Isak Dinesen

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What is an analysis of "The Diver" by Isak Dinesen?

Dinesen's story "The Diver" has to do with the nature of hope and faith and is an argument against excessive literalism and naivety in religious thinking.

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Dinesen's story is divided into two parts, contained by a frame, in which the stories are related by a storyteller named Mira Jama.

In the first part, a extremely pious young man named Saufe becomes obsessed with angels and decides that, because angels can fly, he will create wings for...

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Dinesen's story is divided into two parts, contained by a frame, in which the stories are related by a storyteller named Mira Jama.

In the first part, a extremely pious young man named Saufe becomes obsessed with angels and decides that, because angels can fly, he will create wings for humans so they can meet with the angels and learn the will of God. This concerns the leaders of his town, and they send a young woman, Thusmu, in the guise of an angel, to Saufe in order to disrupt his plan. The two fall in love, and one day, the girl confesses to Saufe the truth. Saufe's faith is shattered; he becomes a wandering outcast. He says that he has no hope and that without hope, he cannot fly and has become an enemy to God.

The second part of the story has to do with Mira Jama's meeting with a famous pearl diver, who, it turns out, is none other than the Saufe of the first story. Saufe tells Mira Jama how he came to be a pearl diver and the wisdom he has learned from the fish. The fish, he learns, have been made most in God's image, because they are immune to the effects of gravity and are supported on all sides by their element, water, and can move freely in any direction. They lack hands, so they can do nothing to alter creation. Past and present are the same to them; the fish have found that "one may quite well float without hope"—so the fish's creed has no place for hope.

There are several themes in this story worth discussing. I will briefly mention a few below.

Storytelling: it's worth keeping in mind that the principle unifying the story is Mira Jama and her desire to become an expert storyteller. This makes you think about whether these are good stories and why she is telling them.

Genre: The two stories are fables of a sort. This suggests that Dinesen had some sort of moral in mind.

Faith: Saufe comes across as excessively literal in his interpretation of scripture and a bit naïve in his attempt to build wings. The story does not make fun of him, but it does call into question his reasons for building the wings and his faith in angels as real beings.

Hope: Hope is the kernel of Saufe's faith; it is his hope to come face to face with an angel that fuels his passion for building the wings. In the same way, hope is what allows Thusmu to dance. Yet hope is the thing the fish leave out of their creed.

Dinesen appears to be arguing that "hope" springs from a "fallen" condition. Because mankind has "fallen," both in the Biblical sense and in the gravitational sense, "hope" is required. Hope is an expression of some looked for, better state. For the fish, who have never fallen and who, by virtue of living in water, can never "fall," hope is an impediment to happiness.

This transforms how one understands Biblical history. For the fish, Noah's flood was a time of triumph! The final line ("Après nous le déluge," essentially "who cares if it floods after I die," a quotation attributed to Louis XV) encapsulates Dinesen's thinking: Saufe's troubles lie in pursuing his idea of angels, whereas the fish understand that existence itself is evidence enough of faith.

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