Pursuit of Justice or Vengeance?

The gruesome documentary, Long Night’s Journey Into Day, takes a look at the apartheid that took place in South Africa from 1948-1994. Before watching this documentary, I had no idea what the apartheid was and I knew no information about it. I think it is very interesting that the creation and implementation of the apartheid was done by white people, yet 80% of the 7,000 perpetrators who applied for amnesty were black. The fact that the majority of the people who applied for amnesty were black from a law that was instituted to be racist towards black people, goes to show that the black were fighting against the inequality and injustice they were faced with on a day to day basis; however, I found myself torn between looking at the actions of the blacks as fighting back for justice, or violently seeking vengeance . 

To say I was torn on my viewpoints of the actions taken during the apartheid would be an understatement. The first story told of Amy Biehl, the American student killed in 1993, was a pretty sad story to watch and listen to. What really struck me was the fact that her parents were so accepting of what had happened, and did not hold any animosity towards the men or their families. The parents were so forgiving towards the mothers of the convicted men, which is a very powerful message to send, and is fundamentally what the TRC was created for. I personally felt some levels of hostility towards the men because of the fact that they went after and murdered an innocent woman simply because she was white and white people were their oppressor; it was killing for the sake of killing. On the flipside, the second case with the “Cradock 4,” was a complete display of injustice and racism against blacks by the police. The four men were out to attend the United Democratic Front when they were approached by police and killed. This was also pretty hard to take in, and to see the outcry of the community for the wrongful death of these men. The cop that came forward for amnesty, Eric Taylor, believed it was his “duty” to attack them, which again, was nothing but wrong and racist. 

Around this point in time, in the United States, Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting against blatant displays of racism as well through peaceful protests and was successful. Looking at how MLK went about handling the injustice black Americans faced, it makes me question whether or not the blacks in South Africa could have taken the same approach. But on the other side of that, they not only were faced with inequality, but were also being killed, so desperate times can influence desperate measures, however I believe the line was crossed into vengeful action when innocent people were being murdered for the sake of making a statement.

Symbols of Ideals

The story of The Furies in the play we read in class ends on a very interesting note that raises many questions I don’t really know how to answer. In the end, Orestes is acquitted of the charge of matricide when the vote of the Athenian mortals is split evenly and Athena’s deciding vote falls in his favor. Orestes swears the everlasting devotion of himself and his people to Athena and Apollo and his friendship to the people of Athens, and then exits the stage. 

Remaining for the conclusion of the play and the final act in the drama is the goddess Athena and The Furies. Their exchange is strange to me. Athena is the patron goddess of Athens. She represents culture, wisdom, strategic warfare, and the arts. In a symbolic sense, Athena IS Athens. She is the embodied spirit of the city and it’s people and the ideals they (literally) deify. 

So the goddess, the spirit of the city conceptualized and embodied, has sat as high arbiter of the dispute and has ruled in favor of Orestes. And yet The Furies demand for their right of vengeance is something she cannot deny and instead must appease. Just as Athena symbolically represents the ideals of wisdom and culture/civilization, The Furies are the embodied representations of hatred, pain, and vengeance. Rather than rebuking and banishing The Furies, the play ends with Athena acknowledging their right and appeasing them by giving them a position of high honor in the city.

The play is carried out by these larger than life, mythological symbolical figures. So what does it mean that the embodied spirit of wisdom, the embodied spirit of the city itself, decides to acknowledge the right of vengeance and exalt it and honor it within the city? 

Vengeance is in the end thwarted at the hands of Wisdom, but is given a high and honored position within the city in order to secure peace. I believe this is the theory of the play; the supposition it is making about the nature of justice. The play believes that vengeance is real and powerful and cannot be denied. It must be respected and honored if peace is to be secured, but it must always be ruled over by wisdom, and cannot always be indulged if the proper conditions for redemption and mercy have been met, as they were by the sacrifices of Orestes.