Good or Evil: Lack of Dichotomy in Harry Mulisch’s The Assault

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Good or Evil: Lack of Dichotomy in Harry Mulisch's The Assault

The Assault by Harry Mulisch begins when the entire Steenwijk family, except for the youngest son, Anton, is murdered in retribution for the assassination of a Nazi collaborator, though, in reality, they have no hand in his death. Eventually, characters are introduced throughout the novel who could arguably be blamed for the Steenwijks' deaths. These include Truus Coster and Cor Takes, resistance fighters who commit the assassination of the Nazi collaborator, Fake Ploeg. However, throughout the rest of the novel, Mulisch introduces their motives and personalities, which collide with what is expected of Truus and Takes. This contrast between expectations and true character help to put forward the universal theme that there is no such thing as an entirely good or evil person.

Anton first meets Truus in a prison cell under a police station after her planned getaway fails.

However, before the actual meeting, Mulisch gives several hints as to the character of Anton's cellmate, all of which describe a cold-hearted criminal. Firstly, the environment of the police station is described as very gloomy and bleak: "Downstairs it was cold again. A short hall led, below all sorts of pipes and wires, to some iron doors painted with yellowish paint full of rust spots. A weak, bare light bulb burned on the ceiling" (31). This descriptive imagery with diction such as "cold," "yellowish," "rust," and "bare" evoke negative responses and foreshadow a scene that, reflecting the environment, is not so happy either. Also, the cell itself is so dark that Anton tries to see anything, "the darkness filled [his eyes] like black water" (32). This simile showing a suffocating lack of light is...