In the novel Sophie’s Choice, William Styron suggests that the burden of guilt can make one’s life vastly difficult, seeming almost impossible to conquer the situation, but teaches a life lesson if the right path is chosen. The Holocaust becomes an incredible personal drama with guilt used as a major theme, in the middle of a massive catastrophe, in William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, a big and questioning novel with first-person elements and a fearless determination to explore a particular human dimension of a historical nightmare.
Hitler quickly took control of Poland by specifically targeting and eliminating the Polish race. One of the objectives of controlling large masses of people, used by all totalitarian systems down through history, has been to destroy the educated classes. The novel reflects on Sophie Zawistowski telling her story about her experience in the holocaust, and her life afterwards. There are additionally numerous flashbacks to her time spent in Auschwitz. The title of the book, “Sophie’s Choice”, relates to the tragic decision Sophie was forced to make when entering the concentration camp.
When Sophie arrives to the concentration camp in Auschwitz with her two children, Eva and Jan, one of the Nazis tell her that she must decide which child of hers shall live, her son, or daughter. She ultimately chooses her son to live. Guilt is one of the most powerful forces ever to be brought upon earth. In the event that Sophie has to choose between her two children affects her for the rest of her life. Throughout the book, Styron implies how hard it is on Stingo, when he is not able to stand up for Sophie, or at least for himself.
When Nathan makes sarcastic comments about Stingo’s work after reading the first parts of it, it causes the impression that Stingo feels as if he has failed. In the end of the book, Stingo is haunted by his own bad conscience for not being around and being able to stop Nathan from abusing Sophie so badly that she has to see a doctor. “We’ve got to do something,’ I said, ‘we’ve got to get him in some kind of custody where he won’t harm you. ’ I paused, a sense of futility overpowering me, along with ugly guilt.
‘I should have been here,’ I groaned. I had no business going away. I might have been able to-”. (Styron, William Sophie’s Choice. New York: Random House Inc. 1979). The guilt Stingo feels for not being around to help Sophie is a feeling that is relatable, but can be hard to accept. Ostensibly, Sophie has her reasons for not wanting to accept Stingo’s help and care, but it still leaves Stingo in a difficult state of being. Reaching out to help Sophie, who does not want or cannot accept his help makes it hard for Stingo to continue being there for Sophie, the way that he did.
The novel speaks through the voice of Styron’s alter ego, a polite young Tidewater Virginian called Stingo who comes to New York in 1947 in the hopes of being a writer. This first-person point of view used in the novel affects the readers understanding by causing them to observe the other character’s feelings as opposed to knowing directly what particular characters are thinking. The narrator, Stingo, is reliable because he is an honest young man who relates to almost all of the characters in the novel, making it easier for the reader to trust him. A device used multiple times by the author is flashback.
Throughout the story, there are numerous times when Sophie is telling the story, becoming the narrator. She talks about her life in the holocaust and her past, which she has never before spoken of. In conclusion, the novel Sophie’s Choice by William Styron is mainly about the suffering of the Polish people, and Sophie exemplified in this suffering. All throughout the book, Sophie faces choices, as do all of us in our current reality. And in every instance, she chooses from a position of impression of safety and fear, and it seems to be suggested that when she chooses, someone dies as a consequence of her choice.