captain Corelli and Pelagia and Mandras and Pelagia
-Homosexual “Love will make men dare to die for their beloved –Love alone”. Carlo sees it as heroic and honourable to die for the one he loves. (Self-sacrifice)

-Soldierly love: this relates to the theme of various forms of love
“A further fact is, that regardless of the matter of sex, soldiers grow to love each other; and, regardless of the matter of sex, this is a love without parallel in civil life. You are all young and strong, overflowing with life, and you are all in the shit together”. Pages 32-3

-Parental – the Doctor and Metaxas for their daughters. (Lulu and Pelagia)
– Lust (before Pelagia learns to love Corelli.) See Chapter 11 for Pelagia’s lust.
-Of music (Antonia)
-Of Cephallonia
-Of Greece – Metaxas, Mandras, Iannis and his neighbours, Kokolios and Stamatis.

Waste-the sacrifices of Pelagia
-the sacrifices of Carlo

Metaxas thinks he “holds the fate and honour of his beloved country in the palm of his hand”. Page 26. He also thinks that “discipline and self-sacrifice” are the virtues that he wants to commend”. However he feels hamstrung by the behaviour of his daughter. It is a kindly portrayal of what was a dictator who had many imprisoned, tortured, etc.

“Destiny” and “honour” Page 29
Metaxas: “he knew that fate had selected him as a protagonist in the tragedy and that he had no choice but to grip the hilt of the sword and draw it”. Page 27

“Was it not it a form of irony to be so mocked by fate? Had he not selected for himself his role as ‘The First Peasant’, ‘The First Worker’, ‘The National Father’? Had he not surrounded himself with the pompous trappings of a modern Fascist? . . . Page 29

Dr Iannis to Pelagia: “You will marry Mandras if that is what providence decrees.” P. 87, Ch. 12
Corelli is fated to survive and mistake Pelagia’s child for hers.
Pelagia considers she is fated not to produce her waistcoat for Mandras. Page 112, Ch.16

Dr Iannis (self-educated as he travelled on ships around the world – he is formally qualified.)
Pelagia (taught Italian by her father and speaks Katharavousera (educated Greek) and not Demotic Greek. She completes her father’s “New History . . .” after his death and discovers her ideas as she articulates them.
Carlo writes and is highly articulate – his letters, etc.
Mandras learns how to read and write.
Captain Corelli educates Pelagia into art. (She has already received a scientific education from her father. The Captain helps her appreciate art and love in relation to her work on her waistcoat. See page 179.
Unlike Corelli the Doctor was unable to teach Pelagia about music. See page 188.

Dr Iannis is writing “The New History of Cephallonia” and this is finished by his daughter, Pelagia.

Carlo discusses “history” in some detail on page 33 as “the propaganda of the victors”. His own writings are an attempt to put his own “history” (or story) to tell “the truth” of his experiences and feelings while he lived. He gives further historical points on the pretext for the invasion of Greece by Italy on page 35. (“It seems clear in retrospect that an invasion of Greece must have been the ultimate intention; there were clues everywhere, if only we had seen them.” )35

The entire novel has been criticised for its historical bias and omissions. Perhaps one lesson that can be drawn from De Bernieres’ experience is that history is very contentious. Men such as Iannis and Carlo would be easily forgotten in a macro approach to history such as big battles, kings and leaders, events style history. History is made up of the doings of the ordinary as well as the great! Much of De Bernieres’ work is centred on the experiences of ordinary people who lived extraordinary lives as they lived them against the background of great events.

History is seen through the eyes of several narrators for a more rounded view, particularly on how historical “events” impact on the lives of ordinary people.

Pelagia feels as if she is “melting into history” as she watches Mandras. Page 89 (Ch. 12.)

History is related to “Memory”. This is represented by Iannis’s “History”, Pelagia’s letters and “History”, Carlo’s memoirs, etc.
Iannis becomes conscious during the Italian invasion that he is living through history: ‘History’, he proclaimed, ‘all this time I have been writing history, and now history is happening before my very eyes.’ 156 Chapter 23.

The yearly miracles of St Gerasimos and the focus on the mad on his feast day(s).
The actions of Mandras after he thinks “nobody wants him”. He raves after his experience of war when he returns to the Island. See Chapters 22-23.

Pelagia thinks that Mandras seems “madder in his new sanity than he had been when he was mad”. (After Mandras arising from his bed.) P. 177.

The position of women on the island

A women’s lot is not easy on the Island. Pelagia later relates this when thinking about Lemoni’s future. Education was not open to them and a life of marriage including hard, grinding work as well as bearing children was all that they could look forward to. Wife-beating was also common. Although several women are strong: Drosoula is a good example and also Stamatis’s wife who breaks a plate over his head! (Only education, trade and wealth would be a way out of this. See the theme of Education.)

Women without husbands or sons are vulnerable to mistreatment on the Island. This is a predicament Pelagia faces later in the novel.

Mandras to Iannis: “You know how everyone treats a widows, ‘They end up as whores’.

See also the notes on Pelagia on Ch..12
Drosoula is proud of Pelagia’s ability to treat Mandras for his ailments after he arrives home from the mainland: “You are astonishing. You are the first woman I have ever known who knows anything.” Ch.21, Page 138

What it means to be Greek/nationalism
Like Stamatis and Kokolios, Iannis shows solidarity after the Italians sink the Elli with its pilgrims and icon. It’s ironic that a religious icon would bring them together as two of them profess no religious beliefs. They are outraged that such an attack should take place on a holy day(“The feast of the Dormition”) in which a holy icon was probably destroyed. P.57 on The Orthodox Church and what it means to be Greek seems inseparable.)

The novel advances an ideology of caring for one another. Iannis echoes De Berniere’s sentiments here.

Several characters’ names have musical connections and connotations: Corelli, Weber, etc.

Music and Corelli’s playing of the mandolin awakens Pelagia’s feelings about it. Music not only bridges the distance between the couple, it also reflects a sense of “journey” and is linked with Ulysses and The Odyssey:

“She saw the tendons moving . . .from time serene at times suddenly furious, occasionally smiling,, from time to time stern and dictatorial, and then coaxing and gentle. Transfixed by this, she realised suddenly that there was something about music that had never been revealed to her before: it was not merely the production of sweet sound; it was, to those who understood it, an emotional and intellectual odyssey.

The captain’s singing group are called 'La Scala' after the opera house in Milan.

In Auschwitz the prisoners in the resistance tried to maintain morale among the inmates by organising poetry readings and music to help take their minds off the dreadful realities of their lives. Music was a form of escape. In CCM music has a similar function.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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