27 March 2012
26 March 2012
Caution! This outlines the story and spoils the ending!
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and healing are relevant in real life, but how often do they permeate the realm of fiction?
In Sutcliff’s The Outcast, main character, Beric, experiences what it is like to live after facing life-changing abuse. Once an ordinary boy in his British tribe, enjoying the pleasures of hunting, learning to throw spears, and making friends, Beric’s life is turned upside down when his clan begins to call him a foreigner, stating that his blood is different and therefore, he doesn’t belong. So begins Beric’s fight for survival. He is not one to easily back down and stands up to the village elder as a nine-year old stating, “What have I to do with the Red Crests, that I should go to them now? You are my people, my own people, by hearth fire and bread and salt, and I will not go . . . I will learn to be a hunter and a warrior with the rest of my kind. . . Oh, elders of my Clan, I have not done anything wrong, that you should cast me out!” Beric’s plea continues throughout the rest of the book: what wrong does he ever do to be an outcast from society?
Nevertheless, at fifteen years of age he is cast out from his clan and left to fend for himself. Meeting his first “friend” from the outside world in a Roman city, he blindly falls into a slave ship. Now, enslaved by his own people for no crime but perhaps that of ignorance, Beric is left thinking he has nowhere to belong. He struggles through the life of a slave, not too discontent until in a moment of rage, he throws wine in his master’s face and is sentenced to the salt mines where he will die a slow, painful death of hard labor. So, in a moment of desperation, Beric runs away and finds shelter the following night in a house in the hills. Sadly, he was uninformed that the house was a thieve’s hideout, and the thieves escape leaving a group of Roman soldiers to find only Beric remaining. Unaware that in the meantime, a kindly gentleman has bought his freedom, Beric is afraid of returning to slavery and the salt mines, and accepts the punishment for thievery: lifelong service on a galley ship.
After two years in the galleys, experiencing abuse at every turn, without enough to eat, wear, or time to sleep or rest, Beric sees his only friend (and his galley partner) die. A cord snaps in Beric, and he attempts to kill the overseer, the one deed that should really result in his outcast from society. He is scourged and dumped overboard as dead, later to be found by the kindly gentleman who had bought his freedom.
The end of the book may be considered by some uneventful and slow, but for Beric it is a time of healing, and for the author, a revelation of an abused person’s return to normal life. He exhibits certain strange behaviors due to his past including: working hard one moment and then sitting staring for the next; taking long walks lost in thought; cringing from everyone he sees; nightmares; a fear that all mankind is evil (so he plots to escape to the woods and live by himself); a belief that he doesn’t belong anywhere in the world. It is at this point that Beric truly feels an outcast. He believes that all men are evil and abusive, and that no one can care for a prior galley slave. He lives in constant fear that he will be returned to the galleys or slavery. But slowly, as he is adopted by this kindly Roman and cared for like a son, Beric’s trust returns. He can see the good in his dreams; he can look back at the galleys without fear and pain; he can find joy in working and doesn’t feel ashamed at who he is; he can work alongside Romans, and in the end, he can look one of the master’s of the galley ship in the face and speak without regret, without fear, and without pain.
Sutcliff is declaring that there is hope and healing for someone who has faced years of abuse and neglect. Beric’s healing occurs, slowly and painfully at times, but his physical and emotional scars do fade, and there is a place for him in the world, a place where he is loved and wanted.