Concept of Suffering, Bridge on the Drina

Bridge on the Drina, without a doubt, is more than just a bridge that was built from slave labor in mid-16th century. As Danielle mentioned in her blog post, the bridge represents a locale of history and a force of resilience. I would like to add onto these symbols and suggest that the bridge represents Visegrad’s history and culture of suffering.

Since the beginning of the bridge’s construction (and perhaps even before) this multiethnic village of Visegrad was terrorized under Turkish rule. We see Radisav being hammered to a slow, painful death to deter the others from rebellion; mothers crying after their sons who have been taken as tributes to the Turkish empire; natural disasters like the flood; brutal beheadings and suicides. Perhaps it is through hundreds of years of this ruthless lifestyle that suffering becomes embedded into the bridge and its people.

This idea of an inherent culture of suffering becomes more evident towards the second half of the book when Visegrad becomes subject to Austrian rule in the late 19th century. Although the Austrian occupation was relatively peaceful, a passive resistance rises over time and people begin to have a  “sweet tranquility” of the old Turkish times (225). It seems as though the people are consistently unhappy with something at any given time. During Turkish rule, there was a widespread hatred against the violence; and now under Austrian annexation, as Professor Brown mentioned, the people are nonetheless resentful towards the influx of scientific modernism (especially during the late 18th century as this was the time of the second Industrial Revolution where modern goods were actually commodified). When Franz Ferdinand sends out a peaceful proclamation, mysterious figures rip up the document and throw it down from the bridge to the river in the midst of the night.

The concept of an inherent culture only available to those who live in a particular region is nothing new. For example, as mentioned in class, there exists in Korea a national concept of han, a feeling of unresolved resentment or agony that is repressed for years, if not decades (for more, visit Han is believed to be only sharable amongst Koreans, as it has roots in its history of constant colonization and attacks by its neighboring countries. There exist a plethora of literature and media in discussing and exemplifying han, and the exact definition is still debated today.  Additionally, one could argue that the  concept of American exceptionalism is also a culture that is unique to the United States–the belief that America is the world’s leader in democracy, freedom, etc.

In the novel, it seems as though suffering takes many forms. One is hatred. In an interview, Andric himself admits that “Bosnia is a country of hatred.” “There, too, is much kindess and passionate  love, profound feelings, so much hunger for justice. Yet beneath all that, in inconspicuous depths, a tempest of hatred is hidden, hurricanes compactly comprised of hatred that grow, awaiting their time” (…pdf). Lotte seems to be one of the many characters that exemplify this hatred. She was introduced to the book as an attractive and smart businesswoman running a hotel; however, as time passes and her beauty fades, she lives in bitter resentment of the unfortunate things that have happened to her. She begins to hate her relatives and all the investments she had made in them; she begins to hate herself as she is no longer the beauty she once was. She may try to hide these feelings when she is at work or with company, but when she comes home to her little room at night, she becomes overwhelmed by these emotions.

Another form of suffering is fear. No matter how much more civil Austrian rule was, the people nonetheless feared for their lives, “in much the same way as they feared sickness and death and not as one fears malice, misery and oppression” (174). And the women express their fear or suffering in tears, as if it was some sort of a communal ritual , as if they enjoyed the tears and the crying (171). It is almost as if the people of Visegrad expect misfortune and misery from their daily lives–they accept suffering as a way of life. And they look to the bridge as the beholder of Visegrad’s history of suffering through centuries of time. On one hand, the bridge could remind the people of the worst of times and give them hope, offer them some sort of refuge. On the other, the bridge could serve as an agent that reinforces this culture of suffering, making sure it lasts and endures.