IND AFF: The Irony of Pulling the Trigger
26 February 2015
Many different tones and perspectives exist in literature, but some stories find their narrators to be older, wiser, even bitter versions of their protagonists. “IND AFF: or Out of Love in Sarajevo” by Fay Weldon is one such story, woven together by the narrator’s ironic reflection on a past love. As the story progresses, this ironic and mature tone of the narrator aimed at her youthful indiscretion disappears as the protagonist “c[omes] to [her] senses” and realizes her true feelings for her lover Peter Piper (177).
At the beginning of the story, the narrator’s attitude insinuates disapproval towards the actions of her younger self, especially in regards to Peter. “This is a sad story,” she opens. “It has to be. It rained in Sarajevo and we had expected fine weather” (173). We discover her irony in these first few sentences, painting a picture of how the narrator felt and presently feels about the memory of this story: it should be sad, but it is not, as we discover at the end.
Even though the rain indicates sadness, it is clear the rain represents nothing more than her original feelings towards her relationship with the grumbling and complaining Peter, to whom her younger self consistently turns a blind eye. While the young protagonist puts him on a pedestal, the narrator’s ironic remark “[a]h, but I loved him” and “shivered for his disappointment” shows both her recognition of her past blindness as well as the protagonist’s insecurity in the relationship (173). She is “dependent upon [Peter] for [her] academic future” and he does not even think she has a “first-class mind” (173). Brushing this insult aside, the protagonist believes herself to be a better sex partner because her mind is good and not great. However, the narrator points out the fact that the protagonist’s “piercing pains in the heart which c[an] only be made better in bed” are not love, and her lack of lust uncovers itself when she “d[oes] not fancy pushing hard single beds together” in order to satisfy this pain (176). The narrator continues to flesh out Peter’s ethical standards. While he is “supervis[ing the protagonist’s] thesis on … morality and duty,” he is also cheating on his wife (173). Peter does not know if what he and the protagonist have is “the Real Thing,” and refers to their possible marriage as “shack[ing] up” (174). The narrator once again points out the protagonist’s blindness and superficiality with her immediate response that she “loved him” (174) and “loved to be seen with him” (175).
In fact, many of the protagonist’s motivations for the relationship arise from her belief that she is in love; however, the narrator recognizes that she was driven by feelings of insecurity and inferiority, her tone gradually softening as she does so. The protagonist’s desire to succeed in the relationship comes partially from her insecurity that she cannot ensure her “academic future” without Peter’s help, but the narrator also knows her sister, Clare, and Mrs. Piper were an even bigger motivation. To the protagonist, she is “winning hands down” in the competition against Peter’s wife as she is much younger, more curious, and more spontaneous (174). The narrator recognizes her insecurity through this so-called competition, saying that “Peter liked to luxuriate in guilt and indecision,” which only strung the protagonist along in her quest to be the better of the two women (174). The protagonist also believes that by marrying Peter, she can finally beat her sister Clare. According to the protagonist, Clare has everything and more and “can even cook,” but her husband is a “weedy academic rather than [a] muscular academic” like Peter (175). In a much softer tone than before, the narrator mentions that while she “gave up competing [with Clare] yonks ago,” Clare is also “capable of self-deception” (175).
The irony begins to fade with this recognition of her own faults as well as her sister’s, and the difference between narrator and protagonist collapses entirely when the protagonist realizes her true feelings for Peter. When she sees the young waiter, she realizes she lusts for him and that what she feels for Peter is not “the real pain of Ind Aff” (177). Then looking at the older waiter, the protagonist sees herself through his eyes and wonders why she is with a “man with thinning hair” when the world is “finally full of young men” again (177). The protagonist tells Peter “[h]ow much [she] love[s him],” and the collapse in tone begins with her sudden realization of “how much [she] lie[s]” to Peter and to herself (177). As she “c[omes] to her senses,” the irony vanishes, leaving the narrator and protagonist with the same view of the situation (177). No longer ironic and condescending, the narrator becomes reflective and regretful: “It was a silly sad thing to do,” she says, “… to confuse mere passing academic ambition with love: to try and outdo my sister Clare” (178). By recognizing her true reasons for the relationship, the protagonist reaches the maturity of the narrator, gaining self-confidence and losing insecurity as she obtains her thesis without Peter and tells herself that she “had a first class mind after all” (178). The narrator goes on to wonder if Princep had just waited a little longer to pull the trigger on the Archduke, he “might have come to his senses” as quickly as she had (178).
Though the narrator and protagonist differ in tone, their views merge when the protagonist realizes her true feelings toward Peter and the depth of her insecurity, thereby ending the satire of the story. Weldon smoothly maintains the narrator’s tone throughout the story, from the ironic beginning to the complete shift at the end, where the narrator becomes empathetic without losing her irony. Weldon’s use of this ironic tone solidifies “IND AFF” as a great work of satire that appeals to our intellect and not our compassion. This is because we draw close to the characters without ever actually sympathizing with them. As Jonathan Swift described the genre: “Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.”
(All quotations taken from “IND AFF” from the Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature, Tenth Edition)