The Torso


The hounting story, published in 1936, portraes a man who thrives in a violent situation. Its structure is one to which Andrić was to return in "Devil’s Yard". There is an outer frame of omniscient narration which describes the monk Brother Petar in his cell, recouting a story told to him by a servant in Asia Minor, where Peter was exiled for some years. The focal point is the figure Brother Petar sees framed in the window of the clock tower of a huge fortified mansion where he has been summoned to mend the clock. It is the figure of the man who once ruled Syria as ruthless tyrant, having been sent there to quell a rebellion. Eventually, after years of systematic brutality, a terrible revenge is wrought on him, and he is left – his limbs crushed and the features burned from his face – his limbs crushed and the features burned from his face – a grotesque torso, who is carried by his servants out into the garden to sit in the sun. His obvious harmlessness is emphasized before Petar realizes what he is seeing: "Something like a child, like an old woman was sitting there..."

This story is particularly concetrated, with each frame contributing a dimension to the meaning. Peter is a skilled mechanic who is particularly interested in clocks, of which he has a large collection in his cell. He is therefore seen to be on the side of time, in harmony with it and not trying to resist its passing. The servant who tells the story of Čelebi-Hafiz represents a pattern of survival regardless of the fluctuations of the fortunes of his masters. By contrast with these two passive vehicles of his story, Čelebi-Hafiz himself offers an extreme example of a pattern of rise and fall, power and ruin, abrupt change, interpreted by the people either as Divine Retribution of the workings of an Oriental Fate.

There is no real attempt to explain the tyrant’s fall, simply recognition that time and fortune inevitably brought change. The sevant introduces his account of the revenge of the tyrant’s prisoners with the words: "there is a cure for every ill, and that is that at every moment of a man's life there is a possibility that he will make a mistake, just one slight slip, but that is enough to cause his death and his absolute ruin." In addition, the instrument of the tyrant's downfall is a woman; the only creature for whom he ever felt real compassion or affection. But none of these possible human rationalizations is developed; Čelebi-Hafiz simply falls from power, just as cities and whole civilizations have flourished and perished throughout time.