Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Pigeon - Disorder Intruding in an Organized Existence

Recently I shared with a friend of mine that I was bored with life. I didn't have anything in particular to complain from - my parents and friends were in good health, I had the possibility to travel, go out, visit the seaside, I studied in a good university and got good grades; basically I wasn't deprived from anything in particular. Yet, I felt deprived from all in general. I felt I was living a monotonous life, where nothing really exciting happened. I didn't want a calm and organized existence, I wanted fireworks. I couldn't settle for a day, just a simple regular day, where you get up, do your chores, see your family and friends, watch a movie and then go to sleep. I needed excitement, passion, risk. I longed that each and every day of my life was a day to remember. And if it wasn't, I fell into depression, self-resentment, and panic. Wait a minute, I was 21 and I was barely living. At least that was what I thought.

The Pigeon by Patrick Suskind is a story about a monotonous, meticulously organized existence, where each and every day is exactly the same as the previous one. The protagonist, Jonathan Noel, is a solitary Parisian bank security guard. He has been a Parisian bank security guard for almost 20 years and he doesn't want to change. Jonathan lives in small room with a bed, a desk, and a wardrobe. He has lived in that small room for 20 years and he doesn't want to change. Jonathan gets up every morning at exactly the same time, performs his morning ritual, and goes to work. There he has a strict routine, which he follows unquestioningly. Jonathan has followed this routine for 20 years and he doesn't want to change.

Until one day Jonathan meets a pigeon in front of his door. The pigeon is a symbol of a disorder intruding in the character's pre-organized existence. An event so insignificant that many wouldn't even notice it, this rendezvous threatens Noel's sanity. Jonathan becomes obsessed with the pigeon. He feels his whole life is collapsing because something different from the daily routine has happened. The novel follows one day of Noel's life, shaped by this strange acquaintance. The Parisian security guard is unable to perform his daily routine, his struggles to focus, to work, to move, even to live. He even considers killing himself. Jonathan's obsession with the pigeon is terrifying. For a man, who doesn't want anything from life, except that it doesn't change even in a bit, this pigeon seems like a catastrophe. A catastrophe that threatens to impose change, something Noel has fought throughout his whole existence.

Are we really so terrified of change? Why is there a negative connotation to the word change. Isn't change supposed to be a good thing. There was a saying When one door closes, another one, a better one, opens. So shouldn't we anticipate change, welcome it, appreciate it, search for it? Isn't change what helps us grow and develop, what motivates us, what distinguishes us, what pushes us forward? I like change. I envy change. I want change there, in my life, every second, every minute, every day of it. I don't want to simply exist, I want to live.

You may recognize Patrick Suskind from his famous bestseller The Perfume, which was also made a movie. Here, the author explores one day of the life of an ordinary Parisian. Even if it seems to the reader that nothing really happens, The Pigeon is one of those novels, which swaps you like a whirlwind. I was astonished and terrified of how an obsession can startle, change, and even ruin someone's life. Noel simply couldn't handle the change that came into his life. His thoughts obsessed him, leading him to exaggerated and strange conclusions. I leave to the readers to decide: is it because Jonathan Noel's existence was so monotonous and pre-organized that he was resistant to change? Or is it that we should settle for what we have here and now and do not let an obsession disrupt and pervade our existence?

You know me. I want that change. I am just not sure whether I can handle it.


  1. Not having read this book but from your description, the main character might have just been suffering from a mild form of Asperger syndrome, this would have explained his reaction on seeing the bird, and his dislike of change in his routine brought about by the incident, or he just hates pigeons, I can understand this. A pigeon tried to take a ice cream out of my hand when I was 4, I didn't cry, I just punched it with my free hand, POW!! got it straight in the beak, it flew off all dazed and confused. My mum screamed at me :0 " errrrrrr don't lick that now" and then she knocked the ice cream out of my hand and it fell to the ground...then I cried, I Should have smacked her in the beak as well:D. Back to your question. Change will always happen even if you seek it or not, whether it be good or bad, change works as a teacher and the lessons that can be learned is purely down to the student. Most people just view positive change as a break from the norm(boredom), but then the change its self becomes the norm and looses its value, is that a paradox ? The reasoning why people give up on the idea of leaving themselfs open to change.

  2. Resisting change is easy and safe. Many people continue leaving an uneventful life simply because they are afraid of the unknown and the insecure. And when this change eventually comes up their way (as you correctly point out change is inevitable) they do not know how to deal with it. As with Jonathan, they see this change as a threat to their routine, even to their mere existence. Jonathan, upon seeing the pigeon, which here symbolizes an alteration of his habits, doesn't know how to deal with it. He considers moving out, changing his job, even killing himself. This is the extent to which the unknown and the unexpected scares the hell out of him.

    As of me, I welcome change, but I am not sure whether I can handle it very well. Positive change is easier to handle (most of the times). Negative change, though, is a different subject. How we deal with it shows the kind of person we really are.

  3. As I slept it over, this topic somewhat reminds me of a movie I watched recently - The Revolutionary Road. There Winslet's heroine longed for a change from the boring and monotonous family life. DiCaprio's character, however, had a job, which he hated, but it brought him a lot of money. He chose comfort over happiness. At the end his wife didn't take the pressure know. Some people cannot handle change, while others cannot live without it.