History of Love Essay
History of Love
The fear of losing something, whether it is one’s own life, the lives of love ones, or memories, is what drives many of the things people do. The characters in The History of Love are from different generations and have gone through different experiences but they all strive to sustain love, avoid death, stave off misery, and find a bearable truth in the sometimes unbearable reality of living. They are linked together through the theme of survival. Through different methods, they seek to physically survive and keep their love for others alive. To begin with, Bird attempts to help his sister and mother physically survive when the world ends. Bird believes that the world will end by a flood. He goes around the neighborhood looking for “things that people have thrown away with the garbage” and “Styrofoam because it floats” to build an ark (151). Bird believes that with the ark, his mother and Alma “don’t have to worry” about survival when the flood comes (204).
Secondly, Alma Singer demonstrates a strong desire to physically survive and preserve her memories and connection with her deceased father by taking interest in surviving in the wilderness and reading The History of Love. When she discovers that her father loved the outdoors, Alma decides to become an expert at surviving in the wilderness in order to keep her memory of her father alive and maintain a connection with him. She learns survival skills by purchasing and closely reading a book called Edible Plants and Flowers in North America, memorizing the Universal Edibility Test, and practicing assembling her father’s tent in record time so that she can survive in places like the Peruvian Andes “like [her] father” (42). In addition, her memories of her father become more” faint, unclear, and distant” as each year passes and it does not help that her mother threw away most of his belongings (190).
She turns to the book, The History of Love, hoping to “find out something true about [her] father, and the things he would have wanted to tell [her] if he hadn’t died” (181). Alma tries to keep her love and memories for her father alive by find meaning out of the passions and belongings of her father. In contrast to Alma, Charlotte Singer survives and continues her love for her husband by creating a world that focuses on her memoires and feelings for her husband, David. She survives by never falling out of love with him and keeping her love as alive “as the summer they first met” (45). She holds on to her memories and love for her husband by following sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti’s idea that in order to “paint a leaf, you have to sacrifice the whole landscape” (45). In attempt to “hold on to a certain feeling”, Charlotte insulates herself with memories of her life with David by building a world out of them where “she [knew] how to survive in, even if no one else could” (181).
As a result, she “sacrificed the world” and her connection with her children and other people (46). Similar to Charlotte, Leo’s unwavering love for Alma Mereminsky allows him to physically survive the Holocaust in Europe. With the Nazi invasion of Slonim, Leo was forced into a constant state of running and hiding. In order to survive, he hid in “trees, cracks, cellars, and holes” and lived in forests, subsiding on “anything he could put in [his] mouth” such as bugs, worms, and unclean water from puddles (12, 226). During the winter, he would hide in potato cellars for warmth and eat raw rat meat. Despite these horrible experiences, Leo’s deep love for Alma M. and his hope to reunite with her motivated Leo to want to live “very badly” and ultimately enabled him to survive the Holocaust (226).
Just as Leo used the writing of The History of Love to help him survive his separation from Alma M. during his youth, at the end of his life he uses writing once again to help him survive. Leo uses writing and imagination to survive loss and loneliness. At the end of his life, he writes Words for Everything, his life story. He uses this creative process as a way to cope with the separation and loss of his parents, siblings, “the only woman [he] ever wanted to love”, son, time, and childhood home, among many other things (168). Leo also uses his imagination to survive loneliness. During his childhood he used imagination to cope with being “different than others” and later in his life, he uses it to create a friend, Bruno. Bruno, Leo’s “old faithful” is revealed to be “the friend that [he] didn’t have” and “the greatest character [he] ever wrote”, based on his childhood friend who was killed in Slonim during the Holocaust (6, 249).
Bruno, someone Leo “invented so [he] could live,” was resurrected in his imagination to compensate for his inability to relate to the world and assuage his own loneliness (167). Leo uses writing and imagination to survive in different stages of his life. For the characters of The History of Love, there are different contexts and methods for survival. For Bird, it is important that his mother and sister physically survive the flood that he believes is coming. To Alma Singer, her obsession with physical survival in the wilderness stems from her attempt to keep her connection, memories, and love for her father alive.
Simultaneously, Charlotte closes herself from the world so that she can preserve her love and memories of her deceased husband. Bird, Alma S., and Charlotte’s connection and methods for survival all underline Leo’s journey of survival. In the early part of his life, Leo uses his love for Alma Mereminsky to physically stay alive during the Holocaust. At the end of his life, he uses writing and imagination to survive separation, loss, and loneliness. Each character has their own story but they are connected through a strong will for their own survival and the survival of their loved ones and irreplaceable love and memories of them.