Enduring Love features a protagonist whose commitment to rationalism—the notion that actions should be based on knowledge and reason—collides with characters who live by intuition or emotion. McEwan clearly validates Joe’s commitment to reason: despite Clarissa’s resistance, Joe immediately diagnoses Parry as an insane and dangerous individual, which allows him to later save Clarissa’s life. Yet McEwan also takes Clarissa’s emphasis on intuition and emotion seriously, as she deftly points out the flaws in Joe’s single-minded rationality. Thus, McEwan is sympathetic to both reason and emotion, and he seems to believe that a combination of the two—with reason taking the lead—is an effective worldview.
Joe’s rationalism is a defining aspect of his character. In the sunken field where John Logan’s body has fallen, Joe is surprised by his own emotional reaction to seeing the corpse, stating that “however scientifically informed we count ourselves to be, fear and awe still surprise us in the presence of the dead.” When Parry joins him and asks him to pray, however, Joe immediately dismisses the possibility. Joe’s eagerness to reclaim his rationalism—despite his acknowledgement that rationality might not be able to account for his extreme experience—is an illustration of the importance of reason to him as a source of comfort.
Clarissa seems to associate Joe wholly with rationality. In the evening after the ballooning accident, when Joe states, simply, “We tried to help and we failed,” Clarissa’s response is telling: “You’re so rational sometimes you’re like a child.” From Clarissa’s perspective, Joe’s reaction lacks the emotional depth required to fully account for the tragedy, and her dialogue reveals that Joe tends to think in straightforward, black-and-white terms rather than in her more intuitive or emotional language.
Indeed, Clarissa finds the moments in which Joe’s rationalism “cracks” to be highly compelling. Remarking on Joe’s “euphoric calm” in the presence of John Logan’s corpse, Clarissa claims that she loves Joe “more” now that she has seen him “go completely mad.” Though Clarissa believes that reacting so calmly to a person’s violent death is irrational by its very nature, she simultaneously understands that some situations are so extreme that they call for irrationality. Later still, Joe reveals that Clarissa believes evolutionary psychology and genetics to be “rationalism gone berserk.” Human behavior, from Clarissa’s perspective, can’t be explained merely by science, which suggests that, from her perspective, Joe’s purely scientific worldview is a limited one.
This tension between Joe’s rationalism and Clarissa’s intuitive and emotional thinking remains central to the conflict between the pair. In her letter to Joe near the end of the novel, for example, Clarissa states that although Joe was right to say that Parry was dangerous, Joe’s “being right is not a simple matter.” For Clarissa, the more important matter is Joe’s “feelings after the accident” and the extent to which Joe has been “running from [his] anxieties with [his] hands over [his] ears.” This statement brings together Clarissa’s critique of Joe’s worldview, which privileges reason over emotion: Clarissa believes that Joe uses reason not as a way to grapple with the full complexity of himself and the world but, rather, to run from truths that are too uncomfortable to confront.
Though Clarissa’s point is well taken, her worldview does lead her to underestimate the danger posed by Jed Parry. She never ceases to argue that Joe “overreact[ed] all along the way” to Parry and that Parry might have changed his behavior had they “ask[ed] him in and talk[ed] to him,” but the novel provides no evidence whatsoever that this is the case. Instead, McEwan may be making a final argument here in favor of Joe’s rationalism. Because Clarissa’s intuitive thinking will not allow her to blame Parry alone for all that has occurred, even when Parry has held her hostage and threatened her life, her way of looking at the world cannot ultimately be a correct one.
Though McEwan shows the flaws in Joe’s rationalism and Clarissa’s intuition, Jed Parry is shown to have the most irrational worldview. He is beholden to a religious faith that proceeds from a psychiatric condition, a combination that reveals McEwan’s association of religion with irrationality. McEwan’s rendering of Parry’s religious faith as a component of a psychotic breakdown prevents the reader from considering his worldview as a legitimate alternative. Where Clarissa’s ideology is concerned, however, the reader has more room. Joe ultimately rejects Clarissa’s reasoning, but the reader can see her point: Joe “did the research” and “made the logical inferences” about Parry, but perhaps he did forget “how to confide” and how to “take [Clarissa] along with [him].” The reader is left with the sense that the couple will be better off if they learn to listen to one another and combine the strengths of their individual worldviews, though whether this is possible remains unknown.
Rationalism vs. Intuition ThemeTracker
Rationalism vs. Intuition Quotes in Enduring Love
To the buzzard, Parry and I were tiny forms, our white shirts brilliant against the green, rushing toward each other like lovers, innocent of the grief this entanglement would bring.
If one ever wanted proof of Darwin’s contention that the many expressions of emotion in humans are universal, genetically inscribed, then a few minutes by the arrivals gate in Heathrow’s Terminal Four should suffice. I saw the same joy, the same uncontrollable smile, in the faces of a Nigerian earth mama, a thin-lipped Scottish granny, and a pale, correct Japanese businessman as they wheeled their trolleys in and recognized a figure in the expectant crowd.
Every fraction of a second that passed increased the drop, and the point must come when to let go would be impossible or fatal. And compared with me, Harry was safe, curled up in the basket. The balloon might well come down safely at the bottom of the hill. And perhaps my impulse to hang on was nothing more than a continuation of what I had been attempting moments before, simply a failure to adjust quickly.
Like a self in a dream, I was both first and third persons. I acted, and saw myself act. I had my thoughts, and I saw them drift across a screen. As in a dream, my emotional responses were nonexistent or inappropriate. Clarissa’s tears were no more than a fact, but I was pleased by the way my feet were anchored to the ground and set well apart, and the way my arms were folded across my chest.
“Look, we don’t know each other and there’s no reason why you should trust me. Except that God has brought us together in this tragedy and we have to, you know, make whatever sense of it we can?”
I said, “We tried to help and we failed.”
She smiled and shook her head. I went and stood by her chair and put my arms around her and protectively kissed the top of her head. With a sigh she pressed her face against my shirt and looped her arms around my waist. Her voice was muffled. “You’re such a dope. You’re so rational sometimes you’re like a child.”
“I’ll tell you one thing it means, dummkopf. We’ve seen something terrible together. It won’t go away, and we have to help each other. And that means we’ll have to love each other even harder.”
Of course. Why didn’t I think of this? Why didn’t I think like this? We needed love.
I was afraid of my fear, because I did not yet know the cause. I was scared of what it would do to me and what it would make me do. And I could not stop looking at the door.
“Something’s happened,” he said.
He wasn’t going to continue, so I said, “What’s happened?”
He breathed in deeply through his nose. He still would not look at me. “You know what it is,” he said sulkily.
“The fact that you love me,” he continued, “and that I love you is not important. It’s just the means . . . [t]o bring you to God, through love. You’ll fight this like mad, because you’re a long way from your own feelings? But I know that the Christ is within you. At some level you know it too. That’s why you fight it so hard with your education and reason and logic and this detached way you have of talking, as if you’re not part of anything at all?”
A few years ago, science book editors could think of nothing but chaos. Now they were banging their desks for every possible slant on neo-Darwinism, evolutionary psychology, and genetics. I wasn’t complaining—business was good—but Clarissa had generally taken against the whole project. It was rationalism gone berserk. “It’s the new fundamentalism,” she had said one evening . . . . What a zoologist had to say about a baby’s smile could be of no real interest. The truth of that smile was in the eye and heart of the parent, and in the unfolding love that only had meaning through time.
Being hounded by Parry was aggravating an older dissatisfaction. It comes back to me from time to time, usually when I’m unhappy about something else, that all the ideas I deal in are other people’s.
“The guy’s ridiculous,” Joe continues. “He’s fixated.” Clarissa begins to speak, but he waves her down. “I can’t get you to take this seriously. Your only concern is I’m not massaging your damned feet after your hard day.”
It wasn’t that she believed Parry, I told myself, it was that his letter was so steamily self-convinced, such an unfaked narrative of emotion—for he obviously had experienced the feelings he described—that it was bound to elicit certain appropriate automatic responses. Even a trashy movie can make you cry. There were deep emotional reactions that ducked the censure of the higher reasoning processes and forced us to enact, however vestigially, our roles: I, the indignant secret lover revealed; Clarissa, the woman cruelly betrayed. But when I tried to say something like this, she looked at me and shook her head slightly from side to side in wonderment at my stupidity.
This woman was convinced that all of London society was talking of her affair with the king and that he was deeply perturbed. On one visit, when she could not find a hotel room, she felt the king had used his influence to prevent her from staying in London. The one thing she knew for certain was that the king loved her . . . . He used the curtains in the windows of Buckingham Palace to communicate with her. She lived her life in the prison gloom of this delusion. Her forlorn and embittered love was identified as a syndrome by the French psychiatrist who treated her, and who gave his name to her morbid passion. De Clerambault.
There were very few biblical references in Parry’s correspondence. His religion was dreamily vague on the specifics of doctrine, and he gave no impression of being attached to any particular church. His belief was a self-made affair, generally aligned to the culture of personal growth and fulfillment. There was a lot of talk of destiny, of his “path” and how he would not be deterred from following it, and of fate—his and mine entwined. Often, God was a term interchangeable with self. God’s love for mankind shaded into Parry’s love for me. God was undeniably “within” rather than in his heaven, and believing in him was therefore a license to respond to the calls of feeling or intuition.
The tall man, ready to cast his spell, pointed his wand at Colin Tapp.
And Tapp himself was suddenly ahead of us all by a second. His face showed us what we didn’t understand about the spell. His puzzlement, congealed in terror, could not find a word to tell us, because there was no time. The silenced bullet struck through his white shirt at his shoulder and lifted him from his chair and smacked him against the wall. The high-velocity impact forced a fine spray, a blood mist, across our tablecloth, our desserts, our hands, our sight. My first impulse was simple and self-protective: I did not believe what I was seeing.
I felt a familiar disappointment. No one could agree on anything. We lived in a mist of half-shared, unreliable perception, and our sense data came warped by a prism of desire and belief, which tilted our memories too. We saw and remembered in our own favor, and we persuaded ourselves along the way. Pitiless objectivity, especially about ourselves, was always a doomed social strategy. We’re descended from the indignant, passionate tellers of half-truths, who, in order to convince others, simultaneously convinced themselves.
This breathless scrambling for forgiveness seemed to me almost mad, Mad Hatterish, here on the riverbank where Lewis Carroll, the dean of Christ Church, had once entertained the darling objects of his own obsessions. I caught Clarissa’s eye and we exchanged a half-smile, and it was as if we were pitching our own requests for mutual forgiveness, or at least tolerance, in there with Jean’s and Reid’s frantic counterpoint. I shrugged as though to say that, like her in her letter, I just did not know.