Tag Archives: society

The Library as a Symbol for Colonialism

A library is considered a staple of a thriving town, or at least of one that seeks to thrive. Libraries are symbols of knowledge, of education. It is through education that individuals and communities seek self-improvement, and thus the existence of a library is a mark of that goal. The institution of the library by the colonists was not precisely an attempt by the colonists to improve the lives of the island’s inhabitants, but more so because it was natural: one builds a town, and as it grows, it requires certain infrastructures, such as a city hall, a jail, and a library. They were accustomed to having them in England, so it would be natural to have them in home away from home – Antigua. But the library Kincaid speaks of is also a symbol of that colonialism. The library used to be orderly, and housed, as Kincaid puts it, “the fairy tale of how we met you, your right to do the things you did, how beautiful you were, are and always will be” (42). It was destroyed shortly before Antigua got its independence, and the “temporary” location of the library is now in a dilapidated building above a dry goods store, with hardly enough room to house the books it is entrusted with. The old library, like the old Antigua, was highly structured, an outside institution, beautiful to the casual observer, but had lies within. The new library is the product of the new Antigua, blatantly ineffective and still carrying remnants of the old regime – the books of the old library. As the inhabitants of the island know that their library is in desperate need of repair, they know the same of the government. And yet nobody moves to change it.

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What Makes Us Free?

This passage is important because it reveals a basic foundation of the new society in which Offred lives: individual freedoms, such as freedom of speech, must be sacrificed in order to create a “safer” society that does not contain many of the uncertainties of the previous society. Everyone has an assigned place within Gilead – they are Handmaids or Marthas or Wives or Angels or one of the many other positions created and maintained by the society. There is not the uncertainty of being unemployed or of finding one’s calling in life. They are free from fear of attacks that are common in today’s society: rape, mugging, random acts of violence, etc. As Offred says in reference to having to go shopping in twos for “protection”: “the notion is absurd: we are well protected already. The truth is that she is my spy, as I am hers.” (Atwood 19). The fear of being out alone, left over from life in the previous society, is being played in order to disguise the fact that the women are not trusted on their own. These freedoms they have, the “freedom from”, come at the expense of the “freedom to”, of their natural human rights and others we take for granted. If the women were not spied upon by each other, they might try to run away, to seek out those freedoms they are denied. This passage opens up the book by prompting the reader to examine the differences in the freedoms that Gilead offers and the freedoms it has taken away, and to consider which is more important to have – freedom to or freedom from.

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Appreciating Freedom

Freedom can be defined in many different ways, and used for many different things. In our society, and the society that Offred used to be a part of, we have “freedom to”, freedom to do what we want with our time, money, and bodies. The Republic of Gilead, however, is a society based on “freedom from”, freedom from fear, choice, and control. This is what Aunt Lydia was referring to with the passage “There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from.  In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to.  Now you are being given freedom from.  Don’t underrate it” (Atwood 24), and this is the central idea in the first half of this novel.

Offred’s narration of her life shows that she is now part of a society where she has very little freedom, but those adjusting her try to make it seem beneficial that she has freedom from control over her own body and actions, as well as freedom from thought. Offred describes how she “used to think of (her) body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will… one with me” (Atwood 72) but now she feels as if her body isn’t even hers. This shows how even the very basic freedom to control one’s own body has turned into a “freedom from”. She subjects to this control that is telling her this is right, thus turning herself into an object. She thinks back throughout this narration on her previous life, before The Republic of Gilead, when she had freedom to do with herself whatever she wished. As a young adult, she might have been promiscuous according to some standards, but she had the “freedom to”. I feel like Atwood’s message is everyone, especially women, should appreciate the freedoms we have over ourselves, because it can be too easy to turn the “freedom to” into the “freedom from”.

 

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Science, Society, and Humanity

I believe H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau undoubtedly falls under the category of science fiction. Science fiction is, as defined by Merriam Webster, “fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals”. During the Victorian era in which the story was written, many scientific discoveries were being made, and the literature of the time demonstrated the wonder they had for the scientific advances for the time, and the hope for the limitless bounds of those advances.

In The Island of Doctor Moreau, the title character uses a science known as vivisection to transform animals into humans. He does this repeatedly, and to his creations, he gives a set of laws, rules to keep them human-like: “Not to go on all-Fours”, “Not to suck up Drink”, “Not to eat Flesh or Fish”, “Not to claw Bark of Trees”, “Not to chase other Men” (Wells 43). With these rules, he binds them into their own society on the island – the creatures build dens and even marry. Thus, in one manner, Moreau’s experiments impact a newly formed society, that of the Beast-Men. They also impact the humans who live on the island, and must maintain a careful balance with the creatures. But they also pose a possibility for change in rest of society: there is an unspoken question in the novel of what would result were Moreau’s experiments to succeed 100%.

Though not officially a part of the science fiction genre, I believe all good science fiction, by introducing fictional beings, also makes the reader think about what makes us human, what separates us from all non-humans, real or imagined. The Island of Doctor Moreau certainly does that. In his explanation to Prendick, Moreau complains that despite his best efforts, there is “something I cannot touch, somewhere – I cannot determine where – in the seat of the emotions” (Wells 58). There is something not entirely right with his creations, something that keeps them separate from humans, and it is by the introduction of these creatures that we are made to consider why we are so different.

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