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What significance does the theme of innocence versus guilty play in the novel, The Assault, by Harry Mulisch?

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Luis Antezana Written Assignment April 23rd, 2012 Word Count: 1222 What significance does the theme of innocence versus guilty play in the novel, The Assualt, by Harry Mulisch? The novel, The Assault, is told against the backdrop of shifting Dutch post-war society, centered around significant points in that history. Mulisch paints a canvas of the difficulties of Dutch society in coming to terms with the events of the war. Mulisch faces significant questions of guilt and innocence when writing the novel thus leading to the hand of fate lurking strongly in the novel. The Assault becomes a morality play with much difficulty in determining and judging what right and wrong is, and guilty from innocence becomes a central theme throughout the novel in the lives of Anton Steenwijk, Fake Ploeg's son, Cor Take and Karin Korteweg and Mr. Korteweg. Anton Steenwijk is the central protagonist in the novel and has been plagued with the murdering of his family at a very young age. Anton struggles to understand and comprehend the events that happened that very night which ultimately leads to his apathy for the subject. ...read more.


Anton claims that his "family was senselessly slaughtered by Fascist, of whom [Fake's] father was one. Isn't that right? (90)", through the use of the rhetorical question Mulisch makes the guilt of Fake Ploeg an evident fact. Whereas, Fake tells Anton how his father's death devastated his family and claims "[Fake Ploeg] was ignorant of [the Jews] and [Anton] can't blame him for it. He was with the police and simple did his duty, what he was told (91)." Fake's philosophical view on the situation is seen by pleading ignorance for his father. Mulisch uses Fake character as an arbitrator for the situation and as the events change, Fake's character changes; for example, "[Fake] began to sob. The sob rose out of him as if they belonged to someone else who was inhabiting his body" Fake character, here, changes emotionally to portray the seriousness of Fake in his argument (92). Anton's claims conflict with Fake's claims of his father's guiltiness that ultimately lead to a blurred line of innocence versus guilt. Another guilt versus innocence conflict in the novel is the murder of Fake Ploeg. ...read more.


(181)" Mulisch uses the lizards as a symbol/medium for Mrs. Korteweg and Mr. Korteweg eternal happiness, thus the loss of the lizards becomes Mr. Korteweg's worst horror. Anton raises philosophical questions of Mr. Korteweg's innocence when he says, "Could everything be blamed on the lizards? (181)" Anton also learns that "[the Aartses] were hiding Jews" consequently leading to Anton's understanding that "in spite of everything, Korteweg had been a good man! (183)" Although, Anton recognizes Korteweg's justifications, the audience is ultimately left with ambiguity to a true innocent or guilty verdict because of the questions in morality of saving three lives but having to take three other lives. In the work of Harry Mulisch, The Assault, the war's disastrous effects are seen on the protagonist as he struggles to forget his past, but as he encounters people from the past, issues in the deciphering between guilt and innocence of its very characters were set in motion, "Was everyone both guilty and not guilty? Was guilt innocent, and innocence guilty? (184)" These inquiries in knowledge and understanding ultimately leave the audience with equivocal answers to who was guilty and who wasn't. This ambiguity in the novel adds to its mysterious undertones and theme of uncertainty leading to disputes in morality. ...read more.

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