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This might sound like an overly harsh snap judgment, but I feel that The Submission displays an extraordinary lack of what I would describe as intellectual and emotional progress in the lives of its characters.  What’s more, this cannot be accidental on the part of Waldman. In fact, I believe that it is a vital aspect of the novel and one of its overlying themes.

There seems, at the beginning of the story, to be abundant room for positive growth in the minds and lives of multiple characters, as well as in the plot itself.  Indeed, by writing this post, I do not mean to say that this type of development does not occur, and certainly not that there is no character growth at all.  My point is simply that the commencement of the novel calls for optimism, and that Waldman proves this optimism to be unwarranted (if she does not go further still in bringing the idea of hope itself into question).

The primary example of this phenomenon occurs in the character of Claire.  At the beginning of the novel, she is portrayed as the most open-minded member of the jury.  In fact, in a sea of subtle to blatant bigotry, Claire Burwell is the novel’s shining advocate for acceptance.  Upon learning that the architect of the winning design (the design she chose) is a Muslim, she pushes for his acceptance because “Tolerance isn’t stupid,” but “Prejudice is” (18).  This very same woman ends up being the person who, near the end of the novel, speaks out against accepting Mohammed Khan’s design.  Over the course of the novel, the reader is given an unexpected view of human response to pressure, prejudice, and loss via Claire’s character: we are shown a woman who goes from blind advocacy of what she seems to view as the underdog to one who finds herself fearing and distrusting that same figure.

As for Khan himself, it could also be argued that he does not evolve in an what would be seen typically as a satisfying manner.  He is stubborn, not because he has set out to champion a cause, but simply because he feels entitled to the credit he earned.  Saying this, I do not mean to imply that Khan should not seek validation for his winning entry; in fact, I admire his persistence.  But the fact remains that he rests both stubborn and secular, as well as, oftentimes, indignant.  In fact, when Khan does change,   this change manifests in him cutting his hair and his beard in order to appear less offensive somehow. This is hardly inspiring or motivational.

Combined characters such as the reporter, Alyssa, who continues unscrupulously down her career path, I can’t help feeling that Amy Waldman is making a point through her characters’ lack of anticipated epiphanies and compromises.  That point, I would propose, is that, in terms of how Muslims are viewed by the media and general public, there hasn’t been truly proactive compromise post 9/11 America. This might all seem incredibly obvious, but I was still intrigued as I read her novel.  In fact, there would hardly be a reason for anyone to be engaged in the story if none of us believed that there was potential for change.  Waldman sets the reader up to seek in the text what Americans have not yet been able to find.


One Response to “Stagnancy”

  1. Excellent post, Olivia. I wonder if the fact that these characters are so static leads readers to focus instead on the ways in which our view of the characters changes, much like a shadow moving across a landscape as the sun sets. We see them differently — better? more clearly? more fully? — by the novel’s end.