Harry Mulisch’s 1982 novel The Assault fixates on the character of Anton Steenwijk, who, at twelve years old, was the sole member of his family to survive an attack by Nazi occupation forces during World War II. The novel follows the 35 years of Anton’s life following this tragedy, using symbolism and motifs throughout to instil ideas and themes about war into the reader’s mind. One in particular, the recurring symbol of light and dark, is manipulated by Mulisch to explore different aspects of Anton’s life after the assault on his family. Through descriptions of Anton’s experience, it is used to comment on the long-term effect that war can have on human life and explore the nature and extent of his personal trauma. Light and dark symbolism…show more content… Thus, Mulisch uses the recurring imagery of darkness and light to convey his views on the experiences of war, which he lived through during his formative years and which influenced his work greatly.
Light and dark symbolism is used throughout the novel to illustrate the lingering effects of war, and the repressed memories that accompany them. These effects are exemplified by the trauma that Anton suffers as a result of losing his family, and his inability to reach closure. This idea of ongoing suffering is first introduced in the epigraph, which reads, “by then day had broken everywhere, but here it was still night – no, more than night” (p. 2). One possible reading of this is that it symbolises Anton’s personal darkness after the war – although the Netherlands was liberated, Anton continued to feel the lasting effects of the war due to the loss of his family, which was irreversible. The epigraph introduces the idea of daylight symbolising liberation and peace, with “broken” implying release and relief, while the seemingly permanent darkness of the night represents Anton’s…show more content… Mulisch ultimately uses Truus, a member of the Dutch Resistance, to comment on morality during wartime, as this is an issue the character herself struggles with. When Anton spends a night with Truus in a jail cell, Truus compares light to love and darkness to hate, but is then faced with the moral issue of the Resistance – “and yet we’ve got to hate Fascists… because we hate them in the name of the light, I guess, whereas they hate only in the name of darkness. We hate hate itself, and for this reason our hate is better than theirs … But they’ll lose in the end, because they have no light in them. The only thing is, we mustn’t become too much like them, mustn’t destroy ourselves altogether, otherwise they’ll have won in the end” (p. 38). This extract exemplifies the complex nature of the moral dilemma that Resistance members face, and the use of light and dark imagery to do this is effective because of the ambiguous nature of both morality and light. Often, darkness and light are not mutually exclusive –when it is dark, there is always some light, and vice versa. The clumsy, rambling sentence structure in this extract, combined with the use of relatively simple language, and phrases such as “I guess” suggest that Truus is experiencing heightened emotional reactions and is using