Cassandra Written by Christa Wolf Essay

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However, she is no bloodless female, absent of sexuality, despite her resistance of Apollo. In this respect, Wolf does update her story -- rather than a virgin or a sexless prophetess, Cassandra does have a relationship with Aeneas. She loves this hero with the ardor of a young woman, calling him the soul of Troy. But because he is a man, unlike Cassandra, Aeneas can master history and triumph. The admiration of Aeneas indicates the verisimilitude Wolf brings to her tale -- Cassandra has emotions and feelings, rather than simply spouts words, as in Agamemnon.

Wolf also interjects anecdotes into the story to make it more clearly told with Trojan eyes such as the Trojan's allegation that Helen was abducted because Priam's sister Hesione's eloped with a Spartan. Again, this underlines Wolf's theme of women as pawns and spoils of war -- it does not matter what Helen or Hesione want, merely what they represent to their families and the different sides of the conflict. In the novel, Cassandra's tale is a tale of an introverted woman, whose resistance is primarily articulated from within her soul and mind. This is also reflected in the structural outline of Wolf's novel. The first part of the novel describes Cassandra's life and her reflections on the Trojan War, while the others consist of Wolf's own internal reflections upon writing the novel and Cassandra as a heroic figure. Unlike the original drama that would be portrayed externally to an audience, and thus draw attention to the bloody actions of the play, Wolf's work is psychological and interior, a fitting style for a character whose most truthful life is confined to the mind, and who is regarded as a madwoman, even by her family. And unlike the drama, the author is an articulated and reflective presence in the novel: the most important events of this very postmodern novel happen within the author's soul and the mind of the mythological figure. The interior monologue is reflective, and fundamentally feminist and anti-war, in contrast to the sweeping epic of mythological struggle and clashes of values in the Aeschylus play.

Wolf wrote her novel during the height of the Cold War, so her fears about where the evils of men might lead seemed real, given the possibility of nuclear annihilation that gripped Europe. Wolf clearly feels like a modern Cassandra, along with other members of the peace movement she supports. Thus, Wolf uses the myth of Cassandra as a kind of jumping-off place, to explore issues of war and women -- rape, powerlessness, and pacifism. Her novel uses the earlier text only for the basic plot, and the rather one-dimensional prophetess of Troy becomes a fully human, compelling character. Wolf avenges a historical and literary wrong done to Cassandra, who is not given her due in literature, just as the mythological character was ignored in life. She renders the figure significant, and undoes Apollo's wrong -- Wolf believes Cassandra.

Wolf's novel is successful in the ways it forces the reader to look at the world with Cassandra's eyes, not just ancient Greece. Even though nuclear proliferation between the superpowers is not the concern that it was when Wolf wrote her book, it is easy to see many examples of the voices of Cassandra not being heeded today -- in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Of course, a purist, classicist, or student of ancient Greece might argue that Wolf's vision obscures the meaning of the original text. Even though Aeschylus' play contains anti-war elements, ultimately the Greeks saw war as necessary, albeit a terrible one. A modern reader would already be sympathetic to the women of the story, and antagonistic to a man who killed his daughter to preserve his honor as a general like Agamemnon, and telling the myth from Cassandra's point-of-view sharpens this perspective. A classicist might argue that the challenge is not to sympathize with Cassandra, but to understand the ancient Greek view. The Greeks viewed the obligation Agamemnon had to keeping his word to Helen's husband Menelaus as superior to that of his obligation to his own child, and Clytemnestra's obligation of fidelity greater than her own desire, and her feelings as a mother. As a novelist and an anti-war advocate, Wolf's work is compelling, but it should not be read as a historical guide to attitudes in the ancient world.[continue]

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