Friday, September 12, 2008

Tom Christie's sacrifice

One of the things that intrigues me about the OUTLANDER books is that the characters change, learning and growing from their experiences. Even the most rigid and dogmatic of characters can experience this sort of epiphany, a moment of decision that changes them forever.

Take Thomas Christie, for example. He seems at first to be nothing more than a humorless, repressive, and tiresomely dogmatic man, with virtually no redeeming qualities. He beats his daughter Malva, disapproves openly of Claire's refusal to act the part of a properly submissive 18th-century woman by covering her hair, constantly quotes Scripture at people, and insults Jamie to his face.

And yet in the end, Tom Christie in essence throws his life away, sacrificing himself to save Claire's life, by agreeing to confess to his daughter Malva's murder. It is a breathtaking act of self-sacrifice, made all the more remarkable by the fact that Tom has shown almost nothing but contempt for both Claire and Jamie since he first arrived on the Ridge.

So, what made him do it? The answer, on the surface, seems simple enough: He loves Claire, even as he realizes that his love for her will never be either acknowledged or reciprocated. Once Jamie's attempt to free Claire from the Governor's custody fails, it becomes clear that the only way she will go free is if someone else confesses to the crime. And so Tom Christie does the only thing he can, to save her life.

"I have yearned always," he said softly," for love given and returned, have spent my life in the attempt to give my love to those who were not worthy of it. Allow me this: to give my life for the sake of one who is."
"Mr. Chr--Tom," I said. "You mustn't. Your life has--has value. You can't throw it away like this!"
He nodded, patient.
"I know that. If it did not, this would not matter."

From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 97 ("For the Sake of One Who Is"). Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.


From the point of view of the story, and the fictional world of the OUTLANDER universe, it makes perfect sense. But ask yourself, how many of us would be capable of literally giving up our lives for someone else?

Jamie, of course, came very close to doing just that, when he offered himself to Jack Randall in OUTLANDER, in exchange for Claire's freedom. But Jamie is the hero of the story, and somehow we expect heroes to be self-sacrificing; it doesn't come as a shock. Much more startling, in my opinion, to see an ordinary man -- and not a particularly heroic or admirable man, up to this point in the story -- sacrifice himself in this way.

2 comments:

Diane M. said...

For me, this has always been an emotionally touching scene. I also see Tom as really having had an epiphany that surprised me, yet it made sense to me after the shock wore off. He not only loves Claire so intensely that he would give his life for her, but he feels responsible for sustaining her life at the cost of his own because of what has happened.

I personally felt, as I read ABOSAA, that he should feel responsible. I wanted him to have to answer for what happened to Claire. Diana manages to satisfy this feeling for readers, but she does it so poetically. Tom doesn't go down the way most "humorless, repressive, and tiresomely dogmatic "men do in popular fiction or movies. He doesn't die running for his life with the readers cheering "Ha! He deserved that!" Instead he does something that surprises us and, in true Gabaldon fashion, leaves us marveling, once again, at the complexity of her characters.

It is ordinary characters doing extraordinary things,like Tom Christie, that makes Diana's books so real to me - so human. Now I do agree that I don't know many people who would make such a sacrifice as Tom's, but when you consider all he has lost, all the damage that has been caused, his love for Claire and his epiphany along with his feelings of responsibility, well that kind of complexity in a character is very real to me.

Mitzi said...

I remember Claire saying "The sins of the fathers shall not be visited upon the children" but I think in this case, the sins of the children were visited upon the father.

Mitzi