“This is the paradox, then, that opens up before the father. With the birth of his child, he receives a new existence: the core of his own identity has been changed; he is now someone different, because his own being extends into another.”
In his play Le Père humilié (The Humiliated Father), Paul Claudel depicts the suffering of Pope Pius IX during the siege of the Vatican in 1870. The pope, about to be made a prisoner, speaks as a father who is wounded by the hatred of his children. In his dialogue with a humble Franciscan who has just heard his confession, he says: “Will they be any happier when they have no Father? If I am no longer with them, through whom will they be brothers? Will there come among them greater amity and love? . . . Does a child ever grow up sufficiently to be able to do without his father? Can a father ever grow so old that he has no need of his children?”1 These sentences resound in Claudel’s play against the background of a broader crisis: the play tells the story of Pensée, a young blind woman whose lack of vision symbolizes the darkness of a world without a father. At one point she exclaims: “Father? I have no father! Who are my father or my mother? Give me eyes that I may see them. I’m alone.”2
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1. Cf. René Heyer, “Sur le prétendu déclin de la figure paternelle,” Revue des Sciences Religieuses 77, no. 1 (2003): 75–84; Paul Claudel, Le Père humilié (Paris: Gallimard, 1920), 71; English citations are taken from Three Plays: The Hostage, Crusts, The Humiliation of the Father (Boston: Luce, 1945), 185–86, with slight modifications.
2. Cf. Claudel, Three Plays: The Hostage, Crusts, The Humiliation of the Father, 175.