What happens when the traumas of our past begin to intermingle with the reality of our everyday life? When the border between now and then becomes blurred? In Martin Golans The Arena this obstacle is presented through the turbulent life of a parent grappling the effects of a deceased child. Between flashes from his former life and former agonies, the main character still strives to live a normal life. The text illustrates life battling in a mental arena.
One of the prominent representations of this mental battle the main character is facing is displayed in the structure of the text.
The text concentrates around the father, the protagonist. It is written in his point-of-view. The reader follows his thoughts and concerns, hence the lack of dialogue throughout the story. However, where there is an absence of dialogue, there is an abundance of inner-monologue, opinions and flashbacks. At dawn on a weekend my town is a strangers bedroom I somehow awoke in ( ) Another womans body in my bed, the sheet circling over her hips, shes still asleep, another life I have broken into.
I awaken inside this life and check the time ( ) page 2, line 42-45. In this passage, the reader is given a harsh glimpse at the perspective of the main character. He is aware of this sudden jump between worlds, yet the means of how he ended there still is a mystery to him. This is emphasized by the word somehow. He somehow ended up in this world, aware that it exists, yet unaware of how he got there.
This transportation from one life to the other doesnt come as a shock to the main character, he doesnt describe the experience as frantic, perplexing or panicked, more of a mere inconvenience. This isnt a new ordeal, the main character refers to this as another life he has broken into as if to insinuate that this is just one of many. He flickers to and from these different worlds, unaware of when he truly is in one or the other. The main character has to confirm with himself of which life he finds himself in through the clock. This confusion is further ingrained along in the text, As I wrench myself out of a dream it takes a moment to remember which life Im in, this one or the last page 3, line 50-51. Here the blurred conception between lives is reinforced. Falling between these two worlds is a giant disruption in his life, the main character describes it clearly as the evasive and ambiguous event that it is. These passages are written confusingly, without a clear border of when hes in life or the other because that is how the main character experiences it. It is supposed to be confusing, to expose the reader to the trifles such trauma can cause, to paint them a more accurate picture of the mind of someone deeply struggling.
This disorientation is conveyed earlier in the text, where Golans personal style is distinctly obtruded. He writes in a way that makes the reader feel like theyre intruding on the characters most personal and intricate thoughts. The world has a particular main-character spin on it. We glide through darkness that is not real darkness but the early morning kind, darkness about to lift. The way it dissolves in my headlights feels as if I am breaking through, that I am, at long last, seeing. page 1, line 45-17. Here the reader is shown Golans unique method of blending a personal description of the environment seamlessly into the interpretation of the main characters of said environment. The darkness is described as not real darkness, the early morning kind, darkness about to lift. This short and somewhat crude description manages to paint a very real picture in the readers mind. It isnt a description that intensifies the beauty or the gloom of darkness, it doesnt describe the exactness to anything around the main character, yet it is impossible not imagine that delicate twilight hour the main character is driving through. That fake darkness, just before it lifts. Before the reader can dwell for too long on the setting the characters are in, the writer takes a turn into the main characters assimilation of the current situation, how his mind perceives the light, or lack thereof, clashing in front of him. Instead of viewing it as what it truly is, mundane headlights in the dark, it manages to twist itself into this augmented world where it becomes difficult to differentiate between the past and the present. It isnt initially clear to the reader what the main character is supposedly seeing, but it is clear that this sight, whatever it may be, beholds a substantial amount of significance for him. This experience is just as confusing for the main character as it is for the reader. The protagonist has not left the past. This is further seen in line 26, -swirls into the car and teases me with the scent of morning, coffee before youve had any, hot buttered rolls, the smell of toast, of longing itself, or is it of memory? Once again, the main character combats keeping his memories separate, yet his mind is incapable of keeping him purely in the present. He cannot leave the past in the past; he is constantly dwelling on the thoughts of his former life.
The question of how to move past a traumatic experience is difficult to answer. Life doesnt hand you the answer, or a band-aid over for the pain, but forces you back out into reality. Yet when your reality becomes intermingled with these thoughts and experiences, how is one expected to react? To act? To merely carry on? The hardest battles are against yourself, theyre long and rough, and the prospect of a winner can be difficult to see. However, perhaps the easiest way is to give in, let the past win now and then, allow yourself to be dragged back. Though in the end all we can hope to do is bite through our anxieties and drive away from our own arenas.