Form and Content
West introduces the major theme of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: The Record of a Journey Through Yugoslavia in 1937 by describing an evening in October, 1934, in a London nursing home, where she is recovering from an operation to remove a tumor. Restless, she tries to amuse herself by listening to music on the radio, switching from program to program until a wrong turn of the knob brings her the announcement that Alexander I, the king of Yugoslavia, has been assassinated in the streets of Marseilles that morning. Ringing for her nurse, she demands a telephone so that she can call her husband immediately and talk to him about the terrible news. How dreadful, the nurse responds, asking West if she knew the king. When West says that she did not, the nurse wonders why West thinks the assassination so terrible.
That only a person’s private world matters to the nurse reminds West that the word “idiot” is derived from a Greek root meaning private person. West tries to explain to her that assassinations, as in 1914, lead to other dire events—to other wars, to humanity’s apparently willful destruction of itself that this time might very well result in her own death, in the global catastrophe that she knows will sooner or later overtake her generation. It is no use, however, for the nurse cannot grasp her patient’s argument, and West recognizes that “idiocy” is a female fault; they are cut off from the world at large and cannot imagine how...
(The entire section is 432 words.)