AN INTERPRETATION ON STEFAN ZWEIG'S TWENTY FOUR HOURS OF A WOMAN By İrem GÜVEN Twenty Four Hours of a Woman is an analysis of human relationships, and especially the idealization of a relationship and self-sacrifice for the sake of these ideals. Zweig puts selfishness and egoticism at the center of relationships, and make Mrs C. turn around this center while resolving the twenty four hours of her life as an experience that she had never lived before, and never would later throughout her bourgeois life. Just at the beginning of her story, Mrs C. depicts herself to be desperate, aimless, and useless: “When I reached the age of forty, my husband, with whom I shared every hour, every thought of my 23 year had died. My children were grown up and didn‟t need me. I didn‟t have a desire, nor an aspiration... I was overwhelmed with the thoughts of suicide. But I didn‟t have the strength to realize the end that I desperately longed for”. What can be said about these sentences? Is she a loving mother who sacrifices herself for her children? Is she a religious woman? No, she is not. Her children are not only a source of love, but a pastime for her. Her husband from whom she received emotional support has died. The fact that she is aimless now shows how vulnerable a stance she has in life. But the key point is that she has no aim. What is her aim? What kind of an excitement is she looking for? We find the answer in her very interesting psychological analysis of hands in the casino scene.
Mrs C. goes to casino every night, and canvasses the psychology of hands here. Some of them are beautiful, some of them like animals'; some covered with rings, some undecorated... All these hands reflect some kind of psychological state, but the commonality about them is that they all reflect mixed feelings of fear, excitement, and greed. One night she sees the hands that would transform her life fundamentally. They are “clasped together like animals biting each other”. She is astonished with the passion stemming from the “mimics” of these hands. She immediately resolves to think that the owner of these hands must be someone who is “overspilled with strength and might, gathering all his passion on the tips of his fingers lest it will destroy all his existence”. She has fallen under the spell of the might of this man. “She is snatched by the echoes of this unknown passion”. There seems to be
essay an allusion to the mythological story of Narcissus and Echo, in which Echo falls in love with Narcissus, but is rejected. Finally she turns into a rebound to live her life following others‟ voices in the mountains, not able to say anything except repeating them. The tragedy of Mrs C. is that she has no voice of her own, she is just an “Echo”, who is prone to follow after others‟ steps. The passionate young man looses the play that night and Mrs C. senses a danger about him. She immediately comprehends that this will commit suicide because of desperation. She follows him, with an instinct to save some other‟s life. She questions thus “How can we explain some people jump into the water although they don‟t know how to swim... It is a mysterious force and will”. She is overwhelmed with this young man‟s cease from existence, and burns with the desire to save his life, to create for herself an identity. She thinks that her sacrifice will be the pencil that will draw for herself a character, she will be a saint. Her ego will boost with being a saint; a woman who cannot live for herself lives for some other, even if he is a stranger. That is the way she makes herself up. She is a conservative woman, but this doesn‟t prevent her from making love with him. She thinks she makes this out of selfsacrifice, to bar him from killing himself, but when the following day she wants him to go away and he goes with a show of gratitude, she is very much disappointed. She wants him to keep her, to stay with her. She has
done all the deeds out of selfishness, not for this young stranger. She understands “how she burns for completely surrendering herself to that man”. But he leaves her promising that he will never gamble again. The peak of the selfishness is the last part of the novel. The same night the young man leaves Mrs C., she again comes upon him in the casino. He is gambling again. Her “innocent, happy” dreams are “killed by this man‟s deeds”. She chides him, and reminds him of his promise. First, he seems to obey, but his passion to gamble overcomes his will. Mrs C. insists on, and he gets crazy, blaming her for bringing bad luck to him. Now she is frustrated, holds his arm to get him out of the casino. He resists and drives her away. She feels very spoiled, she is defeated. Some time after that night, she learns that he has committed suicide some time before. Quoting; “I didn‟t suffer on that news. Nay, (why should deny selfishness) I even felt some contentment”. That is the core of her „sacrifices‟. By depicting the relationships on the basis of self-interest, Zweig touches on the ethical aspect of being a social creature. What we call self-sacrifice is the labour we spend on the others to realize our own values. It is a kind of superimposing to others our belief that we are good people. Also the necessity to be appreciated is another reason of self-sacrifice. Is this ethical? No, selfsacrifice is just a way to demonstrate one‟s love for him/herself again, not for others.