How do the authors of the two texts Not Without My Daughter and The Pianist use their protagonists to explore a response to violent social change? A response to violent social change is explored within the two texts, Not Without My Daughter written by Betty Mahmoody, with William Hoffer and the film The Pianist directed by Roman Polanski. In these texts the authors use their protagonist to explore the idea and impact of the violent social change that these characters must survive. Protagonists, Betty in Not Without My Daughter and Wladyslaw in The Pianist respond to the violent social change presented to them in different ways.
The authors of both texts used different literary and film techniques to convey these themes to the reader and viewer. The authors express the characters initial response to the developments through two different emotions, fear and pride. Used by both authors, this technique helps to evoke different emotional responses in the reader and the audience. The response to the violent social change is also expressed through the characters appearances and cultural costumes throughout the two texts.
Both authors use the gender and race of the protagonists to explore their response to violent social change and hence create a particular perspective for the reader and viewer. Equally, the two authors use their protagonists to show their initial response to violent social change. Both authors use different literary techniques to express the emotions felt by their protagonist. In Not Without My Daughter the character Betty experiences the social change over a longer period of time, when compared to Wladerk in The Pianist. Betty expresses feelings of apprehension from the beginning of the text.
The author does this through her literary technique- word choice, a ‘This is a mistake, I said to myself. If only I could get off this plane right now’. The reader, is led to believe that Betty is uncertain about her family’s holiday, and later are made to feel sympathise for Betty as her fears are realised. The novel is also presented from her point of view, another literary technique, which enhances the reader’s perspective of Betty. This differs to The Pianist as it is an autobiography written by Betty after her ordeal, whereas Wladerk’s story was written by another person.
Therefore we have one person’s autobiographical accounts to real change and the film’s interpretation of a real man’s situation – the plight of Jews in Nazi German. This makes the viewer and reader more empathetic to the characters as they are more aware of the seriousness of the situations the characters are in, more than if it was fictional characters. Betty first sense is fear. This is expressed by the use of descriptive language emphasising her uncertainty towards Tehran and the different culture, ‘another disagreeable sensation- the overwhelming stench of body odour, exacerbated by the heat’.
On the other hand Wladerk in The Pianist holds too much pride for his family and religion to change in accordance with Nazi Germany and its new regime. As he was a Jew in World War II, Wladerk and his family had to evacuate their house but because of his sense of pride Wladerk wanted to stay, ‘If I’m going to die, I prefer to die in my own home. I’m staying put’. As the viewers have prior knowledge of the context of this war, they know that Wladerk will soon lose all his wealth and health. The director has placed Wladerk to the left of the camera, revealing the rest of the house, an empty space, with not a soul to be seen.
His wealthy home, filled with luscious furnishing and his suit and tie, suggest to the viewer that Wladerk is not the type of person to get his hands dirty, yet enjoys comforts of his home. The film maker evokes a response by the viewer to construct an empathetic feeling towards Wladerk as he goes from a wealthy lifestyle to living on the streets. Both authors express their protagonist’s initial response to the situation they find themselves in, with two opposite emotions, fear and pride. Mahmoody and Polanski explore the notion of the characters appearance throughout the texts linking this with their response to the violent social change.
This is done through costume, both in the film and the novel, as well as the gender and race of the two characters. This facilitates the reader in developing a particular perspective of the characters’ response to violent social change. In the film The Pianist, Polanski utilizes Wladerk’s costume to distinguish him from other non-Jewish characters. Wladerk receives some help from a friend who informs him ‘The Germans hunt down indiscriminately. Jews, non Jews, everybody! ’ For this reason, Wladerk must change his costume into slacks and a smart business-like suit and shirt in rder to blend in with the non-Jewish population. He is also made to shave and neaten up his hair. Here Polanski is exploring the necessity of disguise and denial of his true self in order to survive the change that confronts Wladerk. Along with the change of costume, Polanski exploits the use of lighting to manipulate the audiences perspective of the ‘new look’ Wladerk. In this scene the lighting also becomes less dull, once he has changed his costume. This technique of changing the mise-en-scene, appeals to the audience by breaking the tension in Wladerk’s sorrow.
Polanski is manipulating the audience by giving them a false impression that in future things may improve for Wladerk, this in turn does not eventuate. Similarly, there is use of costume to formulate a point for the reader in the text by Mahmoody. In the novel, Not Without My Daughter, Betty’s character must wear the traditional headwear of Tehran while she is outside with the family. This is until her husband tells her that she must not leave to go home, and Betty is made to wear the chador every day. In the text, a man comes to visit Moody to ask for his service as a doctor.
Betty is made to wear her ‘filthy’ chador while he is in her presence. As soon as the man leaves, Betty throws the chador off, and complains of the filthiness of her chador ‘These women wipe their noses on it’. Mahmoody is influencing the reader’s opinion about this costume by the word choice she selects. The word ‘filthy’ has much more connotations than using dirty or grubby. The reader is able to be given a clearer picture of what the chador looks like. An even clearer description is given when Betty tells Moody how the other women wipe their noses on the chador.
For the reader, the word choice makes them feel unclean and unease at Betty’s situation. Hence readers are manipulated by the author into feeling sympathy for Betty. Betty is forced to wear the ‘filthy’ chador contrary to Wladerk, who wants to change his appearance to better support his chances of overcoming the violent social change. Both texts are similar to one another, as the protagonist’s outfits and appearances change throughout the texts, however, the two characters react differently to the enforced change of appearance.
In The Pianist, Wladerk changes his costume in order to survive the fight against the antagonist, whereas Betty in Not Without My Daughter does not want to change her costume as she has the need to stay true to herself, ‘You told me I only have to wear this in public! ’. The film maker emphasises that Wladerk has more to lose, hence his need to change his costume as it is a life or death situation. Mahmoody however presented Betty’s situation as a less critical circumstance as she will only lose her way of life.
Similarly, the two authors influence the reader and viewer that during times of violent social change, it perhaps is necessary to compromise our self comfort and beliefs in order to survive. Both texts bring about the disturbance and violent change that disrupts the lives of each protagonist; this is achieved by the antagonists. In Not Without My Daughter, the antagonists are Dr Sayyed Bozory Mahmoody, Betty’s husband, known as Moody, as well as the majority of the Tehran population. In the film The Pianist the antagonists are all the German soldiers.
Both Betty and Wladerk receive guidance and help from someone who initially appears to conform to the stereotype of the protagonists presented. This shows equally to the reader and viewer that we cannot always assume that our first impressions are true and that stereotypes can be broken. In the film, The Pianist, a German officer named Wilm Hosenfield comes to Wladerk’s rescue. After finding Wladerk, the soldier does not shoot him or inform other soldiers of his presence; instead the soldier brings Wladerk food and other supplies, such as a warm coat to help Wladerk survive the winter.
When the Nazi soldiers finally pull out and allow the Russian soldiers power, Wladerk emerges from the house where he had been hiding, he is spotted by the Russians who assume he is a Nazi, due to the coat. ‘I beg you! Please don’t shoot! I am Polish’…. ‘Yes he’s Polish’ ‘Why the fucking coat’ ‘I… I am cold’. For the audience this is an almost humorous ending to a distressing film. Polanski uses this scene to finish presenting Wladerk’s response to violent social change. It demonstrates that Wladerk overpowered the Germans, giving the audience a feeling of relief for Wladerk.
Polanski has done this by demolishing the resonant notes of the gun shots, bombs and screams. He uses this motif throughout the film, when shooting or another displeasing scene is occurring. The audience knows that this is the end of Wladerk’s violent social change, as the film maker has altered the background noise to a barking dog. This is associated with nature and the freedom that comes from nature. Polanski has also introduced the sounds of Wladerk walking freely through the soft white snow, which also implies that he is now free. In the same way Mahmoody also uses this technique in the novel, Not Without My Daughter.
Betty receives help from the American Embassy to escape her violent social change. She is approached by two women, willing to help her by flouting the law. Yet Betty lets the women go, at which point they become furious, ‘You’re never going to leave him. You’re just saying this, making people believe you want to go. We don’t believe you. You really want to stay here’. In this section of the text, there is uncertainty about whether Betty is only listening to the embassy staff and doing as they have hold her, or if she has become too scared to leave. This creates the impression that Betty may be getting comfortable with her new surroundings.
Betty’s next escape is planned over a long period of time by a man who lives in Tehran. Betty and Mahtob follow this plan even though the group organizing it is the stereotype of the text’s antagonists. Hence, these texts similarly use their protagonists and antagonists and their relationships to present the protagonists’ response to the violent social change. An individual response to violent social change within the two texts has been explored by the two authors, Mahmoody and Polanski. The emotional response to violent social change has been expressed by both authors with the use of literary and film techniques.
In Not Without My Daughter, Betty response is fear, where as Wladerk in The Pianist is pride. Both texts convey the protagonist’s realisation that they will have to alter their appearance in order to survive the violent social change. Mahmoody does this through her word choice whereas Polanski uses mise-en-scene to present these ideas. Both authors use the antagonists to bring relief to the central character at the conclusion of the texts. Ultimately both authors present that successful responses to violent social change and whilst the characters experience may be different have at their core a desire to survive.