A Tale of Love and Darkness

by Amos Klausner

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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 688

One of the most transformative events in Amos Oz's life is the suicide of his mother. When she's gone, it doesn't only remove her from his life but also leaves him with a near-silent father. Oz writes:

Even after the mourning period was over, when the apartment was finally empty and my father and I locked the door and were alone together, we hardly talked. Except about the most essential things. The kitchen door is jammed. There was no mail today. The bathroom's free but there's no toilet paper. We also avoided meeting each other's eyes, as though we were ashamed of something we had both done that it would have been better if we hadn't, and at the very least it would have been better if we could have been ashamed quietly without a partner who knew everything about you that you knew about him.

Losing his mother means losing stories of her. It means losing anyone who seems interested in who Oz is as a boy. His father instructs and teaches him, which is in line with his desire to be a professor, but he doesn't connect with the young Oz as a person. Oz sets his own bedtime and cooks easy meals for himself. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Oz leaves home so young. He wants to be around people who are willing to talk about more than cold facts, though he says he and his father still feel close to each other.

A major difference between Oz's father and mother is that his father teaches him things, and his mother tells him stories. Though his father wants to keep him isolated from the horrible things that drove their families out of Europe, his mother tells him rich stories about the happenings there that capture his imagination. He says:

My mother's stories may have been strange, frightening, but they were captivating, full of caves and towers, abandoned villages and broken bridges suspended above the void. Her stories did not begin at the beginning or conclude with a happy ending but flickered in the half light, wound around themselves, emerged from the mists for a moment, amazed you, sent shivers up your spine, then disappeared back into the darkness before you had time to see what was in front of your eyes.

These stories are another thing she loses when he dies. His father still teaches, him but there's no one to temper his lessons with more interesting stories and things that make him dream of another type of life.

When Oz is eight, he falls in love with his schoolteacher. Her name is Zelda, and she's in her thirties. He says:

I loved the color of her voice and the smell of her smile and the rustle of her dresses (long-sleeved and usually brown or navy or gray, with a simple string of ivory-colored beads or occasionally a discreet silk scarf). At the end of the day I would close my eyes, pull the blanket up over my head, and take her with me. In my dreams I hugged her, and she kissed me on my forehead. An aura of light surrounded her and illuminated me too, to make me a boy who's flooded with light.

The impression she leaves on him is strong enough that years later he still visits her letter box. She inspired a side of him that was part his mother—fanciful—and part his father—intellectual. As an adult, he's better able to understand the two sides of himself through his experiences in life and his time with people like her. He says:

It was as if here, in The Mysterious Island, there was at last some kind of reconciliation between the two opposing windows through which the world had first been revealed to me, at the beginning of my life: my father's commonsensical, optimistic window, over against my mother's window, which opened onto grim landscapes and strange supernatural forces, of evil but also of pity and compassion.

This helps bring him some peace. He's able to better understand himself through the understanding of his opposing sides.

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