I would like to know what "pact you’ve made with yourself" means in the following sentences:

‘Did you hear?’ he said with his smoker’s voice, almost immediately after picking up the phone. ‘The ZOMO killed nine miners in Katowice. They were protesting the martial law. Can you believe it? First they lock our people in our country, then they jail them, now they shoot them in the street. Sons of bitches. This time they’re gonna pay for it.’

A shiver ran down my back and across my lips. ‘Are you sure?’

He spat out his words like bullets. ‘Sure as fuck. This is serious.’

I thought of the miners, and it struck me that they could have been the same people I saw a year ago from that window where I threw the flyers. Or it could have been me. But then, I had been a coward compared to them. I had hidden under window ledges, in kitchen closets; I had not been in the streets demanding my right to be heard. Now I was an ocean away, wearing a new suit. I wondered about your role in all this, what kind of pact you’ve made with yourself. Because we all make one, even the best of us. And it’s rarely immaculate. No matter how hard we try.

In this novel which is set in the 1980's in Poland under the socialist regime, where homosexuality was socially unacceptable, the protagonist Ludwik (a university graduate) left Poland in 1981 to live in the United States of America. And he remembers what it was like back then in Poland, where he was frustrated by the reality of this socialist regime and threw away flyers from a building. And now, in the USA, he thinks of his lover Janusz still in Poland, as to what pact he would have made with himself, who had been defending the Party, after hearing the news that miners were killed by the police in Poland while protesting the martial law.

In this part, I wonder what "pact" means here. Would that mean "concession"? Or "agreement"? Actually, "pact" appears three times in this novel, and the other times are in the following quotes:

I remember the bus leaving with the others, and you and I staying behind. It was an overcast day. Rucksacks on our backs, hands around the straps, we walked up the country road, hoping to hitch a ride. I was nervous and we talked little, but somehow the silence between us was a pact. I felt like a small bird set loose, scared and exhilarated by the void before me.

  • Chapter 3

Looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t hurl myself off the bridge. I was terrified, saw no way out. But I suppose that right then, in the midst of despair, I felt the stirring of instinct again, the murmur of that voice. I brushed the dirt off my clothes and walked home with a rising fever. Somehow I knew that something would occur to me, a pact I could try to live with.

  • Chapter 7

And I wonder these "pacts" all mean the same thing.

I am an English learner from South Korea, so thank you for your patience in advance as I may not know obvious things. I would very much appreciate your help. :)

1 Answer 1


Yes, all the instances of pact mean the same thing: a formal agreement that has the force of a promise. If I tell myself that I will eat salad for lunch every day so that at the end of the week I can indulge in a pint of ice-cream without any guilt, then that's a pact I've made with myself. If I tell you that I'll answer the questions you post on here to the best of my ability and in return you say you'll upvote my answers, that's a pact we've made with each other.

In the first quote, Ludwik is wondering what sort of bargain Janusz has made with himself that would allow him to continue to defend the Party in the face of the news about the miners. Janusz's conscience would trouble him about this incident, so he must have made some kind of pact with himself to alleviate this. For instance, he could have convinced himself that the end justifies the means, and killing the miners was actually the correct thing to do. The pact in this case would be that he will always defend the Party's goals. Or he could have made a pact that he will defend the Party until there is bloodshed, in which case at this point the pact would require him to leave the Party. Or he could have made a pact that he will leave the Party as soon as he can do so without danger to himself. Ludwik is wondering what pact exactly Janusz must have made. No pact will be perfect, as someone will always suffer.

In the quote from Chapter 3, Ludwik is nervous because of his feelings for Janusz, but it seems that Janusz and Ludwik have made a pact that they won't discuss their feelings for each other. This is quite a common pact among young men who have yet to come to terms with their homosexuality: "I know and you know, but as long as we don't talk about it, we can pretend nothing is going on".

In Chapter 7, Ludwik has made a pact with himself that he will continue to live because he feels sure something will occur to him. Without more context, I'm not quite certain what this refers to—it seems he's in some kind of serious trouble, but convinces himself that it will turn out okay, and so makes the bargain that he won't throw himself off the bridge: If things were really hopeless, I would kill myself is the unstated pact here.

I haven't read the novel, although it's on my to-read list. So all these are just my best guesses.

  • Dear verbose, thank you very much for the detailed explanation. Happy to know this novel is also on your to-read list! I'm enjoying this novel so far. Thank you for your help again, it really deepened my understanding. :) Dec 21, 2020 at 6:44

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