Connections are a big part of Susan Griffin??s essay, Our Secret and the film American Beauty. In both we see connections and a common theme. Griffin ties the past together with the future and creates a web of life experiences which have shaped different individuals lives as well as their beliefs. In the film American Beauty a recurring theme also seems to hint at the past and how it has shaped the present as well as the future. Connections which are presented to us in Griffin??s essay give us a basis for the idea that all things in some way have an unfathomable effect on others. A little seemingly insignificant situation or experience in some ones life can have a vast effect on the way they live through the rest of their lives. It can effect both opinions in general and how stereo types or prejudices towards races or other types of minorities are viewed. Suppression of feelings and how this can be damaging seems to be an idea which comes up in both the movie and the essay. We see the effects of not performing self examination in both Himmler and Colonel Fits. Life experiences and the suppression of feelings associated with these experiences along with not performing self examination can have a vast effect on adult life.
Heinrich Himmler??s life is an example of how not performing self examination and childhood experiences can later affect an individuals life. This lack of self examination along with many feelings and secrets which he kept locked inside caused him to be a hateful and prejudice man. Heinrich was a very influential figure in Nazi Germany and many of his decisions lead to the death of thousands of Jews and other minority groups. In order to understand Himmler??s actions we have to look into his past experiences and try to understand why. Griffin makes it apparent in her essay that
Himmler??s father Gebhard did not allow his son to express his feelings in his journal, which he was required to write in everyday. Griffin states that
In the last few years I have been searching for, though for what precisely I cannot say. Something still hidden which lies in the direction of Heinrich Himmler??s life. I have been in Berlin and Munich on this search, and I have walked over the gravel at Dachau… hoping to find a door into the mind of this man, even as his character first forms so that I may learn how it is he becomes himself.(Griffin 407)
As a boy all of his inner feelings and artistic abilities which might allow him to express himself were suppressed by his father and his insistence that Himmler stick to factual information and his daily activities when writing in his journal. This insistence on his father??s behalf taught him the wrong types values. This taught him to hold his emotions inside and ignore them. The reason why the way he was treated as a child had such a vast effect on his future is that it did not teach him a way to escape emotions. Instead of looking at the reasons for feeling the way that he did or questioning why he felt like this he was simply taught to obey with no questions asked. Perhaps this taught him to hold prejudice views by giving him the mentality that asking questions like why we are killing these people or why are they different than us were unimportant. Through his past he was taught to accept despite what he might feel inside and this is why he performed the deadly tasks without doubting that he was doing the right thing. Himmler??s past gives us much insight as to why this man was who he was. Feelings which Himmler was forced to keep within as a child taught him to be secretive and suppressive. Secrets which he was forced
to keep as a child were translated into his life as an adult through his skill at gathering and keeping secrets as the head of the Secret Police. We can see that through Himmler??s suppressed youth many of these emotions which he kept bottled up inside shaped his adult personality. Secrets which were both his emotions and those of others were his obsession and the reason for his beliefs. ??His thoughts were like paralyzed limbs??(408). Keeping all of his feelings inside did not allow an outlet for them. Feelings of hatred, fear and even happiness are important to let out. Throughout his life he was taught to suppress these feelings. Thinking that these feelings are wrong is a terrible thing. It is terrible because when no outlet is created you can almost loose these emotions. If they are not practiced we can fail to see the importance in things and just go about daily life with a warped sense of reality. If this is done certain things like respect for human life and respect for individuality can be lost. This idea is at the root of why Himmler became the man that he was. He was a very racist and hateful person. Himmler may have also used his high position as an outlet for theses emotions, especially for his anger. During childhood an individuals personality is formed. This is the time in life when you are most influenced by others. We are influenced through violence, habits and interactions with others. Himmler??s childhood and the way he was forced as a child to suppress his feelings were major factors which contributed to his hatred for homosexuals and Jews and others who he condemned as an adult.
The missile, which Griffin discusses, is in many ways is a representative of Heinrich??s life. ??The missile is guided by a programmed mechanism. There is no electronic device that can be jammed. Once it is fired it cannot be stopped??(Griffin 405).
This analogy used by Griffin helps to make connections between Himmler and the world
as a whole. It helps us to put into perspective the ideas that everything has some kind of connection to everything else. It relates Himmler as a child and his lack of self examination which would prove damaging in the future. Consequential results of the actions of one and their affect on many are also scene through this analogy. The missile, which Griffin discusses, is on a crash course that is rigid and unchangeable. In some respects Himmler??s life is very similar to the rocket. All the people who worked on the missile developing the technology, manufacturing the different parts, firing it and those affected by the destruction it causes are in some way connected to this one mechanism. In a similar way the past experiences with Himmler and his father all of the people he came in contact with and his suppressed feelings contributed to his personality. He is a rigid person who is set on his goals. He remains unchanging and rigid throughout much of his life and many things contribute to his course of destruction including on the cellular level. It seems that something as small as the cellular level is impossible to relate yet every cell carries the genetic makeup of an individual which in turn contains that individuals personality. Personality is affected by life experience from birth to death. So in this way the connection between the cell and the whole action are small yet important. It is a cell that makes an individual and a individual who makes decisions that can cause mass destruction, through the combined actions of many. Himmler is precise and rigid he does not show feelings or thoughts he gives orders and follows orders and he causes the deaths of many and eventually himself. In this way we can see the similarities between the life of Himmler and the life of the missile. Yet Himmler alone could not cause this
destruction. He had thousands of people under him who would carry out his orders with
out asking questions or analyzing his decisions. Of course Himmler also had many working above him making decisions. So we can see that it is a cycle, everyone has an effect on everyone else. If no one challenges the system, which is the same idea as self examination, the order will be carried out, no questions asked. Self examination and challenging the ideas of a leader are the same in that they both are the idea of questioning a belief or what is right. By not questioning, or holding your feelings within a whole group can make a mistake that people felt was truly wrong yet they could not voice their opinions as a result of their fears.
In the film American Beauty there is a character who is very similar to Himmler in many ways. It is Colonel Frank Fits, a retired U.S. marine. This man holds many prejudicial views like those of Himmler. The most predominant trait that we see as a connection between the two are their hatred for homosexuals. Himmler may possibly have some homosexual feelings which may stem from his suppressed youth. Throughout his life we can guess that he was taught that this was wrong and that it was unnatural to be a homosexual. Perhaps he had a curiosity at a young age but did not tell anyone. He was taught that these feelings were wrong and he hid them inside and suppressed them. Maybe the reason why he had so much hatred for homosexuals was that he was afraid of others finding out so he had many of them found and murdered. We see in the film American Beauty that colonel Fits also may have some homosexual feelings when he tries to kiss Lester. When he does this we see that perhaps he was gay yet did not show it for fear of what others would say. The reason why he may have been afraid perhaps
stems from his childhood similar beliefs that his parents had held. He learned his beliefs
from theirs. Perhaps both Himmler and Fits are similar past their possible mutual homosexual feelings. For example Fits was a marine and I think this lifestyle may have rubbed off on him and reflected who he was as a civilian. He too was rigid and set on his goals and belief. Perhaps we can compare his experience in the marines to Himmler??s youth and the way his father caused him to suppress his feelings. In the army you are expected to carry out orders without asking questions. You are not supposed to think about why or the outcome you are just expected to follow orders. After the army Colonel Fits may have carried this idea with him. He perhaps does not examine his beliefs and why he feels the way he does. This stems from the ideas which go along with the military and carrying out orders. We see evidence of this in the way he talks about gays and in the way he treats his son Ricky. It is obvious that he hates Homosexuals yet he does not say why he just kind of has the feeling that it is wrong whether it is his actual opinion or what he was brought up to think. I think that being in the Marines taught him to suppress his feelings and just focus on the task at hand, much like Himmler. The connection between Himmler and Frank is linked through their childhood and upbringing. Although we are not told in the movie it can almost be assumed that Frank may have had an abusive or neglected childhood which gave him many similar traits to Himmler. Through these connections we can see how similar in personality and beliefs Himmler is to Frank Fits.
In many ways we can see connections between childhood experiences and their effects on opinions held as an adult. We see the damages of not evaluating emotions whether they are fear, happiness or anger. All forms of suppression are detrimental to an
individuals opinions in the future. Keeping these emotions inside is damaging because it
does not cause you to question the validity of your opinions and emotions. It does not give you an escape for anger and fear. If all of these factors build up it will cause you to be very biased, by not questioning a stereotype and just excepting it, or it will create an extremely angry personality prone to violence. Violence could be a byproduct of such pent up anger. If you have many different emotions held within you could possibly let them all out at once causing a very damaging experience to both yourself and to others. Through the connections made in American Beauty and Our Secrets we see the possible problems associated with not performing some form of self examination and the effects of childhood suppression on adulthood.
Ways of Reading