Captain Corelli’s Mandolin Essay
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Carlo asserts “War is a wonderful thing, in movies and in books.” By close reference to the novel, explore how war shows people at their worst and their best.
The novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, written by Louis De Bernieres in 1994, explores “humanity; we sigh at their suffering as they are ripped apart and forever changed by war.”1 The quotation in the title is spoken by Carlo quite early on in the novel, at the end of chapter 15, titled ‘L’Omosessuale (4)’.
He is referring to the idea that war is repeatedly shown to be patriotic, heroic, and indeed wonderful especially in film and literature. However, from Carlos’ experiences in Albania, he knows the true reality of war, as he has seen and experienced the suffering.
We can trace Carlos’ progression of thought through his personal chapters; all entitled ‘L’Omosessuale’. He begins saying, “How wonderful it was to be at this war”(p.119) We hear him describe crossing the foreign border as “exhilarating”, and he and his comrades view themselves as “the new legionaries of the new empire that would last ten thousand years.
”(p.119) This was his view at the very beginning of war, before he had really experienced any suffering. As he is yet to encounter any conflict, it is likely he has been influenced by the propaganda at the time, organised by the Italian leader, Mussolini. The next quotation is said slightly further on during Carlos’ experience, “How wonderful it was to be at war, until the weather turned against us.”(p.120)
It is here that we begin to hear of some of the suffering that Carlo and his comrades had to endure, such as “we were ten thousand men soaked to the bone”(p.120). The real tragedy of war is death, and Carlo has had direct experience of this. He says, “War is wonderful until someone is killed”(p.122). This is when De Bernieres chooses to use graphic images to show the suffering that Carlo and his comrades endure. “I realised that I was covered with gory scraps of human flesh that were freezing fast to my uniform”(p.122). Finally, Carlo says the quotation in the title, “War is a wonderful thing, in movies and in books” on page 124. It is here that Carlo has realised the actuality of war, and can see that this idealised version is fictitious and can only be seen in movie and in books.
“War scorches a trail through all of their lives. What seems, at the beginning of the novel, like a game, a challenge to manhood, a matter of honour, an occasion for political satire, becomes an appalling reality.2
Carlo asserts that war is shown to be wonderful in movies and in books. However, De Bernieres does not follow this trend, and shows the war for what it is. De Bernieres’ characters starve and die slowly with their entrails hanging out; he depicts the horror that they have to endure to fight for their country, and the suffering that they are put through.
In Albania, Carlo says
“It was as though a portion of my mind has disappeared, or as though my soul had diminished to a tiny point of grey light”(p.138).
De Bernieres also shows the gore and bloodshed caused by the war, when he describes the death of Francesco. In chapter 19, L’Omosessuale (6), De Bernieres uses Carlo’s narrative to tell the reader the true details of Francesco’s death, and then the sanitised version for his mother. As well as this showing Carlos’ considerate nature, it also confirms that many people did view the war in a very different light from its reality, including Francesco’s mother.
“He died on a fine day, Signora, with the sun shining and the birds singing.”
“(He died on a day when the snow was melting and when, beneath that carapace, there were emerging a thousand corpses, knapsacks, rusted riffles, water bottles, illegible unfinished letters drenched in blood)” (p.148).
Corelli wrote the novel, after falling in love with the Island of Cephallonia, and wanting to inform readers about what happened to this Island during World War II. For this reason, he has depicted a very real and veritable account of atrocities that occurred during the Second World War.
“Everyone is shot, without regard for rank or role, even the medics and the chaplains.”3
However, in the film adaptation of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, directed by John Madden, war is viewed in a very different light. De Bernieres has said of the film “The problem is that film-makers take out all your good ideas and replace them with a load of stupid ones.”4 The depiction of war in the film is very different and many scenes seem to have been “watered down”5, in order to appeal to far wider audience. The movie has been widely criticised, after changing the story line drastically from a tragic story of the destruction and consequences of war, to a love story between Corelli and Pelagia.
“Where de Berniï¿½res’ book makes it clear from the start that war is unforgivingly ugly, for a long time the film’s only hint of this is a glimpse of Mandras’s battle-scarred feet.”6
Although much of De Bernieres novel depicts the horror of war, some of the consequences of war are indeed wonderful. Corelli and Pelagia would have never found love without the intervention of war in their lives, and although ultimately war destroys their love, the moments spent together made the war endurable.
The prefatory poem at the beginning on the novel shows Louis De Bernieres hinting, even before the novel has begun, that war will be an important theme throughout. ‘The Soldier’ by Humbert Wolfe describes the waste of war, and the loss of lives and of youth. Links are evident between this poem and Captain Corelli’s mandolin as they both explore the way in which war has an effect on different people.
The presence of war on the Island of Cephallonia has various effects on different characters and can expose people’s flaws and merits. An excellent example of this is the contrast shown between Mandras and Antonio Corelli.
Corelli has been drawn into a war that he really has no heart for. “You mean you’re a soldier by mistake?” (p. 206, Pelagia). He has no desires to be a soldier and his character is often seen as anti-military. When giving punishments he does not follow the rules that are expected of him, “To everyone’s surprise the captain pointed his pistol straight into the face of one of the culprits”(p.324). However, although he had no intention of doing so, Corelli proves to be an excellent comrade and shows morality throughout the war. “This is my morality, I make myself imagine that it is personal”(p.351).
This is greatly contrasted with the character of Mandras. He has very high expectations about the life of a soldier and feels he has to prove himself to Pelagia and the rest of the Island. He resents those who know more than him, yet does not want to prove himself intellectually, as he believes “no man is a man until he has been a soldier”(p.80) Carlos’ assertion that war is wonderful in movies and in books reflects a idealised view of the war.
However, Mandras believes that this view was the reality of war and he felt that becoming a soldier would make him more worthy as a man. “I’ll come back and everyone will say, That’s Mandras, who fought in the war. We owe everything to people like him.” He is indoctrinated by what is expected of him, and is predicted to conform. However high Mandras’ expectations were, the war does not elevate him, it brings him down. During his experiences in war he saw others abuse their power, and now feels he has a right to do the same, The war de-humanises him, and instead of changing him for the better it changes him for the worse.
The war in Cephallonia showed the best and the worst in people. In Antonio Corelli’s case it displays his merits as he has the opportunity to exercise his humanity in the treatment of others. From the beginning of the novel, Corelli is represented as a laid-back, light-hearted leader. Although he has a great talent as a leader, he is very modest and introduces Carlo as “one of our heroes, He has a hundred medals for saving life and none for taking it”(p.202). He proves himself as an excellent comrade and Captain by being faithful to his men until the very end. “There is no honour in this war, but I have to be with my boys”(p.392). His introduction of La Scala also shows good comradeship, as it is a humorous and practical solution to having to use communal toilets. This is also a crucial element of the novel, as before they go to join the shooting line up, they sing to maintain their composure.
He also shows his forgiving nature when he chooses to forgive Gunter for what he has done. “I forgive you. If I do not, who will?”(p.397). He says of himself “I am not a natural parasite”(p.305) and this is seen clearly when he avoids any confrontation with Pelagia. He is uncomfortable about living with Pelagia and her father “Tonight I shall sleep in the yard and tomorrow I shall request alternative accommodation”(p.204). Corelli’s fondness for animals is De Bernieres way of showing positive traits in a character. The fact that Corelli is so attached to Psipsina shows that he is an admirable man and the reader feel connected to him.
“The captain had some engaging traits. He tied a cork to a piece of string, and sprinted about the house with Psipsina in hot pursuit…and if the animal happened to be sitting on a piece of music, he would go away and fetch another sheet rather than disturb her”(p.250)
Corelli also shows fondness for children in his relationship with Lemoni. Although there is a language barrier, the two are able to communicate on a different level, and are able to enjoy each other’s company.
“The child was whooping and laughing, and it appeared that what was transpiring was a lesson in Italian. ‘Bella fanciulla,’ the captain was saying. He was waiting for Lemoni to repeat it. ‘Bla fanshla,’ she giggled.” (p. 211)
He also appears to have a very different attitude than other soldiers, when he arrives in Cephallonia with his mandolin strapped to his back, and not a gun, as you would expect from a soldier. The mandolin “that was called Antonia because it was the other half of himself.” This love for music is another engaging trait that the captain has, and is one of the reasons Pelagia falls in love with him. We also see this originality to his character when Gunter Weber, a german soldier, introduces himself. Weber says “Heil Hitler”, yet Corelli says “Heil Puccini”, showing he has a very different attitude to the war, and will not be led by anyone. This again shows his love for classical music, as Puccini was a great composer, whom Corelli was an admirer of.
His relationship with Pelagia is clearly one of great love and admiration, however it also contains sexual desires, which are never consummated.
“Such slender fingers, such pink nails. He imagined them engaged upon amorous and nocturnal things, and realised that he was disturbing Psipsina.”(p.259, Corelli)
This shows ongoing respect for Pelagia and her father, and also shows Corelli’s caring and considerate temperament.
In contrast to Corelli, the character Mandras is brutalised by war. He believes that war will change him for the better, yet it changes him for the worse. He becomes a victim of propaganda and a victim of his insecurities. Before he leaves for war he tells Pelagia “I’m a Greek…not a Fascist”(p.214) War changes him for the worse as he is very easily led and allows others to influence him.
This may have had a positive effect on Mandras if he had chosen Iannis to guide him, yet he chooses Hector, the leader of a branch of the ELAS. Joining this group causes him to abandon his personal values, and this is seen when he whips the old man. “Mandras did not even notice that the man had stopped moving, had stopped screaming and whining”(p.233). He manages to blank out the emotions that he should be feeling, and begins to enjoy the power he holds over this old man. “If you didn’t think about what it was, it sounded weirdly beautiful”(p.234)
After returning from the war, he becomes much more manipulative, especially towards Pelagia and Drosoula. “Mandras had begun his exile into inaccessibility by dramatising the idea of death”(p.180). Pelagia was “convinced that he was doing it on purpose as an act of vengeance or punishment.”(p.180). This shows a very cruel side to Mandras that we have never seen before, and it clearly takes the war to bring out this negative side of his character.
He has clearly been indoctrinated by the propaganda of the war, and this is seen in chapter 63, when he recites communist slogans. “The party is never wrong. Whoever is not with us is against us”(p.447) He does not seem to be questioning what he has been told, he just repeats it. He has experienced others abusing their power during his time with the ELAS and now sees this as an approved way of behaving. “De Berniï¿½res explores power and its abuse”7 He insults and belittles Pelagia after he returns from fighting and tortures her further, even though he should see that she has suffered enough during the war.
De Bernieres shows a side to Mandras that readers have never seen before. He represents him as evil and sadistic, and we see Mandras refer to Pelagia as a “slut”. His morals have disintegrated following his fighting with the ELAS, and feels that he can do whatever he wants. This is due to the fact that the ELAS would make up their own rules for their comrades to follow. The war de-humanises Mandras and he represents the damage that can be inflicted by extreme politics. In Mandras’ death, De Bernieres wants readers to feel pity for him, as it is clear the communist party has seriously indoctrinated him. He dies as a victim of the war, and a desire to prove himself worthy, and this also evokes compassion in the reader
Carlo is a character in the novel who shows how war can bring out the best in people. He is a very honourable character, and has to live with the secret that he is homosexual. He puts aside his desire for Corelli in order to help the romance between Pelagia and Corelli develop. “I have loved you with the same surprise and gratitude that I see in your own eyes when you are with Pelagia”(p.384). He shows true bravery in front of the firing squad when stepping in front of Corelli to save his life. “Antonio Corelli…had found in front of him the titanic bulk of Carlo Guercio”(p.399). De Bernieres uses Carlo’s narrative in the chapters entitled L’Omosessuale, and this allows the readers to sympathise further with the silent suffering that Carlo has to endure during the war. His writings are eloquently written and his language is poetic and beautiful, showing the gentle side to his character.
“He died on a fine day, Signora, with the sun shining and the birds singing.”(P.148, Carlo)
“Father Arsenios was saved by the war”(p.292). De Bernieres absolves Arsenios after the war and liberates him from his former self. However, the characters perceive him as a mad man and cannot see that war has brought about his finest hour. He is referred to as the “crazy priest” yet he feels he is a saviour and “it is probable that, had he lived, Arsenios might have become a saint”(p.295).
De Bernieres chooses to depict war in a graphic and realistic light in his novel, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Although in many films or books war is shown to be wonderful, this idealised version is proved wrong in De Bernieres novel, as he shows the suffering that the soldiers were forced to endure. He shows that the war has different effects on different people, and it can expose their faults or their merits.
Mandras is forever changed by the war, as he returns indoctrinated by the communist party. His death proves that his natural environment is the sea, where he can be accepted and does not have to prove himself. In contrast Corelli’s merits are shown to be more prominent as the war develops, and also as his love for Pelagia develops. The reader is drawn to the character of Corelli, even though he is an occupying soldier, as he shows compassion, kindness and respect during his time in Cephallonia.