The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

by

Simon Wiesenthal

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The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness: Matthew Fox Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Fox looks first at the circumstances of Simon’s story: Simon does not know whether he is going to live through the day, while Karl wants Simon to relieve him of his guilt. Fox points out that the crime to which Karl confesses is not the only crime Karl has committed: “he had participated in, among other things, the death of eighty-nine of Simon's relatives. Indeed, he was partially responsible for the very camp where Wiesenthal was facing death daily.” Thus, Fox argues, his confession is only partial.
Fox points out one of the most remarkable and hopeful elements of the book: that even though Simon has been degraded and dehumanized, he still retains his humanity and shows compassion and consideration towards Karl.
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Furthermore, Fox writes, Catholics must undergo penance and demonstrate contrition, and Karl was a lapsed Catholic. Thus, in remaining silent, Simon gave him the penance he could give: “the penance of Karl’s having to be alone with his conscience before he died.” He believes that some sins are too great for forgiveness, and that Simon did right by not forgiving Karl in the name of others.
Fox adds another aspect to Simon’s silence: that it is actually a just way of punishing Karl, allowing him to atone for his crimes by having to wrestle with his own guilty conscience.
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Fox also believes that Simon acted compassionately: he took Karl’s hand and held it; he swatted the fly away; he listened to his story. In a way, this prepared Simon for his future vocation as a Nazi hunter.
Fox, like others, points out Simon’s continued compassion with Karl. By referring to Simon’s time as a Nazi hunter, Fox implies that seeking justice and being compassionate are not mutually exclusive.
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Fox then considers Simon’s visit with Karl’s mother, where Simon let her believe that her son was innocent. He notes that Karl’s mother clinging to her denial was surely a sin as well, a sin of willful ignorance of the sort that made the Holocaust possible. Fox notes that, after the war, Simon’s work has been to break this silence.
Unlike other respondents, who view Simon’s silence towards Karl’s mother as another act of compassion, Fox views that particular silence as a lack of justice, and way of continuing to abet the willful ignorance of the Germans.
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The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness PDF
Fox concludes by recognizing how Simon’s story is still relevant to society today, as people are complicit in destroying the planet and mass incarceration systems. He writes that Simon’s story reminds readers to dedicate themselves to justice and compassion instead of allowing them to turn a blind eye.
Comparing this statement to Fox’s opening idea, Fox argues that silence is helpful when it brings about justice, but dangerous when it allows people to become ignorant of injustice around them.
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