Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Month of Sundays--A Continuing Discussion of The Man Who Was Thursday

Last week I wrote about the character of Sunday, the President of the Central Anarchist Council and a Police Chief, in The Man Who Was Thursday. Sunday is a man whom Chesterton meant to exemplify the idea of a god who is willfully elusive, both good and evil, and a general enemy of mankind. Towards the end of the novel, Sunday leads his band of six detectives on a bizarre chase through the English countryside, during which he throws them meaningless notes such as “The word, I fancy, should be pink” (161), and “Fly as once. The truth about your trouser-stretchers is known” (157). I believe Chesterton meant these nonsense “clues” to illustrate how many believe God works: by throwing us confusing and nonsensical tidbits designed, not to bring us closer to Him, but to further alienate us from Him. This is, of course, contradictory to the Catholic understanding of God as one who wishes to lead us to Him and help us use our reason to understand something of His mysteries.

Contradictions abound in this man/god-hunt, especially when the detectives begin to describe their views of Sunday. (A reminder: physically, Sunday is grotesquely large and inspires fear and wonder in those who look upon him.) For example, Monday perceives him as cruel because, when he met Sunday, Monday asked him serious questions that only elicited laughs from the President, who shook like “a base body,” or "protoplasm." Monday speaks about how awful it was to be “laughed at by something at once lower and stronger than oneself.”

Wednesday says that the awful thing about Sunday is that he is absent minded. He maintains that, “absent-mindedness is just a bit too awful in a bad man. We think of a wicked man as vigilant. We can’t think of a wicked man who is honestly and sincerely dreamy, because we daren’t think of a wicked man alone with himself. An absent-minded man means a good-natured man. It means a man who, if he happens to see you, will apologize. But how will you bear an absent-minded man who, if he happens to see you, will kill you? That is what tries the nerves, abstraction combined with cruelty” (167).

After each man has described his opinions of Sunday, Thursday says, “Each man of you finds Sunday quite different, yet each man of you can only find one thing to compare him to—the universe itself” (168). He goes on to describe his impression of Sunday from the back as a beast and from the front as an archangel, and that he is always certain that, whether he looks at his back or front, he is viewing Sunday’s true self. He explains himself by saying, “bad is so bad, that we cannot but think good an accident; good is so good, that we feel certain that evil could be explained” (169). He then goes on to say what could sum up the idea of the entire book (so read and think carefully!):

Listen to me. Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—

The above passages warrant careful consideration: how are these views different from the Catholic view of the Lord and His creation? It is the crux of the whole novel (which I highly recommend you read!) and important questions for our faith as well.

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