Violet Evergarden: Learning Empathy and The Lost Art of Letters
“Each time I learn words I didn’t know, I reach my hands into traces of the past; But there may also be words, that I can’t understand on my own”
– Translated Lyrics of Sincerely, the opening theme of the anime
Violet Evergarden: A Broken Child of War
From the beautiful detailed animation to the soft instrumental score that highlights the emotional content, Violet Evergarden is an anime that is considered a work of art due to the themes of war, humanity, and empathy it dives into. It touches its hearts of the viewers by emotionally entangling them into a broken character and her journey to learn what the phrase “I love you” means. Violet Evergarden, the main character of the anime, is an unusual character in many ways. First, she is a child solider. Second, because of her difficult upbringing, she is rough, emotionless and acts robotic.
Orphaned at a young age, General Gilbert took her into the military, exposing her to war at a young age. Although the animation depicts Violet as a beautiful young lady, Violet’s character at the start is anything but that. She is rash, aggressive, emotionless, and kills without thought. She is depicted as a “tool,” a “war product,” and a “weapon.” Violet has no memories of life without war and does not know anything about the real world. In fact, General Gilbert had to teach her to read and write and gives her a name. Although the general is the one who brought Violet into the military in the first place, he regrets raising her and bringing her up in war when he sees her lack of character without him and her inability to have her own emotions. Despite the general’s colleagues believing that Violet is a “war machine” without feelings, General Gilbert insists that she is a human who has a heart and is determined to give her a better life after the war. He sees potential in Violet, and when she sees this she is puzzled; she knows nothing but his commands and orders. Imagining life without orders and not being in the military seemed impossible to her. The general sees this in Violet and is devastated. First because he realizes that he was the one who aided her in becoming the broken child that she is and second because it pained him to see her without a personality of her own. When the general tries to treat her like a normal girl, Violet is unable to understand. For example, when he asks her to pick a gift at the fair, she sees it as an order and does not know what to get. She ends up picking an emerald brooch because it reminded her of the colour of the general’s eyes.
In the final battle, Violet fought to protect her general and in the process, she lost both arms. Although Violet sacrificed so much to save him, her sacrifice was futile because the general pushed her out of the way from an exploding bomb and died to save her. Before the explosion, he commanded her to “live and be free” and insisted that she live, saying that he loved her. Violet, confused, and not understanding what “living free” and the phrase, “I love you” means, fell unconscious and was saved by one of the general’s friends, Claudia, who later hired Violet in his postal service company.
The Search for Love in a War-Torn World
War trauma is devastating to all. When one kills, such as in war, one dehumanizes oneself. Violet Evergarden was only a child, which is even more horrific because she was conditioned to be emotionless and to be someone who only listens to orders. One can argue how can the general say he “loved” her when he turned her into this “war machine?” The general to some extent also is also a product of war trauma and has come to realize the devastation war has on a young child in bringing up Violet. However the “love” that he mentioned seems to come from his caring actions such as standing up to others who believed she was only a “tool,” giving her a name to reflect a beautiful personality that he hoped she would grow into one day, having hope in her, teaching her to read and write, and ultimately sacrificing his life to ensure that she lived. He also wanted her to become adopted and live a normal life after the war and had set up arrangements with a good and proper family to take care of her. Violet did not understand any of these feelings. Why did the general sacrifice his life at the end? What did “free” mean? What was “love?” War destroys love, freedom, and humanity. Violet decides she must find out what the general was referring to by those last words he told her. In order for Violet to learn feelings, she must learn to have empathy for others and witness love for her self. And so she embarks the journey to learn what “love” means.
Empathy: Can a Child of War possibly Learn Empathy?
“Goodbyes are bitter, and “I love you” carried a distant scent. These incomparable feelings are terrifying, but are also terribly precious.”
Violet Evergarden is up on what it seems to be an impossible mission: the mission for someone who is traumatized and destroyed by war and killing to learn what love is. In order to accomplish her mission, Violet decides to work for Claudia’s Hodgin’s postal service company. In this company is an Auto Memory Doll Service, which is a group of type writers who help people who are unable to type put their emotions and feelings into words.
An Auto Memory Doll must be a good writer, fast typer, and most importantly be able to connect with their clients’ feelings in order to help them express their true emotions into a letter. Violet, although knows it may be an impossible mission, is determined to give the work a try. Efficient, smart, and dedicated, she takes her “orders” seriously, but is unable to connect with people at the start. She takes information literally and at first writes letters similar to a military report. As she gets to know other people in the company, she realizes how complex emotions are and how words don’t always encompass them fully. Others find her different and difficult to work with due to her stiff, rigid, and flat personality. Although the animation gives her large blue eyes brimming with emotion, her face throughout the start of the animation remains relatively flat.
Despite failing several times, Violet’s co-workers encourages her to keep trying when they see her brilliance with typing and her hard-working nature. In a way, the “doll” image of the work fits Violet: she is mechanical like a doll and is stiff and emotionless like a doll. However, as Violet starts to listen to other’s people’s stories, she slowly starts to connect with her own feelings and write touching letters. This is a gradual and slow process that happens each episode at a time with increasing emotion and connection as the series progresses. Each person she meets, she witnesses their story, their feelings, which in turn somehow connects her to her own feelings. Once she is able to connect to her feelings, she is able to write a meaningful letter. Along the way, Violet begins to understand some of her own feelings that at the time she didn’t know what they meant.
Loss, Grief, Loneliness, and Love
“Sadness is cold, and “Thank you” is coloured with warmth. Each time I come into contact with something intangible your voice resonates deep within my heart.”
– Translated Lyrics of Sincerely
Violet lives in a fictional society that has been devastated by the evils of war. As she goes on missions to write letters for others as an Auto Memories Doll, she comes in counter with people who have suffered from the war. However, Violet not only encounters families who have been broken by war, but also orphans like her, families torn by sickness, loss, and people hoping to express their emotions to a living loved one. The main emotions she comes to learn and connect with are loneliness, grief, and concern and how those are all somehow connected to love. Violet first starts with missions that are less complex. She begins with helping her colleague Luculia write a letter to her brother, who recently returned from the war and became an alcoholic, and a young princess who is soon to be married.
In both cases, Violet learns the importance of expressing emotions of care to the other person and gained confidence in listening and relating to others. Violet then embarks on a typing mission with an orphan like her who helps her learn what loneliness is. For the first times, she meets another orphan and is able relate to him. Through him, she learns about the feelings of missing someone and loneliness and starts to realize that she herself has those emotions. After Violet is able to start relating to others, she embarks on helping others who have gone through much more difficult traumas. She helps fulfil a grief-stricken play writer’s mission in finishing the script to a dramatic play for children in memory of his deceased daughter, she helps a dying mother write 50 letters for her young daughter’s future birthdays, she goes on a forbidden mission to help a dying solider write a letter to his family and girlfriend, and ultimately writes a letter for the deceased General Gilbert expressing the feelings she wished she could have said, but never knew the proper words to say. Seeing other people’s losses and griefs, helps Violet understand her own grief over the general. She comes to learn that those you love never fully leave you. Violet also sees the horror of war and the pain of loss and realizes that every life is valuable. For the first time she realizes she is “burning” from all the lives she took in war.
The Pain of Empathy and Love
“Do I have any right after I killed so many people as a weapon? I must have prevented them from keeping promises of their own! Promises that they made to loves ones of their own! Everything I’ve done so far has sparked a flame that is now burning me up.” Violet Evergarden
As Violet learns to understand feelings of others and herself and as she witnesses other people’s losses and stories, she begins to feel guilt and pain about all those she killed in the war. At the start of the series, Violet did not realize that killing was bad, especially if it was an order. However, as she matures throughout the series, she begins to have flash backs and feels guilty for writing letters to help connect people after taking so many lives. She suddenly feels that her hands are filled with the blood of others, and begins to feel tortured. She goes through a period of not working or seeing people and sits with herself to understand just how grave taking people’s lives she didn’t know was. Filled with agony, she is burdened and tortured by her pervious actions to the point where she attempts to strangle herself. One thing, however saves Violet: the care and concern of others. Violet receives a letter, her first letter, from her co-workers expressing concern and care. She later is reminded by Claudia, the postal service owner, that though her deeds as a solider will never be erased, the good deeds she has done by writing letters and connecting with others will also be never be forgotten.
“You’re going to learn a lot of things, But it might be easier to keep living, if you didn’t learn them, if you didn’t know them. You don’t realize your body is on fire and burning up because of the things you did. You’ll understand one day. And then you’ll realize for the first time that you have many burns.”
– Claudia Hodgins
Violet comes to terms with what she has done and decided to never kill again. She no longer wants to take orders. She no longer wants to be part of a war. For the first time, Violet no longer needs to be ordered or needs to be under a general. For the first time, Violet is thinking as Violet and not a “tool” of war. Violet transforms from a “tool” of war to a message of peace.
The Lost Art of Letters
Although a smaller theme throughout the anime, letters play a fundamental role in development of this story. It is through letters that Violet learns how to express herself in words and it is through letters that she is about to help others connect with each other. Letter writing is a lost art in our society today. However, after watching this anime, one is reminded of the power of a beautifully written letter in expressing words that are difficult to say in person.
Emotions are nearly impossible to describe in words. Violet comes to realize this when she tries to put feelings into words only to find that she took things too literally or to find that the words did not express the feeling accurately when she first begins to write as a Doll. Letters seem to serve as many purposes: they help express feelings, they serve as a way to release feelings to those both living and dead, they make others feel good, and most importantly are used to express love. In her search to find what “I love you” means, she comes across millions of letters of people saying, “I love you.” Because of this, she realizes love is universal. Furthermore, when Violet receives a letter for the first time from her caring co-workers, she realizes that receiving a letter from someone can make you feel incredibly good. This furthers her passion in making sure every letter is delivered and written well. One of the most interesting ways letters are used in this anime is to express feelings to someone who is no longer living. Letters are used to release feelings to someone who may not be alive, but who is still loved dearly. For example, Violet writes to the general even though he is no longer alive as a way to express and release her feelings. Because this anime is set post-war, many people want to express their feelings to relatives living and alive and letters are the best way to do so. In the end, there is a letter festival in which letters are released into the sky. Violet’s letter to General Giblet lands in a meadow full of violet’s, a reference to when the general named her Violet in hope of the beautiful woman she would grow into.
“Spring, summer, autumn, and winter… Many seasons have come and gone, but the one with you isn’t coming around at all. At first, I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t understand anything about how you felt. But within this new life you gave me, I’ve begun to feel the same way as you, if only a little, through ghostwriting, and through the people I‘ve met along the way. I believe that you are still alive somewhere. So, I shall live, live, live, and live some more, though there’s no telling what life might have in store. And if I can see you again, I want to let you know… that the phrase “I love you”… I understand it a little now.” Violet’s letter to Gilbert
Empathy, Love, and Letters are all Connected
The anime Violet Evergarden brings together empathy, love and letters all together. Letters are the tool that helps Violet learn empathy and to access feelings. It is through empathy that she begins to have a small taste of what love is and it is through the letters that Violet helps spread messages of love to others. This incredible anime shows that love is the root of all human connections and that even those who are so damaged have the ability to love. This anime does not hide the pain and hurt that also comes with love: grief, disappointment, and hurt. Violet’s journey is a journey we may all have everyday: the journey to love and live loved in an imperfect world.
“Let’s just quietly
Listen to the wind under the same sky
You are not there
Already how many times have
The words I’ve written flown away and disappeared
Love is always
Existing where the sun shines
Even if it can’t be seen
Even if it can’t be felt
May it be by your side
The trees in the forest sing in the rain
As if they are
Cheering me up
I walk on earth
That is not yet dried
A road to someday
Love is always
Like clear water
After I have accepted it
I am separated once again
Just like you
Love is always
Existing where the sun shines
Even if it can’t be seen
Even if it can’t be felt
May it be by your side”
Translated Lyrics to “True,” Violet’s final writing task in the series
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