Veronika Decides to Die – When Life Becomes Meaningless
Veronika Decides to Die by eminent writer Paulo Coelho explores the multiple dimensions of the life, its purpose and no purpose and meaninglessness from the human point of view. The lead character of the novel is Veronika who is also featuring in the name of the novel. As portrayed in the novel she is a beautiful twenty four years girl having most of the charms of the life – good job, string of boyfriends, good parents etc. And one fine day all of sudden she decides to end her life having experienced everything she could experience, and imagining the pain & troubles of old age. She decides to die as she has no more interest in the life. She takes the bunch of sleeping pills and wait for the death.
In the waiting process she suddenly gets an urge to continue the life as it is but now it is late.
“She was shocked by how quickly she could change her mind, since only moments before she had thought exactly the opposite. That moment of good humor almost made her have second thoughts about the need to die, but she had already taken the pills; it was too late to turn back.”
However, she is saved by someone and taken to the Villete, the notorious lunatic asylum in Ljubljana. There she meets with Dr. Igor who is in-charge of the asylum. In Villete, she again gets into the thoughts of boring chores of the life and wonders nobody seems to be happy but nobody speaks about it, they keep living. At some moment you will also flow in the thoughts of Veronica as she thinks of the life and its mundane tasks – skillfully crafted by master writer.
It is really amazing how some people are really! afraid of the life. Here is what Veronika thinks on the hospital bed after being awaked.
“I’m still young, pretty, and intelligent, I won’t have any difficulty getting boyfriends, I’ll make love with them in their houses or in the woods. I’ll go back to my rented room in the convent. I’ll try to read a book, turn on the TV to see the same old programs, set the alarm clock to wake up at exactly the same time I woke up the day before, and mechanically repeat my tasks at the library. I’ll eat a sandwich in the park opposite the theater, sitting on the same bench, along with other people who also choose the same benches on which to sit and have their lunch. Then I’ll go back to work, I’ll listen to the gossip. I’ll go back to the bars at the end of the day, and the whole thing will start again.”
Now she decides whatever days are left she will stay in Villete and won’t go out. She is told by the Doctor in-charge that “Your heart was irreversibly damaged, and soon it will stop beating altogether.” and she will be dead “Within five days, a week at most.”
In Villete she befriends with Zedka another mental patient who has clinical depression but it is about to be cured and she would be soon released. Zedka case in the book is an interesting and painful example of how a few people (who have everything in life) develops the depression by living in the imaginary world rather than facing the challenges of real life.
“After another week, in which she spat out the food offered to her, drifted in and out of reality several times, spent whole nights awake and whole days asleep, two men came into her room without knocking. One of them held her down while the other gave her an injection, and she woke up in Villete.”
She also come across a group called ‘Fraternity’ and one of its members Mari whom she first confronts and later became friends. Mari was once a succeful lawyer who developes the panic disorder syndrome and eventually brought to the Villete. Her husband divorce her following her condition and she is on her own as being in the age of sixty five nobody cares about her anymore.
Eventually it is apparent in the novel that affluent people are more prone to the mental disorder, may be because they have less to struggle in the life, and more to think about it.
At the same time novel also discusses about how people are slave to food, shelter, care and security that even they don’t mind living in the asylum, and they do not want to leave the place even if they are cured.
“To say good-bye. That was the really difficult part. Once in a mental hospital, a person grows used to the freedom that exists in the world of insanity and becomes addicted to it. You no longer have to take on responsibilities, to struggle to earn your daily bread, to be bothered with repetitive, mundane tasks. You could spend hours looking at a picture or making absurd doodles.”
In her remaining days in Villete Veronika again seems to love life as it is “Veronika stood looking at the mountains beyond the walls of Villete. A faint desire to live seemed about to surface, but Veronika determinedly pushed it away.”
However, in Villete she was unwittingly undergoing an experiment under the supervision of Dr. Igor, the in-charge, who was giving her a prohibited medicine ‘Fenotal’ to see if it can improve her heart conditions, if not she is going to die anyways, he was also writing a thesis on the same subject. “Why not use her as a guinea pig, to see if he could eliminate the Vitriol from her organism? And so Dr. Igor had conceived his plan.”
Veronica’s regret in taking the suicidal decision can be clearly seen post suicide attempt: “When I took the pills, I wanted to kill someone I hated. I didn’t know that other Veronikas existed inside me, Veronikas that I could love.” She knew that her way of experiencing the life was wrong: “She expended most of her energy in trying to behave in accordance with the image she had created of herself.”
It is interesting to know how environmental factor can contribute to our social problem: “Dislocation, divorce, and the absence of light were the main reasons for the increase in the number of cases of depression. Dr. Igor was hoping that spring would arrive early and solve half his problems.”
Veronica developed a feeling for one of the patients Eduard who was very young same of her age and charming too. Eduard was being treated for a rare form of schizophrenia. “While she was playing that music for the garden, another crazy person appeared: Eduard, a schizophrenic who was beyond all cure. She was not frightened by his presence; on the contrary, she smiled, and to her surprise, he smiled back.”
Zedka was released after a long period of treatment to re-join her husband and children.
Mari left the Villette to go to El Salvador and work with depriving and war affected children there for rest of her life. She left a note to Fraternity members “Life inside is exactly the same as life outside. People do things because they’re used to doing them, they study useless subjects, they have fun because they’re supposed to have fun, At the very most, they watch the news on television – as we often did – as confirmation of their happiness in a world full of problems and injustices.”
Veronica and Eduard escape from Villete and fall in true love for each other wishing that Veronica could live little longer. Veronica ponders to Eduard this is why she came in the world “attempted suicide, ruining my heart, meeting you, coming up to this castle, letting you engrave my face on your soul. That is the only reason I came into the world.” Point is every soul here has to go through something in life to understand life, and “Nothing is this World happens By chance.”
Veronica is cured now but she does not know it nor who and what is behind this. However, now she enjoys every day of her life as her last day gifted by God.
Morale of the entire novel can be summarized in the words of Dr. Igor “consider each day a miracle – which indeed it is, when you consider the number of unexpected things that could happen in each second of our fragile existences.”
After all Life is a Gift from the God, don’t waste it!