A Story of Compassion

The Raging Quiet is an evocative young adult novel, set in an imagined town, long, long ago. Through imagery, poignant dialogue, and beautiful characters, Sheryl Jordan weaves a bittersweet tale about love, friendship, patience, compassion, and recovery.

In order to save her family from poverty, Marnie marries Isake Isherwood, a wealthy, older gentleman. They move to the tiny village of Torcurra, where her new husband sets to work on repairing an old cottage. There she meets Raven, a young man who is deaf. The townspeople, however, believe that he is possessed by the devil because of the strange noises he makes in an attempt to communicate, and whip him to drive the devil out. Marnie, however, discovers that Raven cannot hear and is trying to communicate in the best way he can. She offers him some companionship. Despite her kindness, the townspeople seem to take an instant dislike to her, and when her husband falls from a ladder and dies, they suspect her involvement. Soon, they accuse her of witchcraft because she teaches Raven how to communicate through hand gestures.

In order to prove her innocence, Marnie endures a painful witch trial, having to walk nine steps while carrying a burning iron bar in her hand, remaining silent all the while. The way the wound heals after three days wrapped in a cloth that is sealed with a special wax stamp will prove Marnie to be guilty or innocent. If her hand is healing well, she is innocent, but if it is infected, then she is a witch. If the seal is broken, Marnie will have to go through the trial again. After the trial, Raven finds Marnie crying and delirious and removes the cloth to take care of her hand, not understanding what had happened. Thankfully, the kind village priest secretly covers her hand again and seals the cloth and Marnie is found innocent. Soon after, she and Raven leave the town, knowing that they will never be accepted there. They leave peacefully, thankful for having found each other, despite all that they suffered.

Marnie is a wonderful literary example of a female character who is strong-willed, kind, compassionate, and loving. Her interactions with her family and Raven help to convey who she is and provide readers, young and old, with several powerful thoughts to keep in mind.

When her family is on the verge of poverty, she agrees to marry Isake. No one in her family pushes her — she acts out of love for her family. When Isake proposes to Marnie, her father shakes horribly, unable to speak and Marnie kneels in front of him and says,

“This is the only way, Papa. … If I do it, it is for love of you, of all of you. At least let me see that you will be happy.”

Marnie does not love Isake — she barely knows him — but her family matters more to her than her own happiness. Not only does her decision reveal her loving nature, it also shows that she is courageous. It takes courage and conviction to put someone else first when it is at the expense of your own happiness. It takes courage and strength to leave all that you know behind to start somewhere new, alone.

Once settled in her new home, she befriends a stranger who scares her a little because she sees that he is in need. Then, she chooses to help him, despite the disapproval of the people around her. Marnie’s ability to reach out to Raven despite her initial fear shows that she has a strong instinct and has learned to trust it. After all, if she truly believes him to be dangerous, Marnie most likely would not have reached out to him. When they first meet, Marnie is crying because Isake had forced her to sleep with him, and although she had seen him being whipped and heard the rumors, she trusts him:

“Very slowly he lifted his hand and wiped the tears from her cheeks. No other man could have touched her that morning; but the mad youth, with this extraordinary tenderness, gave such a depth of consolation that she found herself leaning her cheek against his hand and sobbing. He wept with her, and there wove between them an understanding…”

Toward the end of the story, Marnie gives herself to Raven, and this act of love provides a poignant message. It is possible to move on following a rape. It is possible to love again. It is possible to trust another human being to listen to your needs, to touch you with care and love:

“With utter trust, she gave herself to him. … Just once memories of Isake tore through her and she tensed, waiting for the sudden roughness, the hurt. But there was only gentleness.”

The Raging Quiet is not for everyone, but it is a literary treasure, full of heart and wisdom. Though it is set long ago and witch trials are a part of history, the pain of loneliness, of rape, and of abandonment is sadly relatable. At the same time, the love and friendship between the characters is a bittersweet reminder of all the goodness that can be found in an often seemingly brutal and unyielding world.

Published in 1999

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Book cover is property of Simon & Schuster.

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