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.
Seger writes: “Novels and films express themselves in different ways. Fiction uses words to tell a story, describe character, and build ideas. Films use image and action” (27). Here comes the trouble with adapting: how do we take a complicated text, where words can help clarify thematic issues, plot devices, character traits, and translate that solely into images? How can we take a text that is quick through its theme, its narration, its use of point of view, and put that into a visual display?
This is when I thought back to Calvino – how is this story quick? How does the storyline lend to quickness? And then it hit me. The storyline is about how quick our innocence bubble is popped. It is about accepting reality, coping with change, living with consequences, learning that every action has a reaction. Every word we speak, every word we don’t speak – people notice.
Seger talks about the journey. If we are viewing this story with regards to how quickly people lose their innocence, then the journey is one of discovering reality. The goal, then, is learning to accept it. There is a fluidity to Picoult’s book, despite the fragmentation of points of view. There is a propelling movement through this fluidity – a sort of pulse. And this motion guides us on the journey – giving us details that build upon details, speeding us forward.
Every character experiences the moment when they realize life is not as stable as they once believed. At one point, Kate and Anna’s mother says: “Driving home, I am struck by the sudden thought that the world is inflatable – trees and grass and houses ready to collapse with the single prick of a pin” (Picoult 34). Here is her epiphany. Life can be popped and can collapse quickly.
Another issue to identify when it comes to adaptation, is figuring out the catalyst and knowing the conflict. In this case, the catalyst is Kate. She has cancer, and because of this, her innocence, and the innocence of those around her, is taken. The conflict – how to cope with this news. A catalyst is the essence of quickness – it speeds up a reaction. Kate causes everyone to lose their innocence quicker than they probably would have. She speeds up the process of facing reality.
And finally, another layer of quickness present in this book, that is a catalyst for reality, is the idea of fire. Before each section opens up, there is a quote about fire. It opens up the chapter – it is literally the catalyst for each chapter. It ignites each story. To add a couple more layers to this: the dad is a fireman. The son starts fires to gain attention. The father is fascinated with stars, which are, in many ways, gaseous fires in the sky. Anna is named after a star. And like a star, she is quick – she flickers in and out of existence. At one point, the dad says the following: “A fire can’t burn forever. Eventually, it consumes itself” (Picoult 37). Fires are quick. They can be started quick. They can be stopped relatively fast. The effects, though, are long lasting.
Eventually time will run out – eventually it will be consumed.
Time is relative. Sometimes it seems like life is moving slow, so slow, that each second is dragging into the next, just barely inching along. Other times, it seems like the world is spinning, fast, too incredibly fast, that you just can’t breathe. Then there are the times,you reflect on how a day can seem so long, but how the week just flew right by. You think you just met a person, but it feels like it has been forever. One musical that I really enjoy is Rent. In this musical, there is a song entitled “Seasons of Love” and it talks about the ways in which people can measure time. There is no set way to measure how quick something happens, however, we all use like tricks to mark the passage of life.
Calvino described quickness as the shortest distance between two points. In literature, quickness has to do with style, theme, word choice, plot, characterization. A text that embodies quickness, though, also emphasizes the idea of digression. It illustrates how, if we get too caught up in the details, a quick text can “quickly” become slow. Also, sometimes a heavy idea can be diluted if it is told quickly, or if the idea changes rapidly after. Quickness can be used to make heavy ideas easier to deal with. It is also a means to uphold attention. However, quickness, like time, is not black and white.
My Sister’s Keeper embodies the idea of quickness in many ways. Most obviously, is the main plot: a young girl, Kate, is dying of leukemia. Her life is passing by at a rapid pace. It is limited. A sense that life is finite, seems to accompany the idea of quickness. We are quick, when we know we don’t have much time. The novel requires the other characters to make quick life or death decisions. Sacrifices must be made. However, the idea of an approaching death is quite heavy. It is slow and difficult to grasp. While Kate’s death is approaching at a fast pace, as she is in the final stages of renal failure, her death has been slow coming. She was diagnosed at the age of three. Her life is measured in relapses and remissions. It is about time slowing down, and then hoping it will speed back up and that she will get better. It has not been a question of will she die, but a question of when. The question of “when?” automatically situates the reader and characters to focus on time.
This fixation with time – how much time is left, how one is spending time, how time can be borrowed – all of these have to do with the idea of quickness. When we sense that time exists in an hour glass, we are forced to make wise decisions with what to do with our time, all the while knowing that as we sit and ponder, more sand is falling through the glass.
The way the book is written, also lends to its quickness. It is separated by days of the week. Each section is a different day, in chronological order. The book spans two weeks. Therefore, as the reader flips through the pages, he or she can’t help but be reminded of time and how quickly it is passing. With each day – or each section – Kate is closer to dying. Another method that Jodi Picoult, the author, utilizes, is differing perspective. There are about seven characters that she migrates between. This makes the pace seem quicker. It also helps diminish the heaviness of each passage. You read something deep or painful and intense, but then it is quickly over and you are on to the next person. It is used as a means of relief for the reader.
This makes me wonder if quickness is something we use to escape from really immersing ourselves in the hard stuff. If we can quickly brush something off, is this the simpler thing to do?
My Sister’s Keeper also involves a legal battle. Kate’s sister, Anna, was genetically modified to be the perfect bone marrow match for Kate. She was engineered and born to save her sister. She is, in essence, her sister’s keeper. However, the decisions were always made for her. She was quickly told to help her sister, but Anna never got the chance to really think about the implications. The novel centers around her realization that she wants control of her own body. She sues her parents for medical emancipation – or rights to her own body. Therefore, the sense that Anna is fighting not to give her sister the kidney that is need to save Kate’s life, adds to the urgency of Kate’s situation. It makes it all that more important that the court hearing occur quickly, so that the family can then figure out what to do with their lives.
Another way, perhaps one of the most poignant ways, in which quickness can be seen in this novel, is the way in which all the children in this family must mature at a rapid pace. Their innocence is taken away at a young age. They must cope with problems way beyond their years. Childhood, for them, occurs too fast.
The characters in this novel have most of their problems because things occurs too quickly – before they could breathe, gain control, really assess the situation. They had to be quick, or else they wouldn’t survive. Jodi Picoult crafts this book in a clever way by jumping from one narrative and one day to the next. She is forcing her readers to be quick, with the characters. She is telling us that we better keep up, or we will fall behind – that life can be rough and horrible and hard to grasp, but that we need to, and then we need to keep moving. Through her style, she creates a pulse, a propelling motion forward. Whether this is to Kate’s death or not, we are moving, we are discovering, we are learning, we are feeling. The journey is deep, but it is quick – much like life, itself.