IntroductionLaura, the young main character in The Terrorist, faces more conflict in a short amount of time than even an adult should have to deal with during their entire life. At first dislocated from her American home and moved to London for her father’s job, she has to come to terms with a different city; a different culture; a different school; a different type of people. The school she attends, and international school, contains children from many different countries, nationalities, and religions, which is something else that she must come to terms with. When her younger brother Billy is killed by a terrorist bombing, her entire way of looking at the world comes apart, and she faces conflict in every aspect of her life.
Conflict All Around
Even before Billy is killed, Laura experienced a great deal of conflict between her personal feelings and the world that was suddenly around her. She was, by her own admission, “…an ignorant American…” (Clooney loc 72) who very little about other cultures, while her non-American classmates seemed to know everything that was going on in every country throughout the world. Libyans sat next to Israelis in class, but were aware of the animosity that their countries felt towards each other. As an American, Laura had always been sheltered from much of what was going on in the war-torn areas of the world. Now, here in London, described by one of her teachers as “…the seismograth… on which the world is measured…” (Clooney loc 297), Laura has to finally come to terms with the fact that the world is not the happy, calm place which she previously knew it to be. Conflicts between her classmates drive this point further home to her; they are not personal enemies, but political enemies—a concept which is brand-new to Laura.
The Central Conflict
The sense of conflict which Laura feels in general at her new school and in her new country pales by comparison to what she begins to feel when her brother is suddenly blown up by a terrorist bomb. The world is no longer a safe place to her; she can find nothing that makes sense any longer. People whom she used to consider to be classmates or friends are now suspects in her brother’s death—any one of them could be a terrorist. She begins to alienate herself from her friends, spending all of her time attempting to find the person who was responsible for her brother’s death. No person is above suspicion, and her suspicious attitude begins to push away all but her most stalwart friends, who are worried about this change in her, and try to talk her out of the idea that a classmate could have possibly had anything to do with the bombing. Laura’s entire life becomes about finding out who was responsible for her brother’s death; she stops paying attention in school, pays little attention to her parents, who are also suffering, and refuses to interact with her classmates, except when she is interrogating them.
The Ultimate Betrayal
When the terrorist who was responsible for the death of Billy turns out to be Jehran, a Middle Eastern girl whom had recently pretended to befriend Laura, the entire world seems to fall down on Laura’s head. It is discovered that Jehran planned the attack on Billy for weeks, simply because there was a slight physical resemblance between him and Jehran, and she concocted an elaborate plan to kill him, befriend Laura, tell her a heart-breaking story about how she was in danger and had to flee the country in order to enlist her help, and steal Billy’s passport. When Laura realizes that her brother died over a piece of paper—a passport, the conflict in her is no longer just between her and the world, but between her and everything that she has ever believed to be true about people. That a girl her own age could put into movement the murder of a child in order to get a passport just did not make any type of sense; she could not make her mind understand something, or someone, so purely evil. The way in which Jehran put her plan into effect was especially difficult for Laura to come to terms with. Jehran had pretended to be her friend, when the rest of her friends were pulling away. When she asked Laura to steal Billy’s passport for her, she told Laura that this would give his short life meaning. Logic such as this, at a time when Laura was desperate for her brother’s life to have had meaning, or at least for his death to have had meaning, was both clever and cruel on Jehran’s part. She pulled on possibly the only string which would have made Laura go along with this plan. Jehran’s actions constituted the ultimate betrayal, which led to the ultimate conflict—Laura’s new understanding of what the people in this world are capable of versus what she had always held to be true until that time.
The Terrorist provides a very interesting look at the various types of conflict which everyone experiences, at least to some extent, in their lives. Of course, Laura’s case was very extreme, but this only served to make the conflict stand out more vividly. By reading this book, it is possible to understand several different forms of conflict that people go through in their lives. It is unfortunate that Laura had to experience all of them in such a short amount of time, but for the purpose of studying conflict, it certainly makes it easy for the reader. This book presented most forms of conflict that any one person can expect to experience during their life and condensed it down into a relatively short story. The fact that Laura dealt with so many different types of conflict in such a short period of time is, perhaps, slightly unrealistic, but then the circumstances of her story were very unique. A stranger in a strange land, surrounded by people who looked, acted, and thought differently than she was accustomed to, the death of her brother, finding out that the death was set in motion over the most trivial (to her, at least) of reasons, and by a friend…the reader could not hope for a richer source of conflict than that provided by Clooney.
Understanding what Laura went through, and reading about her difficulty going through it, helps the reader to find some meaning in the conflict which we all experience in life. Laura went through a very horrific experience, but as readers and human beings, we hope that she eventually learned to deal with the conflicts she faced, those she created in herself, and those which were thrust upon her, and gained something in the end from all of the pain they caused her. This is what we hope for ourselves in our own lives—to learn from conflict and grief; to go on better and stronger than we were before. As readers of The Terrorist, we certainly wish the same for Laura and her family. If we cannot believe that something good comes out of tragedy such as the death of a child, then the struggles we all face in life cease to have meaning. When that happens, life becomes not worth living.
- Cooney, Caroline B. The Terrorist. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 1999. Kindle edition.