“Under a Cruel Star” Heda gives her autobiography and her experience as a prisoner in her own country. Throughout her life she keeps on struggling for that which she thinks will bring her freedom. In the book, she describes several events that lead to her perception of life and the whole definition of freedom change. She gives her definitions as she responds to situations in life. This essay will discuss some of the different definitions of freedom that she gives as well as some of the instances and reasons as to why her definitions had to change. The essay will conclude with my own definition of freedom according to how I perceive it to be.
“Under a Cruel Star” describes the sickening autobiography of Heda Kovaly between 1941 and 1968, after the Second World War when Czechoslovakia was experiencing liberalization. Heda, a Jew living in Czechoslovakia, experiences the worst moments in her life during the Nazi period (Kovaly 14). From these experiences, Heda passes through several emotional obstacles which in turn make her beliefs take a different angle. Throughout this period, she longs for freedom and as a result, her definitions of and views on freedom keep on changing. At first, she defines freedom in simplicity as something that is natural given, something that is obligatory to all citizens as a birthright. She does not believe in freedom that is obtained by conforming to political parties or for the sake of the glory and highness of the country (Kovaly 11). She thus lives by this stand whereby she believes that freedom should be given to her without hard work or any struggles.
However during the Nazi regime period, the Germans, who had initially taken control over Czechoslovakia put into captivity all the Jews who did not comply with their ruling. Both victims and innocent citizens were held captives in camps and prisons. Heda, being an active woman in the society did not slip from the hands of her torturers. She too was held captive and lived in the camps where she had been separated from her family and loved ones. This was the time that she only longed to be out of the hands and eyes of the guards. Once in these camps, one was denied the freedom of expression and of speech; everything was conducted according to the orders given from above (Kovaly 15). People lived like slaves in their own country; what a shame! At this moment, Heda’s definition of freedom took a u-turn. Freedom was no longer what she had thought of or defined earlier. She now longed to be free from the camps to a place where she could think soberly; a place where no one would be guarding her; a place where she would make her own decisions and choices.
It is while in the camp when she came up with another definition of freedom. She now defined freedom as being free from imprisonment. She affirms that once she is out of the skewers, she would stand outside the scheme in a place where she would be on her own and not belonging to anyone or anything (Kovaly 17). She is pretty aware that this will be just a temporary kind of freedom but she is happy that it would be a great effort made. She starts thinking of how she can get out of the guards. She knows that she will be safe once she gets to the checkpoint. She is sure that she can make it through to the checkpoint but cautions herself that if she happens to make even the slightest mistake then she would ruin all the freedom that is in her hands (Kovaly 24). She finally manages to escape from the captive camps and she sighs in relief that she is for the first time free.
When she comes out of the prisons, Heda reunites with her people, among them her childhood boy-friend with whom she gets married and they have a child together. Immediately after her escape, she finds life so different from what she thought; housing conditions have become poor, there is no entertainment and the whole place is filled with sorrow from the loose of people and property (Kovaly 57). With her husband, they start looking for a house and they are finally allocated a small house in which they live. The nation now starts to fight for its identity after the destruction of the egalitarian government. Again, her mind opens up and she starts thinking of freedom as a total different thing from the two definitions she had given earlier. The whole country must now arise and fight for its identity and freedom. Heda thus comes up with the third definition of freedom where she says that freedom is some thing that is hard to earn and like a medal it is only achieved through hard work and struggle. One must fight for it (Kovaly 60).
After realizing this, Heda goes ahead into fighting for not only her freedom but for the whole nation. Although she considers herself free after running away from the prisons, she has a burden for her family and the future generations of this country. She has to accept the reality and make a contribution towards attaining this freedom. And the only way to accomplish this is to join the communist party (Kovaly 63). Though from the first definition of freedom she had refuted the idea of acquiring freedom by conforming to a political party or being loyal to a country, she lays this aside and joins the communist party so that she can gain freedom through the hard way. She realizes the importance of giving up her own freedom for sometime and dedicates what is remained of her life in fighting for the future (Kovaly 61).
It is therefore evident that Heda’s definition of freedom keeps on changing throughout the story as a result of the tough things that she experiences. She gives three definitions which are distinct from each other. Every definition is derived from an occurrence that she experiences in life. Before she experiences any hardships in life, she thought that freedom was there for all and thus she took it not as a privilege but as a birthright open to all citizens (Kovaly 11). However the hardships that she encounters while in prison make her have a different view on how she perceived freedom. In prison, she defines freedom as the right to be released from captivity. This is because she was simply longing to be out of the cages and be united with her people (Kovaly 26). She keeps fighting to achieve this but after escaping from prison and re-experiences life out of prison; she realizes that this is not the ultimate point. She now must fight not only for her good but for the entire country and her family. Following this reason, she joins the communist party so that she can fight for the freedom of her country in full commitment and determination (Kovaly 65).
There is however no specific definition of freedom. One can define freedom from his/ her own view depending on the country and the era in which s/he lives as well as the experiences one comes across in life. My definition of freedom would slightly differ from that of Heda since we happen to live in different periods in history. I would therefore define freedom as the condition or ability of being at liberty. The state in which one can express him/ herself through acting, thinking, through speech without the fear of being subjected to external manacles such as persecutions and detention. The state of being both physically and mentally in control of one’s independent life coupled with the ability to decide and establish once destination without the resistance from external forces.