The Fiftieth Gate
The Fiftieth Gate, understanding the past is represented as a continual and dynamic process. Baker gives a holistic representation of his parent’s experience of the Holocaust, demonstrating the complimentary relationship between history and memory. This notion is explored in the autobiographical book through the depiction of his parents’, and his own past. The barcarole style of the text aids in portraying the interplay between history and memory, enabling a more cohesive representation of the lasting repercussions of the Holocaust.
Due to the traumatic tauter of her past experiences, Genie finds historical accounts of the Holocaust confronting to reconcile with her own memories. This tension is depicted by Baker, when he confirms the date of an Action against the Jewish population in Genie’s town, “It was Yon Kipper. You’re right. The Action took place on 21 September 1942. ” Baker’s pursuit of historical accuracy compromises Genie’s personal memories, as she feels that compared to her own ordeals, history is an insufficient means of understanding the past. She responds: “I’m right, he says. What an honor. What do you know about Actions?
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We were standing there like little lambs. Screams, crying. A massacre of weeping lambs,” here, the imagery of a lamb conveys the destruction of both an entire community and the destruction of Genie’s childhood innocence. Baker struggles to unite the non-chronological and unreliable nature of memory with his own fastidious historical research, but gradually understands that the two complement each other to give a more open representation of the past. However, the tension between mother and son and hence, history and memory, is seen in the transcript of Baker’s interview of his mother: “Pitch black.
Pitch black, that’s how I was for years… What do you mean, do I remember? Stop interrogating me. Stop testing me. What, all these years you thought that because I wasn’t in Auschwitz like your father I didn’t suffer? ” The use of transcripts is integral to the eclectic barcarole structure of the text, as the myriad of textual forms demonstrates the ongoing process of understanding the past. The tension between the two discourses is clearly seen, as Baker often finds his mother’s memories impossible to vindicate, despite her vivid recollection of the suffering in her past.
Genie feels that ere suffering is overlooked, as she has little historical and physical evidence to represent the effects of the Holocaust on herself. As a barcarole text, The Fiftieth Gate explores the dynamic process of understanding the past, and through the interaction between his mother and himself, he highlights the difficulty and importance of reconciling both history and memory. Baker’s father, Yogis is often reluctant to delve into his own memories, and cannot fully reconcile his own past with the reality of the present.
Rhetorical question conveys Yokel’s inability to entirely accept the past, as he retains a child-like degree of optimism: “Maybe he’s still alive. Could be, you know. Could be. Anything can happen. After the war I met people I thought were dead. Have you ever heard such a thing? ” The transcript of Yokel’s interviews expresses a direct connection to his personal memories. Whilst Yokel’s resilience is an admirable quality, it can lead to an attitude of denial. Through Baker’s process of interviewing his parents and ascertaining the history of their Holocaust experiences, the past is re-examined and represented in a more comprehensive manner.
This transcript is contrasted with a conversation twine father and son, and displays the diverse barcarole style that is integral to the representation of Baker’s parent’s memories. Chapter 16 begins with a portrayal of the difficulty in confronting the historical details of Yokel’s own past: “l can show you what your father wore when he arrived in Buchwald. ‘ My father seems angry at this latest discovery. ‘Do you know when he went to the toilet? The color of the agates he wore under his pants? Maybe you can tell me when I last showered or what I did everyday in Auschwitz? However, the chapter ends with Yogis reluctantly expressing a desire to learn the clothes worn by his father. This expresses the ongoing nature of understanding the past, as the ordeals of one’s past retain the potential to cause significant grief. This notion is present throughout the novel, and is particularly significant in Yokel’s growth as the result of opening up to a more complete understanding of his own memories. Juxtaposition is used to highlight the mutual dependency of history and memory in the process of effectively comprehending the past. Whilst being interviewed, Yogis begins: “l was born in Wreaking.
Baker’s commentary follows: “Wreaking was born before him. In 1657, founded by Bishop Bogus Readdressed who obtained royal permission to colonies the woodlands along the Seminal River. ” The direct and impersonal nature of historical discourse, although important, is directly contrasted with Yokel’s memory, which is far easier to empathic with. However, we understand that the two complement each other to give a multi-faceted and progressive understanding of the human experiences of the Holocaust, which results in a certain degree of ‘closure’. Although Mark Barker was born after the
Holocaust, the ramifications of the events have profoundly affected his own life, and the process of understanding the past is pertinent to Baker himself. Baker states, of himself and his brother , “… L knew there was something more deliberate in the names chosen for us, an attempt to obliterate not only my parents’ foreignness but the memories attached to it… So I decided to put the past back into my name. I have chosen Raphael, the earliest ancestor I can find on our family tree. ” The understanding of the past that has been enabled by learning of his parent’s personal stories have enabled Baker to reconnect to his cultural heritage.
This personal progression is integral to the semi-autobiographical nature of The Fiftieth Gate, and represents a significant level of personal growth that Baker has garnered through the discourses of history and memory. Throughout the text, it becomes apparent that Baker has been profoundly affected not only by his parent’s experience of the Holocaust, but also by the suffering inflicted collectively on the Jewish population. This is apparent in the elements of ‘Midribs’ – the oral and written exploration of biblical texts – that are inserted intermittently wrought the book.
Baker briefly recounts the story of Rabbi Hanna Ben Iteration, who was killed by the Romans due to his faith, and subsequently martyred. Whilst being burned, Iteration is asked by his disciples what he sees. He responds, “The parchment is burning, but the letters are soaring high above me. ” This is followed by a poem, “My parents remember: the fire/the parchment burning/the bodies buried/ letters soaring high, ‘turned to ashen dust. ” This element of Midribs is representative of the barcarole style of the text, and conveys Jewish resilience that has lasted millennia.
However, Baker subverts the optimism of the original text to convey the horrors experienced by all the victims of the Holocaust. It becomes apparent that this suffering, whilst not directly inflicted upon himself, resounds in the children of Holocaust survivors. The Fiftieth Gate explores the notion of understanding the past through the complimentary discourses of history and memory. Baker demonstrates the implications of this notion through the depiction of himself and his parents, Yogis and Genie. It becomes apparent that understanding the past is not a fixed process, and that it can at times cause tension.