Bel Canto : Metaphor
Symbols of Unity
The house enduring the siege is sharply divided into two groups, the hostages and the hostage takers. The country appears to be a very divided one, too. The poor live in jungles and have never even seen a working television set. It also appears that the insurgency against the government has been going on for some time. However, in spite of these serious and deep divisions, the novel presents a series of motifs related to the arts and to games that show how unity can emerge from this profound conflict.
The first and most obvious is music, and especially singing. Singing in some ways turns out to be more powerful than brute force, since Roxane Coss ends up probably the most significant figure in the house. Her singing repeatedly brings everyone together. They forget their differences and their animosities because the music reaches them on an emotional level that puts them in touch with their authentic selves, beyond the stresses and strains of the situation. It is the supreme unifying force that reaches hostage and terrorist alike, a point tellingly made when one of the terrorists, young Cesar, suddenly emerges as a singer with great potential.
Chess is another motif of unity. Even though it is a competitive game in which one player tries to defeat another, it serves in Bel Canto as an illustration of civilized, respectful behavior between those on different sides of a conflict. General Benjamin and Mr. Hosokawa, militant and hostage, play chess silently together, losing themselves in their thoughts about their game strategy. They also accept victory or defeat with equanimity. The young terrorist Ishmael learns the game just by observing it, and eventually he plays Mr. Hosokawa too. Chess overcomes all their differences.
Another example of unity emerging through art or games is soccer, when the hostages and terrorists play soccer games in the garden—terrorists versus hostages. Differences are left behind in the enjoyment of the game. Even the culinary arts present examples of unity emerging and triumphing over conflict. Although there are some disputes at first when representatives of the two groups gather in the kitchen to prepare dinner, they soon come to a working relationship.
Finally, even popular culture in this divided country creates a kind of unity, since everyone from the president on down to the young terrorists is addicted to the soap opera on television that depicts the exploits of a girl named Maria.