On Ghosts & Disillusionment

Although it is a motif that has surfaced elsewhere in The Avian Gospels, I’ve noticed that the notion of ghosts has surfaced more frequently in the latter part of the novel, and that it has relevance to several characters, each in a slightly different way.

This idea came to me first with the Judge, shortly after Katherine has managed to smuggle Morgan into the house. He is said to have been hearing heavy breathing “asthmatic and desperate”, and then finds his ancestors “glar[ing] from their portraits”, in outrage, he presumes, since he is destroying “their” city. (While I was initially somewhat surprised to find that the Judge believes in ghosts, I suppose having to sustain the pressure of upholding a position of power that has persisted for generations would take its toll on the mind.) The Judge reflects on this, in between discouraged monologues about how the Norwegians might have the upper hand in battle, and seems offhandedly to think to himself, “His father…had never heard voices, or if he had, he’d kept them to himself. Maybe everybody heard them. Now the parrots parroted the breathing. His father never had parrots” (404-405). His (apparent) nonchalance in this thought process was unsettling, but not unexpected, given the writing style of the book – at least, not until we take into account the way he reflects on his children (Katherine in particular) whom he “adored…more than ever” (408), and how he later storms in on a coat closet because “It seemed like the hangers were muttering; what were they saying? It sounded like Charlie” (424).

Katherine, as it turns out, hears the breathing, too.”She’d assumed it had been hers. [But] the breaths she heard weren’t hers…they were shallow and uneven, almost gusty, like wind in an attic” (412). As a reader, I was under the impression that the breaths were Morgan’s, but that doesn’t add up given his condition and where he is hidden. Perhaps both Katherine and the Judge feel plagued by ghosts – of ancestors, of Charlie, perhaps even of Mrs. Giggs, who has repeatedly been described as having a ghostly appearance since returning home. I wonder if she might hear them, too, but is too disconnected from the reality of her family’s situation to understand their implications, explaining how she is able to go back to her “normal” occupations so quickly.

“[The Judge] could hear the laughter of his wife, who hadn’t laughed in years. She had come back to the house, and spitefully did housework all day” (406).

Perhaps life is different for ghosts among ghosts.


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