Susan Griffin’s “Our Secret”The Secrets of Our SecretThroughout Our Secret Griffin explores the different characters fears and secrets and she gives specific insights into these secrets. Through examining others Griffin comes to terms with her own feelings, secrets, and fears. She relates to Himmler, Leo, Helene, and everyone else even though she is different than all of them. One fact that can be made about all of these characters is that they all represent humans and human emotionFirst, Griffin reveals that there is a hidden side to everyone that is only known within, and anything outside could be a false representation, or imposter. I think of it now as a kind of mask, not an animated mask that expresses the essence of an inner truth, but a mask that falls like dead weight over the human face (Griffin 349). This quote captures what she is trying to say about secrets being the barrier to others feelings. The mask Griffin talks about represents the barrier to the secrets.
Having this mask shields what is on the inside. Griffin explores Heinrich Himmler and the secrets that are hidden within him. Throughout his childhood Himmlers secrets and thoughts were hidden, overshadowed by a mask or barrier formed by his upbringing and culture. What occurs if the soul in its small beginnings is forced to take on a secret life? He harbors his secrets in fear and guilt, confessing them to no one until in time the voice of his father chastising him becomes his own.
A small war is waged in his mind (Griffin 352). Griffin is saying that Himmler has these hidden secrets that are suppressed and its creating a conflict within. These are the barriers to Himmlers emotions created by his upbringing and ideas. Griffin is stating in this quote that having to keep a secret creates emotional instability, which affects the well being of the individual. The barrier of the secret creates a barrier to true emotions. When someone has a secret their true emotions are hidden within and it is unknown.Griffin relates with this conflict that Himmler has.
This is shown throughout her essay. But at this moment in his life Heinrich is facing a void. I remember a similar void, when a long and intimate relationship ended.
What I felt then was fear. And at times panic (Griffin 358). The void that Griffin is talking about is the same void Himmler had and that is feelings that are raging within finally brought out.The difference is that Griffin exposes her feelings, but Himmler cannot.Griffin also writes about how these bottled up secrets create barriers against understanding others, like issues of homosexuality and race.
Habit has made it natural not to feel. To ignore the consequences of what one does in the world becomes ordinary. One is never allowed to see the effects of what one does (Griffin 372).
Basically she is saying that it is so much easier to hide behind this barrier than to break through it and try to understand others of different races or sexual preference. She is also saying that people get used to not feeling any emotions, once someone ignores feelings it becomes a habit and they do it over and over again. It is easier to hide from something than to face it head on.Griffins grandfather is an anti-Semite and looks at crime magazines. She describes his ignorance on page 361.
His eyes, no longer looking at me, blazed with a kind of blindness (Griffin 361). Her grandfather takes the easy way out and reveals his ignorance through his stories and opinions of others. The point that she is trying to make is that once these characters could move past the obstructions then they can better understand others. She relates to her grandfather by examining other characters and how they act. At the time Griffin couldnt understand her grandfathers hatred, but now she could find reasons to why he feels that way. She does this throughout the essay with each character. The character of Himmler is also found with this same ignorance, which creates hatred toward others.
He can order the executions of millions of Jews, but cant stand to watch them suffer. This is another example of ignoring something to shield themselves to what is really happening. Himmler does not see the executions so he cannot have any feelings for the innocent people dying. If Himmler could relate himself to these people he could better understand them, but his ignorance keeps him from relating. That all starts with the feelings that he has inside that are hidden.
The character of Leo reveals his secrets to Griffin, and breaks down to her as he recollects past feelings and experiences. He tells of his hatred for homosexuals, and how when he was younger he and his buddies would beat up a homosexual boy. This is therapeutic for Leo because he breaks down the barrier and reveals his true feelings to Griffin. The secret creates the barrier to others and Leo reveals his secrets to Griffin, so in doing so he is also breaking down the barrier.
She writes:It is said that when boys or young men attack a man they find effeminate or believe to be homosexual they are trying to put at a distance all traces of homosexuality in themselves. But what does this mean? What is the central passion in this issue of manhood, proven or disproven? In my imagination I witness again the scene that Leo describe to me. Do they rage against this mans body because of what has been with held from them, held back, like the food of intimacy, imprisoned and guard in the bodies of older men, in the bodies of fathers? (Griffin 385).Words like distance, held, held back, and imprisoned are used in this quote and it describes the obstacle that Leo faces when committing these acts of violence.
Griffin cleverly gives the explanation of that barrier as a reason for the hatred Leo feels inside. Griffin relates to Leo because she has shared the same emotions that he has felt. Even though Leo and Griffin are two completely different people they both can share the same feelings about having secrets and hidden emotions.
Leo also reveals more secrets to Griffin. He tells her of his friend and how he taught him to kill. His emotions come out and when he finishes the story Leo bursts out in tears. Telling these secrets to Griffin helps Leo deal with his emotions and it is a positive way to let out his secrets inside. He breaks down these barriers when telling Griffin his stories. By Leo revealing himself to Griffin, not only could Griffin understand Leo better, but she could understand herself better. .
How can one be understood with these barriers? Each character in this essay had barriers, and they were complex people to dissect, including Griffin herself. Once these barriers were broken with the discovery of these secrets there can be a better understanding of the motives of these characters. Before reading this essay Himmler seems like a crazy, bad person, but Griffin brings him to the level of a common man that one could relate to rather than the evil person he is.
The reader can relate to Himmler the same way Griffin does. That is how Griffin could relate herself to Himmler and through doing so the reader can also relate too.By examining others and exposing the barriers that they encounter Griffin realizes that she has the same problems, like many others. This helps her find a better understanding of herself and a better understanding of the way people act.
Griffin makes a description of a baby towards the end of her essay and a baby is born without these secrets hindering them. Her description of this innocent baby with no secrets is the optimal state of mind, but in reality everyone has secrets. She writes:I am thinking again of a childs body. Curled and small, Innocent.
The skin soft like velvet to the touch. Eyes open and staring without reserve or calculation, quite simply, into the eyes of whoever appears in this field of vision. Without secrets. Arms open, ready to receive or give, just in the transpiration of flesh, sharing the sound of the heartbeat, the breath, the warmth of body on body (Griffin 391).In this quote Griffin is saying that a baby is born with no secrets, innocent with arms wide open and then she is implying that at that point in a persons life is the only point where there are no secrets.
She is saying that it is impossible for someone to not have secrets. It is just human nature like the innocence of a newborn baby.The point Griffin is getting at is that secrets/barriers lead to misconceptions about others and it affects the feelings of human beings. Once these secrets can be revealed and feelings can be exposed then it will help people understand themselves and better understand others.Works Cited:Griffin, Susan. Our Secret.
Ways of Reading Eds. David Bartholomae and AnthonyPetrosky. Sixth edition. Boston. New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 2002.