A comparative essay on The Singing Silence and Under the Tuscan Sun

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Under the Tuscan Sun

“Never lose your childish enthusiasm, and things will go your way.”

It’s funny how a quote about childish enthusiasm makes its way into a film about a broken 30-year old woman and her internal struggles. Funnier still is the idea that it was given to her as an advice by an older woman, Catherine the ice-cream lady, who still acts and believes she is younger than her own age. Much funnier, however, is the idea that this quotation also, pretty much, applies to the 60-year old porter from Formentera in the story The Singing Silence.

And yet, that is exactly how it is. No quotation could better embody the representation, portrayal and growth of the two main characters from the two stories: Under the Tuscan Sun and the Singing Silence. The two stories’ plots of pain, growth and self re-actualization are similar to that of a young child’s development into a grown, mature adult.

The two characters, Frances and Vicente, in their struggle for identity enter a lot of stages of growth before they reach the end – the affirmation of their identity and the satisfaction gained from this achievement. This struggle for identity is embodied in the inner search for the happiness they never really found in the normality of their previous lives. The stark realization, or the rise of the question, that they may never have been happy in the life they were living brings them to the point where they think about who they are and what they really want out of their lives. The risk to give up everything else for an uncertain search eventually brings them to the contentment and happiness they attained in the end.

The stages they have to undergo are similar to that of a child who, just learning to walk, stumbles and falls. A child eager to learn almost always eventually just stands up and continues to move forward until he learns.

The similarities between the experience of the two characters, Frances and Vicente, begin in their previous lives.

Vicente was an ambitious porter in Barcelona who had nothing much to live on, a frustrated dreamer who never really got what he wanted. Then, there is Frances, the highly acclaimed book critic who takes great pride in her profession, yet broken emotionally and spiritually. Her success in her profession is equally proportional to her failure to save her marriage, her house and her “self”.

These two characters have accomplished what is expected of them by living in exactly how people like them should be living. Eventually, however, the satisfaction and convenience of living in the conventional lives they have created for themselves brings them to a point where they start to question the value of their existence. For Vicente, it was the realization that his “years had been a prison of his own making”. For Frances, it was the realization that she never was truly happy with the successful life she had led.

These doubts and realizations have also been supported by the climactic occurrence that had forced, or encouraged, them to make a drastic change with their own lives. For Vicente, it happened when he broke the amphora. For Frances, it was her divorce with her husband.

Both of them had the choice between going back to the comforts of the lives they have had before or to go forward and just do something that they have long wanted to do.

This is where the conflict of the identity comes in. For both of them, it was also a choice between going back to who they were and try to fix the broken pieces, or move on to a new kind of identity where they could remodel themselves into who they really want to be.

The two decide the latter, and they both make drastic changes in their lives despite not having any plans for the future. They didn’t plan. They just did.

Vicente abandoned his decent job as a porter, and just embarked on a journey across the seas in search for something he never really knew he would ever find. With not much food and money, Vicente continued on with his search – his newfound purpose.

Frances, on the other hand took the opportunity to forget her miseries by embarking on a trip to a place she has never been. The most drastic, unplanned change, however, was her buying a house in the middle of a faraway town despite barely having enough money or knowing people in the area. She just bought and lived in a rundown house, alone.

Basically, the two characters in the story are each trying to re-identify themselves – who they really are, what they really want, and what they think should be done. And so, they take on new roles as they both make decisions to abandon the security, convenience and monotony of their previous lives. They took a risk by taking on a new kind of life, the kind of life where they never really plan, but just do.

Both also arrive at a point where they question their decisions to abandon their previous lifestyles. Frances cried and wondered why she brought a house when there is “no one to cook for in a house meant for a family”. Vicente had to endure being called loco or crazy when he decided to go on with his search.

And yet, at a time when the two characters are in doubt, a quote from the film comes in:

“You should just keep believing and doing even if things don’t go your way. Vienna built a train track even if trains did not exist there yet, because they knew someday, a train would come”.

This has served as a form of encouragement to the two to just keep going on and believing in their decisions.

And, when the two protagonists decide to just accept what comes their way, that is the time when things start to get better.

They start to see their lives in a whole new point of view. Vicente sees and appreciates the wonders of nature more. Frances learns that she doesn’t need a man to make her feel happy, and that all she needs are the people who care for her.

They have also become more content with who they are. They have arrived at a point where they feel more fulfilled because they did something they long wanted to do. They never planned and, yet, realize at the end that happiness had always been at their doorstep. All they needed was just a little push to see that it was there all along. At this point, the happiness that the two protagonists found in the end embodied the old priest’s quote in The Singing Silence,

“It is not what one finds that is important. It is the search, just the search.”

As Marcello in the movie quotes, “If you smack into something good, you should hold on to it until it’s time to let go.”

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This was a paper I was supposed to submit for our Lit3 class on July 9, 2010. We were supposed to compare the movie Under the Tuscan Sun and the short story The Singing Silence. The article is a little messed up and unorganized because we were constrained with the time. But, oh well. I’m too lazy to re-edit them now. Maybe next time. LOL!


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