Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Ghoul Who Was Sunday

I am feeling heroic today, so I will attempt to summarize the plot of Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. Here it goes:

Gabriel Syme is a police detective in a city plagued by political turmoil and threatened by anarchist plots of destruction. By happenstance, he becomes an undercover agent in the Central Anarchist Council, which consists of seven members, each named for a day of the week. The Council is led by Sunday—a mammoth of a man terrifying in his intensity and deadly purpose. While desperately hiding his identity, Syme discovers that each of the other members of the council is also a disguised undercover policeman working AGAINST anarchy. They eventually join forces against Sunday, whom they all fear and despise. They then discover that Sunday is the very same man who, in a room so dark they could not see his face, had recruited them to be policemen in the first place. The plot culminates in a long and exciting chase that leads them to Sunday’s vast country estate, where they discover that Sunday is not a man at all, but, in his own words, is “the peace of God.”

Unfortunately, even a quite good summary of this novel (and I must say, this one is not that bad) excludes the philosophical asides, witty observations, and poignant comments about society and humanity. Many of these lovely tidbits regard the character of Sunday, an elusive and confusing man whom Chesterton meant to exemplify the “mysterious master both of the anarchy and the order” who is a “sort of elemental elf who had appeared to be rather too like a pantomime ogre” who would have inhabited the “world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing” at the time the book was written (these quotes were taken from an article Chesterton wrote for the Illustrated London News in 1936). This can be seen in the entire title of the work, which is, The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare.

Sunday is described as a huge man—very tall and very fat, to the extent that he looks unnatural and frighteningly inhuman. His dual roles as police chief and President of the Central Anarchist Council are in opposition to each other. Strangely, he openly acts as an anarchist in broad daylight but acts as a police chief only in darkness. He even holds the anarchist council meetings on a balcony during the day to discuss their plans, for he believes in concealment by not being secretive; in other words, because they are open with their dissention, they will not be taken as serious threats.

When the policemen (formerly members of the anarchist council) confront Sunday, he says,

You want to know what I am, do you? […] Grub in the roots of those trees and find out the truth about them. […] Stare at those morning clouds. But I tell you this, that you will have found out the truth of the last tree and the top-most cloud before the truth about me. You will understand the sea, and I shall be still a riddle; you shall know what the stars are, and not know what I am. Since the beginning of the world all men have hunted me like a wolf—kings and sages, and poets and lawgivers, all the churches, and all the philosophies. But I have not been caught yet, and the skies will fall in the time I turn to bay. I have given them a good run for their money, and I will now.

True to his word, Sunday then leads the policemen in a bizarre chase around the English countryside that ultimately leads them to his estate and then to a final unveiling of Sunday’s dualist nature, the nightmarish view of God that Chesterton was trying to expose as fallacy. I would like to continue about this particular aspect of the novel next week, so I will end on a discussion of the above quote.

The idea that God does not wish to be discovered or understood at all is horrific; it is the crux of Agnosticism and completely contrasts the Catholic ideas of faith and reason leading men to salvation. Belief in a god who amuses himself by playing cat-and-mouse with his creation would drive anyone away from faith—many people alienate themselves from the Church because they believe that God wills everything about it to be incomprehensible. We must not fall into the mire of despair about ever reaching communion with Him due to this folly. Growing in wisdom and understanding about our faith is one of our greatest tools to reaching salvation, and the history of great intellects in the Catholic Church makes this possible. We must actively participate in the search for Truth, a participation that has been sadly neglected among Americans and the youth of the world.
(Shameless Parousians plug!)

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