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.
Love vs. Prejudice Theme Icon

In Left to Tell, Immaculée provides a testament to both the great love and intense prejudice she has experienced in life. One of the most startling lessons of her story is that love and prejudice, despite being opposing forces, often coexist alongside one another. Love can turn into prejudice with disturbing speed, yet her story shows that the opposite is also true. While Immaculée acknowledges the frightening and destructive power of prejudice, she believes love to be the more powerful force and the one that will ultimately prevail. While it may be tempting to respond to prejudice with more prejudice, the book testifies that the only way prejudice can be defeated is with love.

As a child, Immaculée was surrounded by so much love that she barely understood what prejudice was. Her family was very tight-knit, and both her parents were respected and beloved members of the community. As a result, Immaculée felt a close sense of kinship with everyone around her. She explains that in childhood, she wasn’t aware of the ethnic divide in Rwanda and didn’t even know if she was Tutsi or Hutu. Immaculée’s descriptions of her innocence at this time show that prejudice is unnecessary and illogical; it doesn’t add anything to society—in fact, its impact is purely destructive. The fact that Immaculée didn’t know there was any difference between Tutsis and Hutus shows that any differences that do exist between the two ethnicities are meaningless. Immaculée emphasizes the point that, prior to the genocide, there was much intermixing between the ethnicities. Indeed, high rates of intermarriage meant that the physical qualities thought to distinguishe Tutsis and Hutus were barely applicable anymore.

The mixing of Tutsis and Hutus and the strong, pervasive love Immaculée felt as a child make the genocide’s arrival shocking. At the same time, it is also clear that Immaculée’s experience of tolerance and love does not tell the whole story of pre-genocide Rwanda. As Immaculée explains, German and Belgian colonialism stoked the ethnic divide between Hutus and Tutsis, as the colonizers favored working with Tutsis, thereby giving elitie Tutsis greater power and wealth than Hutus. Tensions between Hutus and Tutsis had long been a part of life in Rwanda and, although she didn’t realize it at the time, Immaculée’s family had previously had to temporarily evacuate their village in order to escape Hutu persecution. The image Immaculée presents of pre-genocide Rwanda as a “paradise” of love and tolerance is thus partly a product of her childish innocence and her family’s kindness more than it is a reflection of reality. However, Immaculée makes use of this innocent perspective to underscore the essential meaninglessness of the ethnic divisions that are the basis of the Rwandan conflict.

Left to Tell explores the frightening speed with which love (or at least tolerance) can turn into prejudice. When people in her village begin killing Tutsis, Immaculée is shocked to see her former friends among the killers. It seems incomprehensible that people who only recently behaved in a loving, friendly manner toward Immaculée suddenly want to kill her. Drawing on her Catholic faith, Immaculée partly explains this extreme shift as an example of the devil “poisoning [the] hearts and minds” of people. Indeed, she gives examples of when the devil infiltrated her own mind, showing how easy it is to succumb to doubt, cynicism, and cruelty. At the same time, Immaculée also points to other factors that compel Hutus to join in the killings. She notes that soldiers would distribute drugs and alcohol to Hutus to help them become uninhibited and disconnected from reality, consequently making it easier for them to kill. In addition, she explains that Hutus who did not show a sufficient amount of aggression toward Tutsis were treated with suspicion and were sometimes killed themselves. To show mercy to Tutsis—let alone hide them in one’s house as Pastor Murinzi does—essentially amounted to a self-imposed death sentence. Under such desperate conditions, it is perhaps unsurprising that so many Hutus joined in with the killing. The book shows that prejudice is built on fear, and that an escalation in fear therefore leads to an intensification of prejudice, hatred, and violence.

Yet while love and tolerance can turn into hatred with frightening speed, Immaculée herself demonstrates that the opposite is also true. While in the bathroom, she at first struggles to forgive and love the killers. However, after intensive prayer, she remembers that the killers are also God’s children, and that they are not fundamentally evil, even if they are committing evil acts. From this moment on, she feels love for the killers, thereby countering love with hate. Immaculée makes clear that fighting love with prejudice does not guarantee survival; indeed, it often has the opposite effect. For example, her father, Leonard, maintains a trusting and open heart, and this is part of what leads to his death at the hands of an old friend. Yet Immaculée believes that Leonard will go to heaven, whereas those who refuse to choose love over prejudice will be judged by God. In this sense, she has a guarantee that love will prevail, because God is love and rewards love.

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Love vs. Prejudice Quotes in Left to Tell

Below you will find the important quotes in Left to Tell related to the theme of Love vs. Prejudice.
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:
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 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: