Marriage produces some of the greatest joys but also the greatest sorrows. It brings both trials and tribulations and through the course of one’s life it can be the greatest source of strength or the largest cross that one must bear. In Act Two Karol Wojtyla examines the difficulties of marriage. What do they mean? Where is the love in a loveless marriage? Is marriage just an idealistic dream which fades away under the harsh realities of life? We will look at what Wojtyla has to say about all these questions and the aspects of Love that are revealed to us throughout the second Act.
Act Two follows Anna and Stefan. The couple have been married for some years now and have three children. The act begins with Anna recounting how she has grown distant from her husband. A bitterness has grown within her and as she says. “That taste permeates everything we happen to say, think or do; it permeates even our smile.” Anna raises these things with Stefan but he is untouched by her words and merely tries to explain this away as “the ordinary course of things determined by the history of two people”. This only causes her grievance to grow all the more. She describes the alienation she now experiences very powerfully.
“I could not reconcile myself to this,
Nor could I prevent
A rift opening between us
(its edges stood still at first,
But at any moment they could move apart
Wider and wider-
At any rate, I did not feel them
moving closer together again).
It was as if Stefan had ceased to be in me.
Did I cease to be in him too?
Or was it simply that I felt
I now existed only in myself?
At first I felt such a stranger
It was as if I had become unaccustomed to the walls of my interior-
So full had they been of Stefan
That without him they seemed empty.
Is it not too terrible a thing
To have committed the walls of my interior
To a single inhabitant
Who could disinherit my self
And somehow deprive me of my place in it
Outwardly nothing changed.
Stefan seemed to behave the same,”
Karol Wojtyla reminds us of the love that has now been lost by recalling similar imagery to the first act when he talks about the process of alienation. In the first act the incredible sense of intimacy and love is expressed through the realization of Andrew that he had no need to throw out a bridge to reach Teresa because her country was his country. The incredible sureness of this image captures the sense of security and trust found in the first relationship and often present in the early stages of romantic relationships. This is then contrasted in this Act with the image of Stefan ceasing to be within Anna and also her fear that she has that she no longer exists in him. As if thrown out she now lies insider herself as a stranger in unfamiliar surroundings. The Christian understanding of marriage as two becoming one explains this alienation and sees it as the act of marriage unites each individual and brings them into a new and fuller being together. Inside each other they find themselves more perfectly. The great sadness Anna now feels is precisely the loss of this unity. She has been thrown back into herself. As she is displaced into her former self. She is also now thrown into a stranger because through the act of marriage all that existed in her was seen a new through the eyes of another, through the eyes of Stefan. The version of herself that she has returned to is not the one she once knew because she knows that her full self is found in Stefan. In returning she does not come back a fresh but returns knowing that something of herself has been left behind and beyond her reach. Suffering ultimately exists as the recognition of the absence of a good. She suffers now because she knows that the good that lay in her and also that lay in Stefan are now trapped behind Stefan’s cold exterior.
The final lines capture subtly, perhaps the most important and human element of this whole act. They draw to the readers attention that the meaning of human existence and consequently all the drama of our human lives rests in the interior life. This is a theme that is presented throughout the play both in the words spoken but also in the manner of their presentation. Karol Wojtyla was writing plays under both the Nazi and Soviet rule in Poland and so worked on making plays for the underground theatre. This put constraints on his plays but also helped him to channel the means by which he expressed thoughts and ideas. These limitations meant that the Jeweler’s Shop is designed to be performed by a small cast with limited props and scenery. So the majority of the play is individual actors performing monologues.
Monologues have been for many years a means by which playwrights have expressed the interior thoughts and lives of their actors. It allows the audience to see the inner workings of characters and thereby help them to empathize with them. In displacing ourselves into the hearts and minds of the actors we are then able to learn from their moral experiences and thereby better understand how to act in our own interior lives. At the center of the Christian faith is a personal relationship with God. This relationship is lived out through the interior life of each individual. Through our experiences we are guided towards God by the whole spirit. Ultimately only God has access to our interior lives and so it is in the quiet of this space that he speaks to us. By presenting this interior life through monologues, Karol Wojtyla is helping us to better see how God works in our lives and to better understand the meaning of our personal experiences. Both the joys and the sufferings.
The final lines quoted here show that separated from the interior life all things are meaningless. A clear example of this from a Catholic perspective is the Eucharist. What to all outside appears to be just bread is transformed into Christ himself. Only through the eyes of Faith and an understanding of the interior life is this beautiful occasion able to be understood. But once it is understood, it becomes a font of life from which one can be spiritually fed. The interior life doesn’t lead to a reduction in the importance of elements of the exterior life but actually gives them their weight and meaning. By delving deeper into the interior life we are able to reach out further into the exterior world and thereby bring the divine life into it and so make the World all the more glorious.
From a purely behavioral and physical perspective Stefan remains unchanged and similarly Anna’s suffering is not clearly expressed. Yet it remains incredibly real to her and almost unbearable. The Christian understands that this suffering is truly real and it is not just emotions but runs deeper. Anna knows that something greater is occurring right now but she is not quite sure what is.
These ideas of the interior life and their expression also mirror another Catholic author of the same time. Flannery O’Connor wrote many short stories which are built around characters who describe their inner thoughts throughout the course of the story. Similarly to what we see here, the actions of the story are transformed by the inner lives of the individuals and therefore through the course of her stories we see how God works through Human experience and brings us deeper into knowledge of his love and divine life.
Karol Wojtyla lived through the brutal ideology of Socialism as presented through both the German and the Russian occupations of Poland. Perhaps one could say that providentially he faced these limitations to his plays so that he might be better able to express the importance of the interior life at a time when it was most in need.
Anna continues her monologue talking of how she wishes and desires to heal this wound but she knows not how. She cannot see any clear way to close the void that now lies between her and Stefan. Conflicted between an awareness of Stefan’s unwillingness to try and reconnect and yet also very much conscious of her own sinfulness. She decides to hesitantly love him but of course this will not do as we will soon see.
Anna, while walking home from work, passes the jeweler’s shop. Reflecting on the indifference her and Stefan now feel for each other she decides to go into the shop and sell her wedding ring. In a strange course of events when the jeweller weighs the ring it shows no weight and he identifies that Anna’s husband is still alive. Ashamed, Anna takes the ring back and leaves. She feels the shame of disavowing the promise to her husband and the betrayal that would have followed in her returning the ring. For in that moment she would not just be abandoning the ring for her own personal benefit of the money. But also abandoning her husband for her own sake. She adjusts her route home in an attempt to ignore the reality of her responsibility to her husband which she is reminded of each time she passes the jeweler’s shop. For now she cannot fully see this and perhaps most importantly she cannot see why she should even bother to stay with a man who seems so distant.
A character named in the script as “A Chance Interlocutor” speaks of how he sees Anna visiting this shop and his conversation with her after she has tried to sell her ring. “In the course of that conversation I could see the whole span of human love and its precipitous edges. When someone slips over such an edge he finds it very hard to get back, and wanders alone below the road he should be on.” The interlocutor sees in Anna’s distress the precariousness of human love. The difficulties of returning to the great heights of human emotion once they have passed and the isolation one then feels. The interlocutor who is revealed to us now to be called Adam. Listens carefully to Anna and allows her to pour out her heart to him. In doing this Anna now feels drawn to Adam and starts thinking how very different this Adam is from Stefan. (Interestingly this is despite Adam having just said you, and Stefan are both like me.)
Anna’s move to judge Adam in reference to Stefan shows something now of her relationship to Stefan. Even now when she is trying her hardest to run from Stefan she is still coming back to him in her thoughts. She is viewing this new man in light of Stefan. While she may not think she loves Stefan anymore. Clearly she still longs for him at some deep level. Stefan is only able to hurt her with his distancing because she still longs to be in him and to have him in her. She runs to this new man but yet looks through him to find the potential which could be fulfilled in Stefan and it hurts her because she knows that it is not being fulfilled in him. Fundamentally therefore she longs for the good of Stefan. That the potential that is fulfilled in Adam would be fulfilled in Stefan and hence, by willing the good of Stefan, even now at some level she clearly therefore still loves him.
Anna and Adam are walking back now to the jeweler's shop were they stop and Adam says:
“Here is the jeweler’s shop again; soon the Bridegroom will pass by.”
I doubt it is a coincidence that Karol Wojtyla chose the man who signals the coming of the Bridegroom to be called Adam. Adam of course in Genesis is the first man. He was created without sin and is the father of all mankind. The Bridegroom traditionally signifies Christ. Christ is seen in the New Testament as the New Adam and so Adam in his fall in Genesis also already points us towards Christ and the New Adam. Hence, I suspect this is why Karol Wojtyla chose this name. This is further seen in Adam telling Anna how very like him Anna and Stefan are. Since all mankind finds its roots in Adam but also Adam recognizes that in his fallen state he needs reconciliation with God through Christ the Bridegroom just as Anna and Stefan need him in their broken marriage.
Adam proceeds to reflect on this and recount one of the core elements of the gospel. One of repentance and obedience.
“The Bridegroom passes through so many streets,
Meeting so many different people.
Passing, he touches the love
That is in them. If it is bad,
He suffers for it. Love is bad
When there is a lack of it.
I remember-I also asked that woman,
‘Why do you wish to sell your ring here?
What do you want to break with that gesture-your life?
Does one not sell one’s life now and again?
Does one not break one’s entire life
With every gesture?
But what of it? The thing is not to go away,
And wander for days, months, even years-
The thing is to return and in the old place to find oneself. Life is an adventure,
And at the same time it has its logic
That is why one must not leave thought and imagination on their own!’
‘With what is thought to remain, then’ Anna Asked.
It is to remain with truth, of course.”
Here Adam touches on the transformative power of Christ and the need for personal reform. He shows Anna that the difficulties in her marriage don’t exist because of love but because of the lack of love. The pain she feels is not the presence of a bad thing but the absence of a good. This idea runs throughout Christian thought. Sin is the absence of good. In turning away from God who is goodness itself we are sinning and so suffer because we experience the absence of that good. Here Adam is asking Anna what is she looking for. We act because we wish to express a belief about the way things are. Anna thinks she no longer believes in her marriage and the vows she made at her wedding yet she is unable to properly act on those things because there is something deeper she believes in. She still believes in Love and so she still believes in Stefan. We see the expression of that love, even now in its brokenness, because she is able to recognizes its absence. She has broken her “entire life with every gesture” when she failed to love Stefan as she should.
Here Adam is calling her to repentance and so calling her to love truly, because to repent is to love. For in repentance we recognize how we have failed to love and so call upon God to help us to love and so will the good of ourselves but not just for our own sake but for God’s. To give glory to God, since in repentance we recognize that the best thing for us is what God wills and wishes of us since he is the source of all goodness.
The final lines quoted call upon this relationship of repentance being a personal but also an objective experience. We don’t just repent to ourselves but also to the God who is the eternal Truth. “The thing is not to go away, and wander for days, months, even years- the thing is to return and in the old place to find oneself. Life is an adventure, and at the same time it has its logic and consistency.” We are not to wander aimlessly away from ourselves. Caught up in our thoughts or emotions. The Christian life is a gritty and grounded one. It is an adventure but an adventure which is found in the old places. The reality of the incarnation has transfigured creation and so now we come back home to what was once ordinary and mundane to find Christ present. God has sanctified and justified his creation by sending his only son to come into the world and in so doing his has given us a means to come to him through creation. The sacraments of the catholic faith show this in a most obvious way but we are called to sanctify our whole lives and to give it as an offering to God like we see in psalm 51.
The lofty thoughts of the divine life and our ideals must always remain grounded in the realities of our existence. As St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross put it “Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth! One without the other becomes a destructive lie.” Or as Karol Wojtyla expresses it here:
“That is why one must not leave thought and imagination on their own!’
‘With what is thought to remain, then’ Anna Asked.
It is to remain with truth, of course.”
Adam recognizes the difficulty which Anna is struggling with is the channeling of passion and emotion towards its proper aims. Otherwise we become slave to our emotions. Anna who recognizes the truth of what Adam says but, as so many of us often do, struggles to see that what is true isn’t always what one most strongly feels. Anna describes hesitantly to Adam how she sees love as” a matter of the senses and of a climate which unites and makes two people walk in the sphere of their feeling”. Adam disagrees for this is not grounded in Truth and instead says “Love is, according to him, a synthesis of two people’s existence which converges, as it were, at a certain point. And makes them into one.” Just as we saw in the first act this sureness supplied by truth is the ground upon which Christian marriage is built and it is because Love and Truth are found united in the one God that Christians can see the value and eternal nature of Love.
Adam once again repeats that the Bridegroom is coming. This stirs up longing in Anna and she begins searching frantically to see who this Bridegroom is. Hoping she may find someone different to Stefan. She is frantically running down the street looking to find her future man. The one who will save her from this broken marriage. In watching all this drama occurring Adam says some fascinating words.
“This is just what compels me to think about human love. There is no other matter embedded more strongly in the surface of human life, and there is no matter more unknown and more mysterious. The divergence between what lies on the surface and the mystery of love constitutes precisely the source of the drama. It is one of the greatest dramas of human existence. The surface of love has its current-swift, flickering, changeable. A kaleidoscope of waves and situations full of attraction. This current is sometimes so stunning that it carries people away-woman and men. They got carried away by the thought that they have absorbed the whole secret of love, but in fact they have not yet even touched it. They are happy for a while, thinking they have reached the limits of existence and wrested all its secrets from it, so that nothing remains. That’s how it is: on the other side of that rapture nothing remains, there is nothing left behind it. But there can’t be nothing, there can’t! Listen to me, there can’t. Man is a continuum, a totality and a continuity-so it cannot be that nothing remains!”
Anna in her weariness of her marriage has reduced love to something she can try and understand fully. She now believes she knows what love is and so sets out to find the one whom she really loves. She is carried along by her passions unable to shake free distracted by the attraction of the surface waves of love. Believing that her marriage is now empty that behind what she thought was the love that existed in her marriage lies nothing. In trying to understand the mystery of love she has restricted its meaning and so blinded herself to the true love that exists in her marriage. Not an easy love but a powerful one.
So often now in our culture we are fixated on Love but in so many confused and bizarre ways. As Adam astutely identifies, love is the source of human drama and that drama lies in the gap between the surface of love that we all experience in our ordinary lives regularly and the depth of love which sinks far deeper into the core of our being. We find that in our TV, music and literature stunted views of love are often presented. They reveal the tantalizing and mesmerizing shimmering surface of love but so often fail to penetrate into its depths. Every now and again we find a work of art which does not try and limit love and dominate it but instead delves into its mysteries and allows the truth of love to speak forth. The Lord of the Rings does this so well in revealing to people the importance of love and its beauty and mystery. It is why it is one of the most popular books of all time and similarly this play does the same as do all great works of art.
Of course, Adam isn’t trying to be an art critic here. He is instead trying to talk of the nature of human existence. It is in the mystery of Love that human freedom dwells and it is here that God allows the drama of our existence to play out. It is through our experiences and this drama that we walk the path to or away from him and so thereby come to find everything in him through surrender or nothing in our pride and passion. Karol Wojtyla sees that if we try and hold onto and posses love. Then we suffocate it and remove its meaning. Love is a mystery and therefore it cannot be known completely but we can delve into it and instead allow it to posses us, and so we then are able to posses it. It is this need for surrender which is a foundation stone of love and it is found in the virtue of Humility and of course in the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.
We see this idea of surrender explained more clearly when Adam next speaks:
“Love is not an adventure. It has the taste of the whole man. It has his weight. And the weight of his whole fate. It cannot be a single moment. Man’s eternity passes through it. That is why it is to be found in the dimensions of God, because only he is eternity.
Man looking out into time. To forget, to forget. To be for a moment only, only now-and cut oneself off from eternity. To take in everything at one moment and lose everything immediately after. Ah, the cruse of that next moment and all the moments that follow, moments through which you will look for the way back to the moment that has passed, to have it once more, and through it-everything. “
In contrast to before when he speaks of life as an adventure now Adam contrast this with how love is not an adventure. He shows that love weaves itself through our entire lives and our entire existence. It claims not just the present but all eternity. Unlike life which is lived through each moment and experience. Love, to exists must be eternal. It consumes the whole person. It calls upon every aspect of the man and at all times. In separating ourselves from love in a moment we do so for all time. We break ourselves apart from the eternal and thereby destroy our very existence. Anna is now running perilously close to abandoning this eternal love for the sake of the moment. She runs to a man in a car and asks him to whisk her away into the unknown.
Anna places her hand on the car door and just as she is about to get into the car Adam places his hand on hers and says “No.” The car moves off and they are left standing. Adam now draws to Anna’s attention some girls passing by to get fuel to refile their oil lamps with. These are the wise virgins who have come to refile their lamps. He also shows her the foolish virgins who are sleeping and will not fill their lamps in time. They think they are walking in their sleep, they have a dormant space in them. Anna has also been asleep. In this time when she thought she was running around awake she was spiritually asleep, Not ready with her lamp. Now Adam has come to wake her. He tells Anna that he has woken her so that like the wise virgins she can go forward and meet the Bridegroom with her lamp when he comes. The foolish virgins will not be able to do this when he comes for in their idleness they have failed to prepare. Here of course Wojtyla is recounting the parable of the 10 virgins from the gospel of Matthew. Anna like us all has been caught napping. Just as the parable teaches us we must make sure to be prepared for the coming of our lord. If we are not ready then when he offers us his Grace we will be unable to accept it as we did not really wish to have it and so therefore deny ourselves his love out of our own laziness and pride. All is not lost though, Adam has awakened Anna now she must find out where the Bridegroom waits for her.
“Well, he is constantly waiting. He continually lives in expectation. Only this is, as it were, on the far side of all those different loves without which man cannot live. Take you, for instance. You cannot live without love. I saw from a distance how you walked down this street and tried to rouse interest. I could almost hear your soul. You were calling with despair for a love you do not have. You were looking for someone who would take you by the hand and hug you.
Ah, Anna, how am I to prove to you that on the other side of all those loves which fill our lives-there is Love! The Bridegroom is coming down this street and walks every street! How am I to prove to you that you are the bride? One would now have to pierce a layer of your soul, as one pierces the layer of brushwood and soil when looking for a source of water in the green of a wood. You would then hear him speak: beloved, you do not know how deeply you are mine, how much you belong to my love and my suffering-because to love means to give life through death; to love means to let gush a spring of the water of life into the depths of the soul, which burns or smolders, and cannot burn out. Ah, the flame and the spring. You don’t feel the spring but are consumed by the flame. Is that not so?”
Now Adam speaks to the soul of Anna. She has awoken and so is receptive to his words. He calls to her to see that the love she is seeking is not just love of Stefan or love for a new man in her life but it is Love itself. She longs for Christ. The one who is found behind all human love to be its source. Adam is calling her to find the love in her life behind which she sees the face of Christ himself. She has been consumed by passions and emotions, “the flame” that Adam speaks of but now she must find the “spring of the water of life”.
Anna recognizes that Adam has been speaking to her soul but calms Adams concerns that she will not take his words to heart by saying. “I only know you have been talking to my soul. Don’t be afraid. It goes with my body.” Here the importance of act as a consequence of inner belief are emphasized. Anna now recognizes the transformation that has occurred in her inner life. In Adams attempt to reach into Anna she has been touched by God and Adam has been the means by which God has chosen to affect this change. Not only is she changed interiorly but this changes her physically. For man exists in the union of body and soul. The interior change and the place within Anna to which Adam reached, now reaches out into the world and so brings God’s love into it through Anna's actions.