Type: Definition Essays
Sample donated: Randall Obrien
Last updated: April 2, 2019
One of the central messages presented in this novel is the existence of God and the fact that knowledge of God is innate in all human beings. However, Paton Walsh has this idea refuted through dialogues between Palinor and Beneditx in which Palinor argues from an empiricist’s viewpoint against Beneditx’s arguments of deductive knowledge. Each time Beneditx presents his viewpoints based on ontological proofs, Palinor manages to knock down those arguments with his knowledge that is based on scientific evidence and his experiences. This argument continues until Beneditx finally acknowledges that Palinor may be right and concludes that “the whole sky is empty.” i.e.
his faith in God has been dismantled.The idea of questioning the principle of whether or not there is such a thing as innate knowledge of God is an important aspect to what Paton Walsh seeks to convey. She shows this by having Severo use Amara as an experiment to show once and for all if “knowledge of God is inborn.” This also seems to show to the readers of this novel, the hypocrisy of the Church and Catholicism in particular as Amara is made to conform to how a ‘normal’ person is supposed to behave by being tortured and drugged with “poppy water”.
This hypocrisy is also shown by Fra Murta as Catholicism teaches tolerance of others and Jesus did not force his beliefs onto anyone. In Grandinsular, atheism is not tolerated and Fra Murta believed that “torture is the only way to break the will of an obdurate man.” If Catholicism teaches tolerance of others, then why is it that Fra Murta resorts to torture to get what he believes is right when it clearly goes against the very nature of Catholicism?Another key message that Paton Walsh communicates to the readers of this novel is the idea of hierarchies and why they are there. People are put into boundaries by society and they choose whether or not to conform by placing themselves within or outside of those boundaries. Hierarchies are there so that people do not live in anarchy and it can be argued that if there were no hierarchies then would we not be have free will? Peoples place in the hierarchy is usually determined by their social conditioning i.e. white, middle-class, educated males usually are at the top of the hierarchy.
In ‘Knowledge of Angels’, Severo is the “cardinal prince” and is at the top of the hierarchy in Grandinsular, which is based on theocracy; the idea of a government ruled by a God or priests. He has control and in essence is a dictator. This raises the question of why the majority of people choose to accept this structure and how did this structure come about in the first place? Palinor, on the other hand comes from Aclar, which doesn’t have any hierarchies, but has a system based on meritocracy and “achievement” of others. Paton Walsh seems to want the readers of her novel to question the idea of hierarchies and whether or not it imposes structure and conformity upon us. And if it does, is that right?Free will and determinism are part of the key messages, which Paton Walsh seeks to convey and these ideas resurface throughout this novel. Free will is the power to make your own decisions and determinism is the theory that human choice is not free, but decided by past events.
It is not possible to have both free will and determinism unless it is biological determinism i.e. some things are determined by your genes such as intelligence. This key message interlinks with the other central messages that Paton Walsh seeks to convey in this novel.
Palinor chooses to continue to argue that he does not believe in God because his “integrity” was the nearest thing “to what you would call a soul.” This is a powerful example of free will as even though Palinor was being tortured and continued to denounce God, it was inevitable that he would die but he still held firm to his beliefs. He rejects the ideas and counter argues the ontological proofs about the existence of God. Amara however, conformed to what others around her wanted her to be like and answered the all-important question about the existence of God ‘right’. “I had a protector, though I not know a name for him” is what she said when questioned by Severo for the second time. Paton Walsh used Amara and Palinor to mirror each other’s personal situation but the end result was very different for each of them. Palinor was burnt alive because his answer represented free will and non-conformity whereas Amara’s answer represented determinism through Josefa teaching her what to say, and conformity.
The idea of identity and the issues surrounding it are a key central theme that Paton Walsh seeks to convey. A definition of identity could be: an interplay of different elements that make you unique. Paton Walsh shows identity as something that is conferred upon and this raises the question of whether or not it can be acceptable for someone to have an identity that doesn’t conform to society’s norms and values. This idea interlinks with the key messages of free will and determinism, as if there is such a thing as biological determinism, then our genes should determine our identity. But what if you had an identity that others around you did not see as an identity?Amara had an identity as a “wolf-child” but this was not seen as an identity by the ‘civilised’ world and she was forced to conform to their norms and values. Amara was conditioned to fit into a gender type by the nuns and to wear “a clean shift.” Language plays a central role, as she has to learn their ways of communication in order to fulfil what she was supposed to do i.
e. prove whether or not there is such a thing as “innate knowledge of God” as she is part of a social/religious experiment. She is having her identity changed and the new one thrust upon her. Paton Walsh may be trying to say what is the point of having an identity if it can be changed and moulded by others to suit what they want? Isn’t identity something that only you alone should have the final say in?The issue of taboo is one that is central to this novel. Taboo can be defined as: prohibition resulting from religious or social conventions.
Chapter 22 deals with some issues that would be considered taboo in the eyes of the Church and Catholicism. Sex before marriage, homosexuality, oral sex, masturbation and “ecstasies of lust” are presented to us in this detailed but succinct chapter. By using this sex scene, Paton Walsh’s message could be interpreted as, although sex was taboo in the past and still is in some cultures now, it is widely accepted in today’s society as the norm.The people of Grandinsular in ‘Knowledge of Angels’ see atheism as taboo.
They do not tolerate it and Palinor ends up dying for what he believes in. It is an irony that people who are taught mercy and compassion end up murdering someone just because they do not conform to what the majority of people believe in. Paton Walsh shows the stupidity of that taboo as people do have the right to be individuals and make up their own minds about whatever issues that are presented to them.
Does anyone have the right to impose his or her beliefs onto someone else “to increase one’s own luminance by quenching the light shining from another man…”? No, they don’t…There are many key messages that Paton Walsh seeks to convey in this novel.
All interlink to the idea of free will and determinism, which seems to be the central point that Paton Walsh is focusing on. Although the book is set in the past, the key messages that Paton Walsh highlights, relate to issues that concern us now. We still have hierarchies; taboo issues still remain; it can be argued that identity is still conferred upon us through social conditioning; beliefs are still questioned and so is the idea of how much free-will and determinism we actually have. Paton Walsh simply brings these issues into focus and does what a good writer is supposed to do: make us think and question what is right and what is wrong with the world around us today.