Two prominent and correlating idioms of today are widespread throughout society. Firstly, that “Ignorance is bliss”. Secondly, that “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”. We live in a society dominated by these common phrases. Demonstrated in ancient times by two complacent and stubborn brothers named Laman and Lemuel, where they didn’t want to leave their beloved Jerusalem behind. In the novels: Citizen 13660, Night, In My Hands, and Never Fall Down, we discover patterns of similar demonstrations. Individuals and groups illustrate that ignorance and/or complacency is a preferred course of action than acceptance of imminent reality.
In The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, two brothers named Laman and Lemuel are mentioned. Their father, Lehi, is commanded by God to take his family out of Jerusalem and into the wilderness. All due to a prophecy that stated the city and its inhabitants would be destroyed in the coming years. These brothers could not fathom that Jerusalem could be destroyed, nor did they want to “leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things”. Money, possessions and overall comfort created a sphere of complacency. It brought peace and happiness and they had known no other type of life. To ask them to pack up and leave everything behind seemed preposterous to them. Rather than listen or trust their father’s prophecy, “they did murmur in many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of Jerusalem”. Feeling aggrieved and wronged, a conclusion surfaced within their hearts. They did not “believe that Jerusalem, that great city, could be destroyed”. Laman and Lemuel never wanted to leave home. They preferred a life where they “might have enjoyed our possessions”. Though warned by a prophet, their own father, that Jerusalem would be destroyed. Their hearts were set on an ignorant state of disbelief and they would rather reside in a state of denial than accept any threat to their peace. Similar attitudes and responses are found in the following novels. Where ignorance and complacency are accepted by individuals and communities.
Mine Okubo in Citizen 13660 showcased a blatant disregard to the imminent threat to her citizenship. She had witnessed what effects war brought in Europe, and the consequential effects it had on refugees. These refugees explained to her the “vivid stories of their experiences” (5). Yet when she returns home, she acts as if nothing had ever happened. Focusing more on the comfort of a home and family, she states her state of mind by saying, “I had a good home and many friends. Everything was going along fine.” (7) The attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese brought an immediate resentment towards both Issei and Nisei, and again Mine displayed a strong indifference to the matter. Currently, there were an abundance of arrests and detainments of Japs throughout the country. The resentment grew and the threat to their freedom grew exponentially more intense. However, Mine was disengaged, choosing instead to turn towards her work, using that as a cover to hide behind the thought of internment. “I was too busy to bother about the reports of possible evacuation” (10) she says. Friends counseled her to move east, a sister informed her that her own father had already been sent to an internment camp. Even a brother serving in the army poignantly stated that she “better get ready for induction” because “it’s your turn now!” (11). All these warnings, warnings that she needed to get away from her “Jerusalem”, yet she paid absolutely no heed. Electing to cling to the simplistic life she didn’t want to let go of.
Furthermore, in the novel Night, a whole community resembles another disregard to a rapidly approaching reality. At this stage, the Nazi army was fast approaching the little town of Sighet in Hungary. All foreign Jews in Sighet were evacuated in almost a blink of an eye. One such Jew that had been evacuated was Moishe the Beadle. The remaining community quickly forgot about them, nearly dismissing them as if they were a whisper in the wind. Much to the community’s surprise, Moishe returns from where he was evacuated to with a terrifying story of what the Germans did to the deported foreign Jews. However, his story was only seen as a tale and a fable. The Jewish community did not want to accept his fateful story, showing pity towards him for his grief. The author Elie Wiesel, a former student of Moishe stated, “Even I did not believe him. I often sat with him, after services, and listened to his tales, trying to understand his grief. But all I felt was pity.” (7) The Jewish community was in denial. They didn’t want to leave behind their comfort and relative peace. They are the modern day Laman and Lemuels. Not wanting to leave their Jerusalem, though the prophets testified of its destruction. The prophet in this novel is Moishe, and the Jews regarded him as delusional, or “visionary” like Lehi. Denying that anything could happen to them in their Jerusalem (Sighet). Even news reports remarkably gave a false sense of security by saying that “there could no longer be any doubt: Germany would be defeated.” (8) The Jews chose to remain oblivious to the facts surrounding them, and in the spring of 1944, German trucks flooded into town, and those facts quickly became a reality.
The novel In My Hands revolves around a young lady named Irene. Her family lived just six kilometers from the German border. Though she lived so close, her attitude towards the Germans was notably oblivious and innocent. Examples of her attitude towards the Nazis and Hitler are as follows: “I was oblivious to politics” and “I did not pay attention” (12), “I was a teenager and politics were abstract to me…besides, I was busy with other things.” (13). Young and naïve as she was, it did not occur to her that there was a storm brewing in Germany. School and nursing dominated her mind and it seemed better to focus on these tasks, than to worry about what Hitler was planning a mere six kilometers away. Germany did eventually declare war, catching Irene and the nation of Poland by surprise. Irene points out that beforehand, they believed Germany to be a “rational, cultured country” (18). The sheer thought of Germany breaking that rationale did not cross their minds. Complacency was abundantly present by the Poles in the surrounding area. Nonchalantly speaking of the matter yet taking no course of action to protect themselves should danger arrive. Furthermore, they cloaked themselves behind the pride and hope of their country. That if Germany declared war, they would effortlessly drive them out. Illustrated by her mindset when she says, “If Hitler tries to come here, we will fight him, and we will chase him all the way back to Berlin.”. Erroneous security gave them confidence that all would be well, but when reality set in, they realized how wrong they were when Germany swept through them like lightning.
Turning to the novel Never Fall Down, a young boy named Arn was in a dilemma. He had recognized the signs that danger was on its way. However, no one seemed to pay him any attention about what he had witnessed and heard. It began when a close friend of his and his family were leaving the community in haste. “He says his family is going away…they come down, carry the whole house…’Can Arn come with us?’ Hong says to his mom. ‘You say everyone has to leave now.’” (13) Arn understood that he could not possibly go with his friend Hong. The look on Hong’s mother’s face in response painted the picture plainly. Arn witnessed a horrific scene of brutality when a Khmer Rouge soldier fatally struck a kid in the read with the butt of his rifle. With the red flag raised at such a memory, Arn said “I run away, very scared, very fast, I tell my aunt about this, but she doesn’t believe me.” (12) Similarly, to the individuals and communities in the novels above, blind ignorance ran rampant. Though a voice of warning was raised, no one listened. Scarce families had listened and departed the country on the brink of a communist regime. Many remained put, with a complacent nature that the war was already over. Arn’s aunt in a rebuttal to his story of the kid and the soldier, was that he should “to go celebrate like everyone else” (12). Why worry about the future when you can celebrate the present?
Individuals and communities in these novels all overlook the ominous threats on their horizon. In consequence, each faces the music because of their general ignorance. Many grievances and heartbreaks followed as the reader continues each novel. It is impossible to speculate what may have been if they had heeded the warnings. However, the common denominator is easily derived. That ignorance is bliss for a time, but reality will always settle in eventually.
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