Sarah Bishop, yet another of Scott O'Dell's literary imaginings that brings history to life, delivers a profound message that goes beyond the history of Tories and Patriots in the Revolutionary War and connects with human and political struggles of the modern world.
Based upon the real Sarah Bishop, who lived by herself in the hills of Westchester, New York during the Revolutionary War, O'Dell's novel provides a perspective of the war that transcends the brave American vs. tyrannical British archetypes often seen in narratives of the war. Sarah Bishop is neither Tory nor Patriot; she has suffered because of both sides, losing both her father and her brother to the war. As Americans, we easily recognize the divisiveness of the Civil War but not always that of the Revolutionary War. The book reminds its readers that war destroys, regardless of how each one is categorized in historical narratives.
The nature and effects of war have changed since the days of the Revolutionary War. Our ongoing war on terrorism does not have the same impact on us, nor does our military involvement across the world. And yet, many of us feel the same hopelessness and inability to escape that Sarah felt in her time. Sarah was able to physically, if not mentally, escape to her mountain sanctuary. Nowadays, several permits and licenses would be needed to reproduce her actions, and most of us lack basic fishing and trapping abilities anyways. Very few options exist for those of us who feel caught up in a war, whether social or personal or otherwise. We can still find temporary refuge in nature, if we are fortunate enough to have open and protected spaces near our homes. But we must always come back to society at some point. And when we do, another sanctuary still awaits us, the reading of books such as those that O'Dell creates. It is ironic that we should seek refuge in reading about a historical figure who also sought refuge, but not so strange really. The world changes, but humanity continues to struggle and fail to overcome our most basic flaws. Through reading, especially stories of figures we can relate to and learn from such as Sarah, we can recognize our own flaws and find some escape from the ongoing war of life.
No El Dorado
"'But, Reverend Father,' said Candide, 'there's a terrible amount of evil in the world.'"
Candide's statement-or rather, plea-to the famous Turkish dervish sadly still rings true today, perhaps even more resoundingly so. The world of 2017 continues to face similar evils that Candide and his companions endured in back in 1759: ignorance, poverty, violence, natural disasters, senseless killing, rape, irrationality, prejudice, greed, and so much more. If Voltaire could witness the modern world, would even he be able to find words scathing enough for our reality?
But this is the world we must live in and even try to flourish in, so we must continue to cultivate our garden. Rather than sit and weep, we must stand and confront. Rather than close our eyes to injustice, we must face it and speak out. Instead of ignoring poverty, we must have gratitude for our own small comforts and give when and where we are able. Nor can we ignore violence and flagrant indecency; we must acknowledge it, take no part in it, and stand up to it to protect others, for no one is immune to it; we can all become the victims of hate, cruelty, and unfairness.
Yes, there is a terrible amount of evil in the world. It seems, sadly, that there always will be. The paradox, of course, is that the evil makes the beautiful possible, and vice versa. Just as we can't see the stars without the darkness, or the love without the hate, the good and the beautiful contrasts the hate, making it visible while simultaneously diminishing it. The more we cultivate our garden, the better we can recognize the evil and face it from a place of beauty and strength.