When I hear the word light, I think of so many things. I think of weight – of something that is not heavy, something easily lifted and carried. I think of color – hues that are bright and soft and cheerful. I think of lightness with regards to darkness – of there being light in a place so that one can see. Other types of lightness I imagine, are lightness of heart, soul, mind. Lightness of relief, of a smile, a laugh, a relaxing moment. Often I equate lightness with hope, inspiration, knowledge. The interesting thing about lightness, though, is that it can only be defined with an understanding of its opposite. Much like people are often defined in comparison to others, lightness can only be defined with regards to weight or darkness.
Calvino touches upon this dichotomy in his discussion of lightness. The only way to experience the presence of lightness, is to be aware of the absence of weight. An understanding of how these two states are related, is imperative to understanding the parts. In defining lightness, Calvino mentions a lightness of language, of thought. If something has been made light, then it has often been understood. To be enlightened, means to be made aware of something. Part of achieving lightness, is coming to an understanding, accepting it, and embracing it. Lightness is key to defying the weight of the world, or the potential weight of thought.
In My Sister’s Keeper, lightness is exhibited in many ways.There is the lightness felt as a form of relief when Anna finds out she no longer has to be a donor to Kate. There is the lightness felt when this burden is lifted. However, with the lightness comes heaviness. There is the heaviness of sacrifice. Anna sacrifices a lot by pursuing the legal battle. As someone who was born to take care of her sister, Anna holds the ultimate weight – she holds the burden of someone else’s life in her hands. She, in many ways, holds the weight of the world.
For the whole family, as well as the reader, there is this sense of the heaviness of time. Death is the ultimate weight. Since much of this book is about preventing Kate’s death, there is a constant weight upon everyone’s shoulders. However, the family has hope and this hope is what allows them to relieve some of the weight. This hope lends to a sort of lightness. There is hope that Kate will get better, hope that the legal battle will work itself out and everything will be okay. Anna hopes for freedom. Jesse hopes to be noticed. The lawyer hopes to prove a point.
The fact that the children lose their innocence fast, implies that they lack a sort of lightness. Their worlds have been made heavy. Innocence, or lightness, is gone. The family must also cope with a harsh reality, where laughter and smiles are fleeting, and responsibility and hardship is a daily routine. Their worlds are heavy.
Also, Jodi Picoult plays with lightness of language. She ends each section with a very deep comment, something heavy, that will impact readers. She does this so that readers can’t just move on without thinking. She wants them to take time to reflect and take the time to make “light” of the story line. She wants them to pick apart at the difficult and messy details, until they can come to a sort of understanding.
Not only does Picoult use language to portray lightness and heaviness, but the characters learn that words have weight. When Anna opens her mouth about how she feels, she realizes that her actions cannot be taken lightly. She can’t back down from them. Anna has to hold her ground, maintain her weight. However, there is this idea that with weight, comes visibility. It is only once she speaks, that she is really seen by her parents. Presence or lack of presence, is often determined by how light or heavy someone appears. At first, everyone makes decisions for Anna – she holds no weight or say. She is pretty much invisible, or light. However, once she makes her stance clear, her visibility thickens, hardens, and takes shape.
I wrote this recently on my other blog: I think the key to words and the formation of them – the stringing together of letters and words to form thoughts and sentences – is awareness. It is about awareness of what it means to speaker and what it might mean to audience. It is awareness of multiple meanings and implied meaning and intended meaning. Words are gray. They are foggy and sometimes you have to blink a couple times to even maybe catch a glimpse of meaning. Words don’t always make sense. And that is kind of the beauty of words. It is also the frustration. Sometimes I just want to throw books against walls and listen to the sounds they make as they fall to the ground, as gravity takes control of them. I want, for a moment, to take away the heaviness of the words – for one second to make them light. But nothing lasts – and so the words must fall and collapse and become as confusing as ever. And I just have to smile.
Calvino describes lightness in a couple different ways. He mentions a lightness of language. In this case, the words themselves are light in meaning, texture, in the context they are used. Therefore, a lightness of language implies a sort of lightness of thought. The words you use don’t hold much weight, they are subject to change, they do not last long enough to have much impact. The second idea of lightness has to do with the idea that a train of thought might be heavy, but the parts of it – the smaller ideas or words that make it up, are lighter. Letters, themselves, are light, but you can string them together in a way to create weight. Words and sentences can create tangible thoughts. A train of thought is comprised of subtle elements at work, light elements – and it is only through the process of tying these elements together, that a sort of weight is formed. Calvino reflects upon a third aspect: a visual image that acquires emblematic value. This image epitomizes the idea of lightness, or in other words, the absence of weight. There is this idea that we feel the absence or presence of lightness based off of the absence or presence of weight. We can only really experience lightness when we have disregarded the heaviness. If we can dissect the weight long enough, then maybe we can shed some “light” on a subject.
Looking back at some books I have read, I have definitely noticed the idea of lightness present in them. It is so interesting now to see how many of my favorite books illustrate this idea. Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite writers, so I will probably mention her a couple times in this blog. Right now I am thinking about one of her newer books entitled Handle with Care. The first chapter opens with the following:
Things break all the time. Glass, dishes, and fingernails. Cars and contracts and potato chips. You can break a record, a horse, a dollar. You can break the ice. There are coffee breaks and lunch breaks and prison breaks. Day breaks, waves break, voices break. Chains can be broken. So can silence, and fever.
For the last two months of my pregnancy, I made lists of these things, in the hopes that it would make your birth easier.
On the night before you were born, I sat up in bed with something to add to my list. I rummaged in my nightstand for a pencil and paper, but Sean put his warm hand on my leg. Charlette? he asked. Is everything okay?
Before I could answer, he pulled me into his arms, flush against him, and I fell asleep feeling safe, forgetting to write down what I had dreamed.
It wasn’t until weeks later, when you were here, that I remembered what had awakened me that night: fault lines. These are the places where the earth breaks apart. These are the spots where earthquakes originate, where volcanoes are born. Or in other words: the world is crumbling under us; it’s the solid ground beneath our feet that’s an illusion.
From this opener, we already get this sense that things are fallible; they are not always as strong or heavy as we think they are. They hold weight, yes, but this weight can break.Often times, there is only this illusion that our weight can be upheld. There is a lightness at heart in knowing we are safe, or at least thinking we are. However, there is also this idea that things are destined to break overtime, that the weight of the world will get to them.
The main storyline in this novel has to do with a young girl who is born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease that makes her bones brittle and very easy to break. She is subjected to suffering hundreds of broken bones and a lifetime of pain. She is so light, so fragile – it is hard for her not to get hurt. Often times she is in a a wheelchair, because she is too light to even support her own weight. However, she has this lightness of mind, this optimism of spirit. She is light at heart, despite the heaviness and severity of her condition.
On my other blog, I have a page where I analyze a picture in terms of its “lightness.” However, an interesting twist is that the photo has only achieved lightness because it has been manipulated. This idea of manipulation, in a way, can take away from the lightness. But try not to think about that. Instead, focus on the ways in which the manipulation gives life to the photo. Young at Heart.