A line late in The Submission points to what I feel may be a great truth: “It’s almost like we fight over what we can’t settle in real life through symbols. They’re our nation’s afterlife” (332). Several separate strands about our country and the world flow through my mind as I ponder this quote.
First, there is so much in life that we can’t control that we try to take super control of tangential things. This seems apparent with the after-Newtown struggles about gun control. We want so much to keep our children safe, and there is no way to ensure their safety, so we fight over who should have guns, as if one answer will take care of the problem. We argue and picket about gun control and mental health, whether or not children should be vaccinated, and what is appropriate for children to eat at what age—and these are all areas that need our attention, but in our hearts we know that none of those things can fully protect our children. In The Submission, the characters struggle with what the 9/11 monument should be, almost as if the perfect monument could in some way erase the tragedy. How do you protect all of the children? How do you make a monument that gives everyone a sense of peace and closure?
In the end, it is really only William who finds closure and that is with a small cairn in a faraway garden. We need symbols. We need closure. We need to feel we’re doing everything we can, but all too often “everything we can,” as in The Submission, falls short of anyone’s lofty goals. And symbols, however needed and important they may be, are certainly not what I hope for when I think of our nation’s afterlife.
Second, along somewhat the same vein, I was caught by the number of times “who wins” is either stated or implied in the novel. This is what I fear more than settling for symbols. Everything has become a contest, and losers do not graciously concede and work together with winners. It is like we say “I may not have won, but I sure can make you sorry you did. If I am not on your side, no idea you have can have merit, and I will oppose you with my every breath.” What we may end up with is a metaphorical plaza of flags, solutions that work for no one. Perhaps it is time to stop taking sides, stop keeping score of winners and losers and do something more meaningful for our national afterlife.