I wonder which is more tragic – Blanca’s abusive marriage or her inability to express and defend herself. Time and again, Blanca finds it “hard […] to talk, because it [is] hard for her to say what [is] oppressing her” (Appelfeld 41). I find this rather peculiar: Blanca excelled as a student, one of the brightest even, and was an aspiring mathematician. Yet, shackled by marriage – not that she isn’t intelligent – she fails to exhibit her brilliance. Her academic passion and aspirations are dulled and eventually buried beneath her fear and “muteness” (Appelfeld 167). The fact that someone as bright as Blanca is afraid to fight for her own salvation puzzles me. I cannot comprehend why she chooses to endure. She is far more capable than her husband, Adolf, and has no reason to endure his maltreatment. Then, why does she let fear suffocate her? What makes her so terrified that she submits fully to Adolf’s abusive torture? Even though she kills him in the end to avenge her sufferings, I cannot help but wonder why she does not free herself from his torture immediately. Is it out of love, or because she has Otto? But still, she had plenty of time to escape before she was even pregnant.
Marriage, apparently, sacrificed Blanca’s verbal clarity. In the presence of Adolf’s overwhelming presence, her “tongue cleaves to the roof of [her] mouth and [she] can’t think of a single sentence with which to answer him” (Appelfeld 167). Adolf oppresses Blanca, yet she endures, for reasons I can never understand. The thing is, Blanca is intelligent and supposedly logical and pragmatic – seeing as she was gifted in solving mathematical problems – but why does it take and encounter with Ernst to momentarily emancipate her from her “muteness” (Appelfeld 167)? She is capable to exercise eloquence, but fails to do so. And her fluctuating bravery baffles me even more. Every time someone lights a mutinous flame in her, it is automatically extinguished by fear. What is her problem? Cowardice, perhaps? Or is Adolf terrifying to the extent that she is convinced to lead an “amputated life” (Appelfeld 66)?
Reading this novel left me with many questions and I do sympathize with Blanca, but her subservience is beyond any logical comprehension. (Maybe as a convert, returning to her old Jewish ways is impossible? But still, who would want to live under constant tyranny?)