Left to Tell is a story about choosing forgiveness under the most extreme of circumstances. The crimes of the people who massacred Immaculée’s family and up to a million other Rwandans during the genocide are among the worst that can be committed, and yet Immaculée insists that they can be redeemed and must be forgiven. By foregrounding the difficulty she experienced in forgiving the killers, Immaculée emphasizes that forgiveness is not simple or easy. However, the memoir suggests that forgiveness is the only viable solution to prejudice and violence, since without forgiveness, the cycle of hatred and destruction will simply keep going. For Immaculée, forgiveness is not only a responsibility but a blessing. By forgiving the killers, she achieves a peace of mind that she would never have been able to access if she had not chosen to forgive. In bestowing forgiveness, Immaculée feels that she becomes closer to God, and in this sense, the act of forgiveness “redeems” both the victim and the perpetrator.
As a Christian, Immaculée was brought up to believe in the importance of mercy and forgiveness. One of the core beliefs in Christianity is that any sinner who seeks forgiveness from God is redeemable. For this reason, Jesus is often referred to as “the Redeemer”; through Him, Christians believe they can achieve redemption and salvation. Yet while Immaculée has always believed in the power of forgiveness and redemption, the genocide puts these beliefs to the test in a way she never could have imagined. It is one thing to forgive someone who has wronged you in a minor way, but to forgive people who have killed your whole family is quite a different matter. Immaculée explains that even though she knows that her religion compels her to forgive the killers, she struggles to actually do so. This struggle makes her doubtful and confused about God’s plan for her life, which distances her from Him. While she is in hiding in Pastor Murinzi’s bathroom, she prays for all sinners but cannot bring herself to pray for the killers. She explains, “That was a problem for me because I knew that God expected us to pray for everyone, and more than anything, l wanted God on my side.” As this passage illustrates, during the genocide Immaculée struggles to put certain aspects of her faith into practice, even as she spends almost all of her waking hours deep in prayer. This creates a barrier between her and God precisely when she needs Him the most.
Despite the difficulties Immaculée faces, she is eventually able to forgive the killers, a process that becomes the basis for the most important lesson of the book. Part of what allows Immaculée to forgive the killers is the acknowledgment that she, like everyone else, is a sinner. The universality of sin is one of the main tenets of Christian doctrine, and it allows Immaculée to recognize kinship and similarity with people who, on the surface, could not be more different from her: while Immaculée is kind, humble, disciplined, and intelligent, the killers are bloodthirsty, destructive, and filled with hate. Yet through remembering that every person is a sinner, Immaculée is able to realize that there is a connection between herself and the killers—a realization that overwhelms her resentment and allows her to forgive those who killed her family. Immaculée knows that her own sin will only be washed away if she is able to forgive other people for their wrongs. Forgiveness thus stimulates a positive cycle of grace and is a way for mortal humans to implement God’s will in the world.
Immaculée is able to forgive because she remembers that the capacity to forgive is a gift from God. While at times she feels that the responsibility to forgive the killers is an unjust and insufferable burden, over the course of the book she is able to remind herself that, in fact, her ability to forgive is a blessing. Rather than being an insult to her family’s memory, Immaculée sees forgiving their killers as a way to honor her family. Furthermore, forgiveness also gives Immaculée a feeling of peace and joy that had been almost totally robbed from her during the genocide. For Immaculée, forgiveness is a form of salvation because it brings her closer to God and to the memory of her family, allowing her to turn a horrific event into an opportunity to strengthen her faith and bring more love into the world.
Forgiveness and Redemption ThemeTracker
Forgiveness and Redemption Quotes in Left to Tell
Mom and Dad ignored the social and political reality they lived in, and instead taught that everyone was born equal. They didn't want their children growing up feeling paranoid or inferior because they were born Tutsi.
As I said, if these killers are driven only by hatred, we will force them away. But if the government is sending them, if these attacks are part of an organized plan to exterminate Tutsis, we are in serious trouble. The government has guns and grenades—it has an army and a militia—and we have no weapons at all. If the government plans to kill us, all we can do is pray. Let us use the time we have to repent. Let us pray for God to forgive our sins. If we are to die, let us die with our hearts clean… It doesn't matter if we live or die—the important thing is that we fight against this evil that has come to our homes!
I prayed that God would touch the captain's heart with His forgiveness, and I prayed again for the killers to put down their machetes and beg for God's mercy. The captain's anger made me think that the cycle of hatred and mistrust in Rwanda would not easily be broken. There would certainly be even more bitterness after the killing stopped, bitterness that could easily erupt into more violence. Only God's Divine forgiveness could stop that from happening now. I could see that whatever path God put me on, helping others to forgive would be a big part of my life's work.
I wept at the sight of his suffering. Felicien had let the devil enter his heart, and the evil had ruined his life like a cancer in his soul. He was now the victim of his victims, destined to live in torment and regret. I was overwhelmed with pity for the man.