Has this year’s presidential election stolen our shadows?
“What do you mean?” I can hear you asking that question.
To understand about such shadows, it helps to read North Carolina beloved former poet laureate and UNCG Professor Fred Chappell’s new book, “A Shadow All of Light.” It is a magical, or speculative, story set in an Italianate country hundreds of years ago. Readers are required to suspend disbelief as Chappell asks them to believe that our shadows are something more than the images our bodies cast by interrupting a light source. These shadows are an important, integral part of a person’s being. They can be stolen or given up. When lost, the person is never the same.
In Chappell’s tale, an ambitious rural man, Falco, comes to a big port city where he attaches himself to a successful shadow merchant, Maestro Astolfo. Over time Falco learns the trade of acquiring and selling shadows that have been detached from their original owners.
The business is a “shady” one because the acquisition of human shadows often involves underhanded or illegal methods, something like today’s markets in exotic animal parts and pilfered art.
But Maestro Astolfo and Falco, notwithstanding public attitudes, strive to conduct their business in a highly moral manner.
Although losing one’s shadow can be devastating, the situation can be mollified if a similar replacement can be secured from shadow dealers like Astolfo or Falco.
Chappell, in the voice of Falco, explains, “No one likes to lose his shadow. It is not a mortal blow, but it is a wearying trouble. If it is stolen or damaged, a man will seek out a dealer in umbrae supply and the difficulty is got around in the hobbledehoy fashion. The fellow is the same as before, so he fancies, with a new shadow that so closely resembles his true one, no one would take note.
“That is not the case. His new shadow never quite fits him so trimly, so comfortably, so sweetly as did his original. There is a certain discrepancy of contour, a minor raggedness not easy to mark but plainly evident to one versed in the materials. The wearer never completely grows to his new shadow and goes about with it rather as if wearing an older brother’s hand-me-down cloak.”
“Another change occurs also, not in the fitting or wearing, but in the character of the person. To lose a shadow is to lose something of oneself. The loss is slight and generally unnoticeable, yet an alert observer might see some diminishing in the confidence of bearing, in the certitude of handclasp, in the authority of tread upon a stone stairway.”
Like Chappell’s shadows, our pre-Trump election traditions, though certainly not perfect, were an important and unappreciated part of our culture and our being. Elections have often not always fit us to a tee. We have been uncomfortable with the antics of opposing candidates, and sometimes with those we support. We bristled at the negative campaigning and the misleading television ads. We grumbled about the influence of money. But all the while, we came to terms with the downside of American politics, because our imperfect system provided an orderly way for us to select and change our government’s leaders.
Donald Trump’s campaign changed all that for me. I will try to adjust to the new election traditions. But the new post-Trump politics will never fit me comfortably.
Trump stole something from me.
He stole my shadow.