Sample Module C Essay
Discuss the relationship between history and memory as it is represented in your prescribed text and two related texts.
The interaction of history and memory is significant when representing the past. History involves the contextualising of events, and memory adds a humanising and personal perspective that is necessary to understanding the values of past events However, the limitations of both must be considered in their evaluation. Academically and culturally, history is the defining aspect of factual records of the past whereas memory is suggested to be coloured by emotion diminishing its accuracy and increasing subjectivity. “The Fiftieth Gate – A Journey through Memory” by Mark Baker overturns these preconceived connotations and through the exploration of the connections, authority and limitations of history and memory, these two concepts are acknowledged as equality in validity. “Anne Frank Remembered” by Miep Gies and “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien further emphasises how the combination of these two concepts synergise to enable the greatest verisimilitude.
The three texts acknowledge that history and memory are equally valid methods of recollecting and examining the past, although the limitations and boundaries of both elements are recognised. “The Fiftieth Gate” is a polyphonous text interweaving historical (Baker highlights that) documentation, memories and fictional reconstruction as Mark Baker undergoes a “Journey through Memory” of his parents’ past. Baker presents the many complexities involved in the process of remembering and questions whether “history remembers more than memory”. By the fiftieth gate this is open for interpretation by the responder. The fragmented structure of the text, in the non-linear chronology and consistent use of flashbacks, represents the partialities and difficulties of both approaches; and the consistent use of Yiddish creates an awareness and application of culture and authenticity in the text, distancing the responder from being over-immersed. Baker delivers that the depth of someone’s history and memory will never be completely understood: “the final moments can never be retrieved by history. Nor memory”
Collective history is represented through the experiences of those in the death camps, which were well documented. (which death camps? by who? You need to be specific and relate to the text.) Academically and culturally they are valuable sources of recalling the past, yet Baker comes to realise that they are delivered with great emotional detachment, causing him to question the full capacity of history to record the authenticity of human suffering. Historical documentation reveals that Yossl’s father, Lieb, and the millions of other Holocaust victims experienced a loss of identity by being diminished to being known as simply a number and a Jew. In contrast, Baker cannot provide historical evidence for Genia’s personal memories of being the sole survivor of Bolszowce. Genia’s experience during the Holocaust does not have the necessary social and cultural validations and she has no-one to corroborate her story, “who can you ask? There’s no-one to ask”. The nature of her experience does not fit into Baker’s ideology of history as there is “no means of validation”; however when he discovers a testimony of an SS soldier confirming her experience, he questions himself, “What are these papers expect echoes of the past, dark shadows without screams, without smells, without fear”. This illustrates his shift in ideology as to what constitutes history and reveals his acknowledgement of the dual role of history and memory.
On the other hand, (Don’t use – Alternatively,) some personal memories coloured by emotion and trauma, or simply deteriorating overtime, resulting (over time result) Nonetheless, chapter 42, a fictional reconstruction in which Baker attempts to recreate the last hours of his grandmother, Hinda, is based on neither specific memories nor histories; yet is still a valuable component in understanding the experiences of Holocaust victims. Hinda is a core part of the Soah in which the most important voices cannot be accessed. This recreation needs to rely on the power of fiction to emphasise its meaning as she was one of the six million victims who died. It also emphasises the limitations of history and memory, “the final moments can never be retrieved by history. Nor by memory.” The opening of this chapter with the Dan Pagis poem “Written in Pencil in a Sealed Railway Car” links this gate, despite its fictional nature, with that of the rest of the text in which the poem consistently recurs. On the surface, this gate is fictional, yet really it seems to be the “truth” that history failed to record, once again emphasising history’s limitations.
Similarly, “Anne Frank Remembered” by Miep Gies depicts the suffering of those who witnessed the Holocaust. Through the traumatic nature of such an experience, the balance of both history and memory is preserved in the text, to allow responders to perceive the greatest verisimilitude. This autobiography mainly focuses on the middle periods of Gies’ life in which she and her husband hide the Frank family during World War 2. Similar to “The Fiftieth Gate” this text challenges the social perceptions of ‘valid history’ in encapsulating numerous voices of those involved n the Holocaust which history failed to record.
In accord with the conventions of an autobiography, memories play an imperative role in shaping the ideas of the text, although historical discourse is not completely disregarded. Gies gives a voice to one of the minority groups during World War 2 who have been culturally and historically silenced. In the prologue of the text, Gies acknowledges a vital limitation of memory, its deterioration over time, “more than fifty years have passed, and many details of events recorded in this book are half forgotten”. Nonetheless, the raw emotions captured in this text and the personal insights into the effects of the Nazi attacks and policies, omitted in historical documentation, increase the significance of such memories.
While memory conveys the humanising dimension of past events, history equally provides the more analytical and objective recollection. Through the exploration of historical documentation, Gies is able to expand on the memories recorded in Anne Frank’s diary, giving the responder a deeper understanding of the Frank family’s experiences. The author explores the letters of Otto Frank from the Yivo Institue for Jewish Research in New York, sent to his American business connections. These letters illustrate his increasing desperation to obtain visas to neutral countries. Through such archival material Gies’ memories are brought to the surface, “these letters evoke for me that terrible time long ago that most people cannot imagine”. Additionally, the use of photographs of the author and the Frank family, as well as the supplementation of various historical archives, for example the order liquidating Otto Frank’s company as a Jewish business, emphasise the historical context and authenticity of such memories provided in the autobiography. Thus, it can be seen that the interplay of history and memory has an equally vital role in portraying an understanding of the Holocaust with the greatest degree of verisimilitude despite both their potential limitations.
Similar to “The Fiftieth Gate”, “The Things they Carried” is a polyphonous novel employing his own distinct voice through the use of first person narrator and those of his comrades, such as Ted Lavender or Rat Kiley, through the use of third person narration. This illustrates the difficulties in retelling the past. Although the text is based on a momentous occurrence of history, where there is a lack of historical information, and thus the body of work is comprised of various war memories. This emphasises the significance of memories as they “will lead to another story which makes it forever”, immortalising the stories of his comrades. O’Brien defies the notion that memory, coloured by its trauma and emotions, cannot represent or validate the past. In conveying the horrific details of experiences such as the death of fellow comrade, Curt Lemon “hanging in pieces from the tree”, O’Brien preserves the memories of such experiences and individualises these soldiers and their memories, in a way history ultimately fails to do. Furthermore, his emphasis on the significance of memories can also be seen through his early acknowledgement that “this is a work of fiction”, where he seems to defy the cultural and social sanctions of the significance of history in portraying one’s past experiences.
The cultural and academic disregard of the significance of memories in portraying past events is defined in “The Fiftieth Gate”, “Anne Frank Remembered” and “The Things they Carried”. By the conclusion of these three texts, the flaws and limitations of both history and memory are acknowledged and more importantly, the equal significance of both in encapsulating the essence of past events with the greatest verisimilitude is recognised.
Some very strong sections – the best essay of yours I have marked so far. Well done!
Still a couple of periods of odd expression and long-winded paragraphing. Remember you can link ideas together.
Concentrate on using a many specifics as possible (not quotes) when composing responses, which refer to either specific events, characters, ideas or values of the text.
An excellent response which shows a lot of promise. Great work!