Forgiveness is the most central theme of the book. Immaculée needs to forgive the killers so that she can have peace in her own heart and life, and the killers need to forgive themselves for what they have done. Anyone harmed by the violence needs to forgive so that it does not perpetuate itself in cycles forevermore. Forgiveness is what God gives Immaculée the power to have, despite the terrible circumstances that make it nearly impossible.
God is a central theme of the book because it is through prayer to God that Immaculée is able to get through her months in the bathroom and come out of it with a heart full of forgiveness rather than hatred. In Immaculée's mind, God is the path for her, and hopefully other people, toward forgiveness rather than endless hatred.
Immaculée's family means a lot to her, and her uncertainly as to their whereabouts haunts her until she finds out how they died. This brings her further emotional devastation. She knows she wants to create a family of her own after losing nearly all of hers, and she eventually does so with her new husband, Bryan. Family is always a part of her memories and her future.
Faith - both in God and in herself - is a central part of Immaculée's self-sufficiency and level-headedness during her confinement in the closet and terrifying reintroduction to Rwanda thereafter. Immaculée must have faith in her own abilities and in God watching over her, so that she can stare at the faces of killers who could easy attack her, and walk by them unscathed. Faith pervades every aspect of her emotional and physical survival. It is tested infrequently; but when it is tested, she must immediately overcome so that anger cannot take root in her heart.
Temptation toward hatred
Temptation toward hatred is something against which Immaculée must constantly fight. At first it is in her own heart when she is in the bathroom: she feels so much hatred for the killers that she knows God will not accept her prayers. She feels tempted by a dark voice to give in to her anger at the killers. Later she is tempted by the French general, who says he will kill anyone who harmed her family if she gives him their names. It would be an easy way to get revenge, and when she has finally healed her heart, this temptation is put in her path. Finally, when she goes back to her village and sees her home destroyed, she feels hatred again and needs to remind herself of her lesson of forgiveness that she has taken from her prayers with God.
Freedom means different things throughout Immaculée’s life. When she is going to the Lycée, she is in a part of the country that is hostile to Tutsis, and so she often can’t leave the school, which limits her freedom. Later she thinks about freedom when she is hiding in the pastor’s bathroom. This limit on her freedom is unlike anything she has experienced before: now meeting a Hutu on the streets means being killed without a second thought. Then she thinks about freedom again when the genocide is over, and she can do essentially anything she wants because the entire world she knew is gone. This new freedom is frightening and exhilarating at the same time. She once thought she knew where her life was headed, but now her entire world had changed. Yet she learns to make the most of the freedom that was denied to her during the genocide.
This memoir is an account of the genocide that Immaculée hopes will teach people about what happened. Immaculée realizes that the world must not know what is happening in Rwanda or they would intervene, so she vows to do the second best thing: spread the word of what happened after-the-fact so that the world can be reminded of the “never again” motto it developed after the WWII Holocaust. She tells people, like the young woman Florence, that their stories will live on in her book and be told to the world. Immaculée realizes the importance of narratives and how they can open up people’s minds to change the future.
Left to Tell Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Left to Tell is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Left to Tell essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculée Ilibagiza.