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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 432

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.

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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 great events will engulf them. Yet men are no better: They concentrate on public affairs, but their vision is dimmed by preoccupation with large issues; they do not see the details that make up everyday reality.

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is nothing less than West’s effort to comprehend a world out of balance, a world of divergent sexes, a world that can only be saved by a marriage of opposites, of a husband and wife making up between them a whole vision of history. Only by telling her husband about the assassination, only by having him accompany her on her second trip to Yugoslavia, can West get history right. She must explain to herself and the world why what happens in Central Europe affects the core of Western identity. She speaks to her husband in the prologue of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, but she is addressing her readers as well when she remarks that she knows he did not want to travel to Yugoslavia but that once there he will discover the importance of the journey.


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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 382

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is one of the great books of the twentieth century, and it makes a landmark contribution to women’s literature and issues. West puts her personality at the center of her interpretation of history, and she specifically analyzes the feminine and feminist aspects of her point of view. The long dialogues with her husband are crucial to her view of women and men, since the dialogues define differences in political view arising out of gender.

For example, husband and wife argue world politics: West denounces the hypocrisy of empires pretending to be strong but picking on the weak, the most pitiable individuals, and Andrews in defense suggests that sometimes empires are necessary to maintain a peace that individual nations cannot attain, such as the Austrian Empire’s pushing out of the Turks. On the contrary, West counters, no empire was needed by the nineteenth century when the Turks were hopelessly defeated. There was the menace of Russia, Andrews points out, implying that the Austrian Empire provided a balance of power. Not much of a menace, West thinks, for Russia was a corrupt state that posed little danger to anyone. Ever equable and warming to the argument, Andrews notes that only in retrospect can one make...

(The entire section contains 3533 words.)

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