Violet Evergarden and the Purpose of Pain
By Shaneen Thompson
“Violet. Your name’s Violet. I have a feeling you’ll grow into it. You’ll become much more than a weapon of war.”
—Major Gilbert Bougainvillea, Violet Evergarden
Read: Genesis 37, 41
Reflect: In the unnamed eighth episode of the anime TV show Violet Evergarden, a nameless child soldier is found on the front lines and “gifted” to Major Gilbert Bougainvillea by his older brother. Tenderhearted Gilbert is shocked by his brother’s treatment of this child and horrified that he is expected to use her as a weapon.
“Gil, she’s no child,” his brother tells him. “She’s just a weapon… A tool, for the purpose of war.”
Since the girl has shown violent tendencies and terrifying skills, the army is eager to use her to their advantage; they believe “the only thing she’s valuable for is killing.”
Gilbert reluctantly follows his orders, but he sees greater value in the child. He cares for her, teaches her to read and write, and helps her learn what it means to be human. He also names her, an act that humanizes her: “Violet. Your name’s Violet. I have a feeling you’ll grow into it. You’ll become much more than a weapon of war.” Naming her after a flower is significant because a flower’s purpose is beauty, it suggests innocence, and it has nothing to do with war; violet petals are also shaped like hearts, which symbolize love, emotions, and healing.
Hoping to bring an end to the war, the army plans a pivotal mission to take over the enemy’s headquarters. It is a difficult battle, but they are able to infiltrate the base with the aid of Violet’s special skills. However, Gilbert is shot and mortally wounded.
As the story continues in episode 9, “Violet Evergarden,” Violet tries to save Gilbert but is wounded herself and loses both her arms. When the defeated enemy bombs their own headquarters, Gilbert’s final act is to push Violet to safety, telling her she needs to live and that he loves her.
Violet wakes up in an army hospital with mechanical prosthetics in place of her lost arms. She has much to come to terms with in her life now: the war is over and she is no longer needed in battle, the only place she knows she is skilled; she has lost her arms and is no longer able to do all the things she once could; and though she is unaware of Gilbert’s death, she does know he is no longer there to instruct her. She has lost everything important to her, everything that defined her.
Violet is taken in by Claudia Hodgins, an army friend of the Major, and given a job as an Auto Memory Doll—someone who writes letters for people who are unable to or who desire assistance putting their thoughts and emotions into words. While she is unable to write with a quill, Violet is proficient with the tool of an Auto Memory Doll: the typewriter. Through her work and her search to understand Gilbert’s final words, she becomes better at understanding and articulating human emotions. She writes some of the most beautiful letters in the country and is highly sought after for her skills as a Doll.
Despite the good that has come from her experiences, Violet’s past haunts her. Upon learning that Gilbert has been declared Missing In Action and is presumed dead, she is tempted to give up. Working to come to terms with her suffering, she asks Hodgins if someone like her really deserves to keep living. Hodgins tells her that all the bad that she’s done and all the bad that has happened to her cannot be erased. But neither can all the good that she is accomplishing now.
There is a character in the Bible who also experiences much suffering and knows what it’s like to be abused and mistreated. Joseph is the beloved of twelve sons and his father favours him. He interprets his own dreams to mean that one day his parents and brothers will bow down to him. His brothers are jealous and plot to get rid of him. Luckily, the plan that started out as murder is downgraded to throwing him in a pit. Then, unluckily, that plan is upgraded to selling him into slavery when a caravan on its way to Egypt happens to pass by. Joseph’s brothers tell their father that he was killed by wild animals, and they believe Joseph is out of their lives for good.
Joseph’s life as a slave has some serious ups and downs. In the first house he serves in, he becomes very successful and is put in charge of the entire household. However, his master’s wife attempts to seduce him, becomes furious at his constant refusals, and accuses him of raping her. Joseph is thrown into jail.
Joseph is equally favoured in jail and is put in charge of all the other prisoners. He correctly interprets prisoners’ dreams, and this skill puts him at Pharaoh’s side, where he becomes second-in-command over all Egypt.
Eventually Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt looking for assistance during a famine. They bow down to Joseph, just as they did in his dreams. Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they do not recognize him. After testing his brothers several times, but always providing them with food, Joseph reveals himself and is reunited with his family. His whole family moves to Egypt so that Joseph can provide for them.
Joseph suffered and went through many hardships but recognizes that “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today” (Genesis 50:20).
Life is hard. There are the typical daily nuisances, the inescapable tragedies of life, and the long seasons where the whole world seems to be against us. There are times when we are hurt by those around us, sometimes even by those closest to us. Predicaments can blindside us and it seems impossible to find any hope.
But even though we may not be able to see it, hope can be found in the worst of situations.
Violet experiences a lot of pain and loss, and while that pain can never be completely forgotten, she still has the opportunity to help others. I’m sure Joseph never completely forgets the hurt and the injustices he suffers, but those events put him in a position to do immense amounts of good. Both have a choice in how they react to what has happened to them.
In the midst of hardships, it’s difficult to see how God is at work. Eager to find purpose in our suffering, we ask, “Why is this happening to me?” If we knew there was a reason and a greater purpose to our pain, maybe we could stand up under it better. We want something to make our suffering worth it. But finding purpose in pain isn’t about making suffering “worth it.” The world is a broken place, and bad stuff happens. Sometimes, a difficult situation leads to amazing things: discovering a specific purpose for your life, finding an ability to uniquely connect with and support others, or growing as a person. But other times, we may never “see” any good come from it, or if we do, it may not seem like it’s enough.
We don’t always get a clear answer about why we must endure certain things in life. Sometimes life just sucks and the only thing we can do is trust that God cares and make the best decisions we can within our circumstances. God’s purposes may not always be revealed as clearly as in Joseph’s life, but God is at work in our suffering. Good can come out of even the greatest pain. I find hope in God’s promise that suffering doesn’t have the last word. Instead, the last word is love—the type of love Violet learns to project in her letters, the type of love that Joseph chooses to give to his brothers, and the type of love that God bestows upon us.
“We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” —Romans 5:3–5
- Have you experienced hardships that you can look back at now and see how God was with you?
- Are you experiencing hardships now that are difficult to understand? How can you hold onto God’s truths during this time?
- How does your suffering put you in a position to support those around you who are also struggling?