“Don’t You Know Who the Fat Lady Really Is?”

By: Nate
May 7, 2014

Thoughts on the Christ Figure

A few weeks ago, a friend and I were discussing Christ figures in popular culture and he mentioned J. D. Salinger’s short story Franny and Zooey.  Near the end of the story, the two protagonists reminisce on their days as child radio stars.  They remember psyching themselves up for their act by imaging that they were performing “for the fat lady.”  Zooey recalls:

“This terribly clear, clear picture of the Fat Lady formed in my mind. I had her sitting on this porch all day, swatting flies, with her radio going full-blast from morning till night. I figured the heat was terrible, and she probably had cancer, and—I don’t know.”  “He told me, too,” Franny said into the phone. “He told me to be funny for the Fat Lady, once.”  “I didn’t ever picture her on a porch, but with very-you know-very thick legs, very veiny. I had her in an awful wicker chair. She had cancer, too, though, and she had the radio going full-blast all day! Mine did, too!”

“Yes. Yes. Yes. All right. Let me tell you something now, buddy . . .I don’t care where an actor acts. It can be in summer stock, it can be over a radio, it can be over television, it can be in a goddam Broadway theatre, complete with the most fashionable, most well-fed, most sunburned-looking audience you can imagine. But I’ll tell you a terrible secret—Are you listening to me? There isn’t anyone out there who isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady.  Don’t you know that? Don’t you know that goddam secret yet? And don’t you know—listen to me, now—don’t you know who that Fat Lady really is? . . . Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It’s Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy.”

Each Person is a Christ Figure

In a previous posts I have advocated allegorical interpretations of Adam and Eve and Noah.  But I believe most important of all, is to see Christ’s life as an allegory for our own.   It’s not just Superman and Harry Potter who have “Messiah complexes.”  We are all Christ figures.  Like Christ, we all have a mission to fulfill.  We all have a soul to help save.  And we all have a bitter cup to drink and a cross to bear.   Christ was “a man of sorrows and aquainted with grief.”  Likewise, Paul Simon said of the human condition in his song American Tune: “don’t know a soul who’s not been battered, don’t have a friend who feels at ease, don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered or driven to it’s knees. ” Herman Hesse said it this way:

“Every man’s story is important, eternal, sacred: every man, as long as he lives and fulfills the will of nature, is wondrous and worthy of every consideration.  In each individual the spirit has become flesh, in each man the creation suffers, within each one a redeemer is nailed to a cross.”

And John Donne wrote beautifully of the allegorical nature of both Adam and Christ in the life of the Christian:

We think that Paradise and Calvary,
Christ’s cross, and Adam’s tree, stood in one place;
Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me;
As the first Adam’s sweat surrounds my face,
May the last Adam’s blood my soul embrace.

“I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus”

We often think of the phrase “I’m trying to be like Jesus” as striving to follow a set of commandments or to be a good person, as we imagine He was.  Then we hope that if we do this, we will lead blessed and happy lives.  However Jesus phrased this challenge a bit differently in the Bible: “Are you willing to drink the cup that I will drink?”   Jesus asked Peter as they ate fish by the sea of Galilee, “lovest thou me more than these?”  Christ’s response to Peter’s “yea Lord” was more than a simple call to service, for directly after He says “feed my sheep” for a final time, Christ gives this haunting prophesy:

Verily verily I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkest whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.  And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

For Peter, the call to “feed my sheep” also included the path to Peter’s own martyrdom and crucifixion.  Early Christians would have understood the phrase “what would Jesus do?” as a call to potential martyrdom, for all the first apostles and countless others demonstrated their faith in Christ with their blood.  And even after the Age of Martyrdom, Christians throughout the centuries have often understood following Christ as following him to an untimely death.  Only in the modern world have we conquered death for all but the elderly.  In past generations, death could come at any moment.  I live near the family home of the Bronte sisters in Haworth, who lived their entire lives in the valley of the shadow of death.  The devout Anne Bronte wrote these words, which later became an Anglican hymn.

Believe not those who say
The upward path is smooth,
Lest thou should stumble in the way,
And faint before the truth.

The Son of Man: the Suffering Creator