Through a Looking-Glass: Metaphors for Misery


Link to interview with Tony Kushner:

It is an interesting phenomena that humans use a looking-glass to focus in and look deeply into other countries‘ problems to make a statement about their own world view. As Tony Kushner, in an interview with Charlie Rose, puts it, he wanted to expose the “way that people use other countries as a metaphor for their own misery”, speaking about the characters in his own play Homebody/Kabul. This is not singular to one country or another– it takes place everywhere, through everyone. Homebody/Kabul is an interesting example, and in its attempts to show the image of Afghanistan inside the looking-glass, it shows equally, if not more, the image that we see of the West– specifically Britain, but the U.S. is not disregarded.

In Britain, the Homebody goes into a hat shop and meets a- what she assumes to be- Afghan man. As she pays for her hats, she notices that his hand had been disfigured, and her fixation is terrifying. She says, “Here, in London, that poor ruined hand. Imagine. I know nothing of this hand, its history, of course, nothing” (21). The fixation is not that this hand exists- she makes the point to say that there are many mutilated people across the world- it’s that this hand is in London. In a world were barriers have been broken down, there is no longer the private. Here, she makes another statement: “Ours is a time of connection; the private, and we must accept this, and it’s a hard thing to accept, the private is gone. All must be touched. All touch corrupts. All must be corrupted” (11).

In this time, we must face the idea that countries are not mirrors for ourselves. Each country is its own- we can’t force our ideas into the hearts and minds of its people. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to understand one another– not even trying to understand is the danger in the first place; it’s where the image of the looking-glass comes from, but we should remember that our ideals as a country are not everyone’s. I think this is where a main issue comes into play. (Spoiler alert if you haven’t read past the first act!) The Homebody’s act of wanting to become an Afghan woman (if you believe that this is what’s happened to her) is shocking to us because it is not western ideals.

It would be wrong for the western world to come in and say that we know how to run the show better. I don’t agree with many of the practices of many countries- including the status of women in many countries- but it would be wrong to say that we’ve got it right. There are plenty of injustices that happen right here at home, and many times these injustices are left unsaid due to the same human reasons that women are subjected to being owned as property and men are forced to grow beards. We can’t look at a country and know it immediately, though. That’s why this play is so interesting: it doesn’t allow the audience to think for a moment that the west has done right or that we know how things are in other places in the world. This play confirms what we don’t know- and what we are likely not to know unless we take the time to weigh all sides of the issues. We need to widen our scope- take away the looking-glass and look at a country, our place in a country’s history, and we need to try to understand the parts that we cannot see. But we should also insist that other countries give us the same right. For example, in Act Two, Scene Five, Mahala starts raving on the Americans, and Priscilla keeps trying to interject that she’s from the United Kingdom, and finally Mahala says, “English, America, no difference, one big and one small, same country” (86). This, again, is the danger. While England and America share similar ideals, they are certainly not the same. This is an example of the opposite- people casting opinions about everyone in the west.

The only way to understand one another is to throw away our opinions of what we think we know.


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