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History and Memory Essay Essay

Analyze the ways history and memory generate compelling and unexpected insights

Representing an ‘absolute truth’ is impossible. Inherent human bias affects both history and memory. We unintentionally falsify parts of the past in order to emphasise the nature of past events we find central to our individual beliefs. Therefore we are challenged with obvious limitations in representing the ‘truth’. The interplay of history and memory however, leads to a rather satiable and tangible level of truth. Nonetheless, it is yet to be seen that this satisfiable level of truth will be riddled with bias as it is human nature to have an opinion/perspective that makes reconciling (accepting) memory and history a great challenge. Ultimately, this satiable level of truth creates compelling and unexpected insights into the past as assumptions that have previously been thought as true and views can change when face with uncertainty (or challenged by evidence).

Mark Baker’s biographical novel The Fiftieth Gate highlights his confrontation with the terror of his parents’ childhood. Similarly, ‘Big Fish’ composed by Tim Burton which explores the strained relationship between a father and son both express the ways both history and memory generate compelling and unexpected insights. Individual’s often feel compelled to an empirical representation of past events, this is evident as Mark Baker, a man who predominately believes in precision and order which is conveyed as he “collects his memories in colour coded photo albums” so it is obvious that he has an assumption that History unlocks the past and contains all the answers in his search for the absolute truth. Furthermore, the confession that Mark “believed the soviet records more than his own mother” which was hard for the composer to accept, due to the fact that Mark feels compelled to believe the empirical representation of events rather than the figurative/ emotional representation of the truth and therefore creates an unexpected insight into what Mark originally thought was a sterile representation of the truth.

Similarly, Big Fish also expresses this viewpoint as the protagonist ‘William Bloom’ “wants to know the true version of things”. The dialogue previously mentioned articulates the need for a factual/verified account of truth in which William demands of his father, a man who William feels he doesn’t “know about as he hasn’t said a single fact”. Consequently, the thirst William has for knowledge that is definite and unrefutable, leads him to be compelled when he finally understands the man his father is. Therefore, the often unexpected insights challenge individual notions of representing truth and not just verify what happened. However, the figurative representation can be more powerful that the facts alone. This is particularly apparent throughout this biographical novel with the expression “It always begins in darkness, until the first light illuminates a hidden fragment of memory”. The chiaroscuro represented in this quote communicates the idea that memory is stored away until a physiological trigger releases the fragment of memory which is imparted as Yossl (Mark’s father) walks throughout the Jewish Graveyard reliving the memories of his childhood with his deceased friends.

Ultimately, this creates a compelling and unexpected insight as the majority of people visit the graveyard to commemorate and mourn the death of their beloved. Additionally, Big Fish also supports this statement as the need for figurative representation far outweighs the need for an empirical one. The statement “All the facts but, none of the flavour” represents the notion of embellishing the truth to provide not only a moralistic and emotive perspective but one of entertainment also. The figuratively, compelling insight of representation entertains the individual and therefore may render this representation more powerful than an empirical one. Consequently, the figurative can sometimes capture and compel the individual more than the verified facts alone. Lastly, reconciling an empirical representation with the figurative can piece together a satiable level of truth. “I was searching for her history in order to vindicate her stories” indicates the desperate need that Mark Baker had to reconcile his mother’s memory through the use of history.

The movie Big Fish supports this view through the use of dialogue. “They have two completely different personalities but the same set of legs” ironically can be expressed as a personification of both history and memory. The dialogue creates a compelling and unexpected insight as it conveys that history and memory are both created from humans; however they are seen to be completely different in the respect that history is factual and evidence based while is personal and often emotive. The combination of the two interplay in Despite human nature’s imperfections in representing an ‘absolute truth’, when we accept the limitations and reconcile the subjective and objective perspectives a satiable level of truth is achievable.

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