Left to Tell

by

Immaculée Ilibagiza

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Themes and Colors
God, Faith, and Miracles Theme Icon
Love vs. Prejudice Theme Icon
Forgiveness and Redemption Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Education, Discipline, and Growth Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Left to Tell, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon

Immaculée’s story shows how good and evil exist side-by-side, often in a remarkably extreme fashion. Immaculée’s family—and particularly her parents—are a model of kindness and justice. Her father, Leonard, is a pillar of the community who is always helping others, and her mother, Rose, is similarly committed to helping those in need. Yet alongside this immense goodness lies the evil of prejudice, hatred, and violence—an evil which eventually ends up killing Leonard, Rose, and almost all of Immaculée’s other family members. By juxtaposing good and evil in this way, Immaculée indicates that good and evil are not abstract concepts or remote issues. Rather, the choice between good and evil is one people must make every day, in every decision they make, however minor. Moreover, given that good and evil are woven into the fabric of everyday life, the book suggests that it is frighteningly easy to do evil—as demonstrated by the fact that perfectly ordinary people end up viciously committing murder during the genocide. At the same time, Immaculée’s own experience shows that goodness is just as much a part of everyday life as evil, and that it is always possible to choose to do good—even under the most horrific conditions.  

Immaculée’s story makes it clear that she is someone who has always been compelled to do good. Guided by her religion, her family, and her natural instinct for justice, Immaculée has rarely been tempted to commit evil. Despite this, Immaculée acknowledges that, like all people, she has at times been led astray by the voice of the devil. While she is hiding in Pastor Murinzi’s bathroom and praying to be spared by the killers, she hears the devil mocking her for believing that she could be saved. In this moment, she is tempted to give into cynicism and stop praying. However, she manages to ignore the devil’s voice and is ultimately spared. This incident highlights that for Immaculée, good and evil are almost synonymous with faith and lack of faith. She implies that with faith and devotion to strengthen one’s sense of right and wrong, it is far easier to do good and avoid doing evil. As soon as one gives in to cynicism and doubt, evil becomes a much more immediate possibility.

Again, by highlighting her own struggle between good and evil, Immaculée stresses her similarity to other people. There is nothing within her that makes her inherently more likely to commit good than other people, and indeed, avoiding evil is a lifelong effort. Immaculée emphasizes that she can never become complacent and take her own goodness for granted: “The struggle between my prayers and the evil whispers that I was sure belonged to the devil raged in my mind. I never stopped praying […]and the whispering never relented.” The choice between good and evil is thus presented as one which every person must make continually—sometimes at every moment of the day.

Immaculée’s belief that choosing between good and evil is a never-ending part of mortal existence helps her to forgive her family’s killers. If everyone is constantly forced to choose between good and evil, this means that even those who have committed the most horrific acts of evil still have a chance to repent, reform themselves, and choose to do good. Immaculée’s ardent faith in every person’s capacity for good gives her the strength to forgive and to rebuild her life after the genocide.

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Good vs. Evil Quotes in Left to Tell

Below you will find the important quotes in Left to Tell related to the theme of Good vs. Evil.
Chapter 2 Quotes

But our parents didn't teach us about our own history. We didn't know that Rwanda was made up of three tribes: a Hutu majority; a Tutsi minority; and a very small number of Twa, a pygmy-like tribe of forest dwellers. We weren't taught that the German colonialists, and the Belgian ones that followed, converted Rwanda's existing social structure—a monarchy that under a Tutsi king had provided Rwanda with centuries of peace and harmony—into a discriminatory, race-based class system. The Belgians favored the minority Tutsi aristocracy and promoted its status as the ruling class; therefore, Tutsis were ensured a better education to better manage the country and generate greater profits for the Belgian overlords. The Belgians introduced an ethnic identity card to more easily distinguish the two tribes, deepening the rift they'd created between Hutu and Tutsi. Those reckless blunders created a lingering resentment among Hutus that helped lay the groundwork for genocide.

Page Number: 14-15
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis had fled Rwanda during the troubles of 1959 and 1973, as well as the many other times that Hutu extremists had gone on Tutsi killing sprees. They'd gone into exile to save their lives and those of their families. Mr. Gahigi called the rebels "foreigners" because most of them grew up in neighboring countries such as Uganda and Zaire—but that was only because President Habyarimana enforced a policy banning exiles from ever returning to Rwanda. He'd created a Tutsi diaspora, and entire generations of Rwandan Tutsis had grown up without once setting foot in their homeland.

Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

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!

Related Characters: Leonard Ukulikiyinkindi (speaker)
Page Number: 50-51
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

My brother, my soul mate, put his hands in mine, and they felt soft and light as feathers. No matter how hard I squeezed them, I couldn't feel the weight of his palms against mine—it was like holding the hands of a disappearing soul. My heart felt like it was exploding.

Related Characters: Immaculée Ilibagiza (speaker)
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

We sat in an uncomfortable heap, too afraid to adjust our positions or to even breathe too heavily. We waited for the gray light of dawn to fill the room, then carefully pried ourselves apart to take turns standing and stretching. A two- or three-minute break was all we allowed ourselves before resuming our awkward positions on the floor.

When morning broke, the birds in the pastor's shade tree began singing. I was jealous of them, thinking, How lucky you are to have been born birds and have freedom—after all, look at what we humans are doing to ourselves.

Related Characters: Immaculée Ilibagiza (speaker)
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

The struggle between my prayers and the evil whispers that I was sure belonged to the devil raged in my mind. I never stopped praying… and the whispering never relented.

Related Characters: Immaculée Ilibagiza (speaker)
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

I knew that he wasn't entirely to blame for his ignorance because he'd learned his contempt for Tutsis in school . . . the same school I went to! Young Hutus were taught from an early age that Tutsis were inferior and not to be trusted, and they didn't belong in Rwanda. Hutus witnessed the segregation of Tutsis every day, first in the schoolyard and then in the workplace, and they were taught to dehumanize us by calling us "snakes" and "cockroaches." No wonder it was so easy for them to kill us—snakes were to be killed and cockroaches exterminated!

Related Characters: Immaculée Ilibagiza (speaker), Sembeba
Page Number: 85-86
Explanation and Analysis:

It was past noon, and I'd been praying the rosary since dawn for God to give His love and forgiveness to all the sinners in the world. But try as I might, I couldn't bring myself to pray for the killers. That was a problem for me because I knew that God expected us to pray for everyone, and more than anything, I wanted God on my side.

Related Characters: Immaculée Ilibagiza (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Rosary
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

I knew that whatever I envisioned would come to pass if I had faith and visualized it with a pure heart and good intentions, and if it were something God thought was right for me. It was then that I realized I could dream and

visualize my destiny. I vowed that I'd always dare to dream for what I wanted. And I would only dream for beautiful things like love, health, and peace, because that is the kind of beauty God wants for all His children.

Related Characters: Immaculée Ilibagiza (speaker)
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Immaculée Ilibagiza (speaker), The Captain
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 22 Quotes

The beautiful campus where I'd formed so many wonderful memories and loving friendships was no more. There was garbage everywhere, and many of the buildings were charred and crumbling. Student records blew across the campus like tumbleweeds, and after all these weeks, there were still so many bodies on the ground. I couldn't bear to look, fearing that I'd see the corpse of Sarah or one of my other dear girlfriends. I tried to conjure the memory of the school dances I'd enjoyed, the plays I’d performed in, the romantic walks I'd

taken with John . . . but all were obliterated by the devastation I saw before me.

Related Characters: Immaculée Ilibagiza (speaker), Sarah, John
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 24 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Immaculée Ilibagiza (speaker), Felicien
Page Number: 204
Explanation and Analysis: