Thursday, December 25, 2008

George Orwell – Animal Farm: A Fairy Story

Having read much of Orwell’s other work and having heard about this book intermittently for years, I anticipated that this book would be tremendously profound and enjoyable. I was tremendously gratified to discover that this book lived up to my expectations and, despite its short length, managed to concisely and effectively communicate large, universal themes without relying on overstatement or clichés and while maintaining a savvy—if somewhat limited—sense of humour. Although it is marvelously relevant to the Russian Revolution and other similar situations, I find that it is wonderfully applicable to so many other elements of human life and human relationships. 

I was struck by so many phrases and situations in this book, but I will try to focus upon the most specific and memorable ones.

“There were only four dissidents, the three dogs and the cat, who was afterwards discovered to have voted on both sides” (6). Although I’m sure someone would object to the personification of the animals along traditional, stereotypical lines that magnify the flaws in some and the virtues of others that may be unfounded (such as the assumed natural intelligence of the pigs)—since this is effectively creating a natural hierarchy within the animal world that the story is built upon and which the plot consequently expounds. However, I was thrilled with his charming characterizations of each animal, and I wish it could have been a longer piece.

“And remember also that in fighting against Man, we must not come to resemble him. Even when you have conquered him, do not adopt his vices…All the habits of Man are evil” (6).

“The stupidest questions of all were asked by Mollie, the white mare. The very first question she asked Snowball was: ‘Will there still be sugar after the Rebellion?’

‘No,’ said Snowball firmly. ‘We have no means of making sugar on this farm. Besides, you do not need sugar. You will have all the oats and hay you want.’

‘And shall I still be allowed to wear ribbons in my mane?’ asked Mollie.

‘Comrade,’ said Snowball, ‘those ribbons that you are so devoted to are the badge of slavery. Can you not understand that liberty is worth more than ribbons?’ Mollie agreed, but she did not sound very convinced” (10).

Mollie “had taken a piece of blue ribbon from Mrs. Jones’s dressing-table, and was holding it against her shoulder and admiring herself in the glass in a very foolish manner” (14).

“Some hams hanging in the kitchen were taken out for burial” (14).

I also loved the fact that the Animalist guidelines were referred to as “Commandments” (15), which adds the critique of religion to this already-plentiful array of cultural assessments.

“Every mouthful of food was an acute positive pleasure, now that it was truly their own food, produced by themselves and for themselves, not doled out to them by a grudging master. With the worthless parasitical human beings gone, there was more for everyone to eat” (18).

Boxer “had made an arrangement with one of the cockerels to call him in the mornings half an hour earlier than anyone else, and would put in some volunteer labour at whatever seemed to be most needed, before the regular day’s work began. His answer to every problem, every setback, was ‘I will work harder!’—which he had adopted as his personal motto. But everyone worked according to his capacity” (18). It was at this point that I first felt the references to Russia to be somewhat obvious. They cry of “we will work harder” and the concept of each working to their own capacity is to me a clear reference to the mandates of Lenin and Stalin. Comments which indicate that “we [whoever ‘we’ might happen to be] have the hardest workers in the world” is to me a disturbing representation of a kind of mindless patriotism based upon feelings of superiority to other nations and other people. That is why I was so perturbed to hear John McCain spouting endlessly about the worth of the American worker, the value of American culture, and the validity of the American dream [since the American election of Barack Obama was so recent, I can’t help but be reminded of this particularly recent event]. His promises were no doubt intended to bolster the average American and therefore secure votes through a feeling of self-worth, but they came off to me as empty promises and a xenophobic, isolated perspective with no idea that the world outside America is full of other people who are equal- if not better- workers, parents, companions, and basic human beings. The focus upon work is obviously necessary in order to accomplish great things, but it is in the definition of the people as “good workers” rather than “good people” or members of stable families that connects this book with the Russian Revolution and all other incidents in human history in which power and corruption overrun the potential of society as a whole regardless of its inherent worth and virtue.

I particularly loved the indefatigable character of Benjamin and his perpetually cynical but realistic attitude. It says something that the one with most wisdom is not necessarily the loudest or most charming, and that cynicism is not always inappropriate.

“Benjamin could read as well as any pig, but never exercised his faculty. So far as he knew, he said, there was nothing worth reading. Clover learnt the whole alphabet, but could not put words together. Boxer could not get beyond the letter D. He would trace A, B, C, D in the dust with his great hoof, and then would stand staring at the letters with his ears back, sometimes shaking his forelock, trying with all his might to remember what came next and never succeeding…Mollie refused to learn any but the five letters which spelt her own name. She would form these very neatly out of pieces of twig, and would then decorate them with a flower or two and walk round them admiring them” (21).

“The animals had assumed as a matter of course that [the apples] would be shared out equally; one day, however, the order went forth that all the windfalls were to be collected and brought to the harness-room for the use of the pigs…Squealer was sent to make the necessary explanations to the others [I particularly love the use of the word ‘necessary’, as it perfectly captures the feeling that the welfare of the leader’s regime is the only thing that matters]... ‘Comrades!’ he cried… ‘Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science,  comrades [I adore the capitalization of “Science” here]) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers…Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back!’…When it was put to them in this light, they had no more to say. The importance of keeping the pigs in good health was too obvious. So it was agreed without further argument that the milk and the windfall apples (and also the main crop of apples when they ripened) should be reserved for the pigs alone” (23). As the prologue of my edition states, I see this to be the turning point of the story. It is the moment in which the true corruption either begins or is applied to the entire population, and is the beginning of a downslide that can only result in the destruction of their communal dream. If one breaks the rules—no matter how important they might be—the entire moral structure is threatened or even invalidated.

“Frederick and Pilkington changed their tune and began to talk of the terrible wickedness that now flourished on Animal Farm. It was given out that the animals there practiced cannibalism, tortured one another with red-hot horseshoes and had their females in common. This is what came of rebelling against the laws of Nature, Frederick and Pilkington said” (25). I personally love the fact that these are all common practices of farmers toward their livestock. The feeding of diseased, discarded animal flesh to other animals is a prime cause of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow disease) and has taken place even recently on apparently “civilized” farms (and is itself not always discouraged outside of the fear of its medical consequences). The torturing of hot iron is essentially the same as branding, and I’ve never known a farmer to mate an animal exclusively with just one partner of their species for any reason other than genetic preferability.

“I forgot that I was wearing iron shoes. Who will believe that I did not do this on purpose?” (28).

“Without saying anything to the others she went to Mollie’s stall and turned over the straw with her hoof. Hidden under the straw was a little pile of lump sugar and several bunches of ribbon of different colours. Three days later Mollie disappeared” (30,31).

I also loved their divisive slogans of “‘Vote for Snowball and the three-day week’ and “Vote for Napoleon and the full manger’” (33,34). I was even more impressed to read that the eternal pessimist Benjamin “refused to believe either that food would become more plentiful or that the windmill would save work. Windmill or no windmill, he said, life would go one as it had always gone on- that is, badly” (34).

“they were the puppies whom Napoleon had taken away from their mothers and reared privately…they were huge dogs, and as fierce-looking as wolves. They kept close to Napoleon. It was noticed that they wagged their tails to him in the same way as the other dogs had been used to do to Mr Jones” (36). I found this to be a significant passage as well. Not only did Napoleon essentially make for himself a private army, but this was one of the first clear signs that he was becoming like the humans he fervently preached against, reinforced by the abolishment of public input in decision-making and the establishment of the panel of pigs (under his control, of course) which would make all important decisions from that point on.

I particularly enjoyed the heavily-referential and pointed language of the following passage: “‘Comrades,’ [Squealer] said, ‘I trust that every animal here appreciates the sacrifice that Comrade Napoleon has made in taking this extra labour upon himself. Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure! On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Naploleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?...Discipline, comrades, iron discipline! That is the watchword for today. One false step, and our enemies would be upon us’… if the holding of debates on Sunday mornings was liable to bring him back then the debates must stop. Boxer, who had now had time to think things over, voiced the general feeling by saying: ‘If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right,’ And from then on he adopted the maxim, ‘Napoleon is always right,’ in addition to his private motto of ‘I will work harder’” (37, 38). I found this entire section to be quite masterful- especially the delightfully unabashed announcement that it would henceforth be a totalitarian existence, and the assertion that its leader was bearing a heavy burden of service when in reality they were simply taking advantage of whatever degree of power they could obtain. Even more interesting is the happy declaration that the leader must make all future decisions because the citizens can’t be trusted to think for themselves. Of course in this case many of them weren’t even cognizant enough to recognize that their rights were being removed or to understand or remember the details of previous decisions, but the importance of this message is in no way diminished by this fact. I also loved the quote that “if the holding of debates on Sunday mornings was liable to bring [Jones] back then the debates must stop” (37).  Boxer’s determination that “Napoleon says always right” in addition to his commitment to always working harder really crystallizes the blind devotion of those too unaware or too blithely dedicated to recognize the forces at work behind their heroes and otherwise-innocent principles. The simplicity and clarity of this phrase is wonderful, and I love that Boxer—the representation of honesty, sincerity, devotion and good intentions—is the one to promote it and thereby unknowingly encourage Napoleon further abusing his power.

I really enjoyed how Orwell illustrated the misleading and sly techniques of misinformation and social control. The steady processes by which the people’s minds are slowly manipulated and the leader’s principles [not to mention the mental subjugation required for followers to sincerely and willingly call him “Leader” (45)] are instilled is fascinating and although the timeline of this story is clearly accelerated to fit into a compressed format, I think the representations are accurate enough (and are particularly relevant, in my opinion, in the use of language and literacy to control the population and collective memory, and consequently, collective beliefs). The technique of making someone doubt their own mind is a powerful and subversive tool, and is present in general society in more ways than most people would like to think. It’s therefore comforting to see it illuminated so expressly and to have it recognized for what it is, and this is one of the first examples given in which this occurs: “[Squealer] assured them that the resolution against engaging in trade and using money had never been passed, or even suggested. It was pure imagination, probably traceable in the beginning to lies circulated by Snowball. A few animals still felt faintly doubtful, but Squealer asked them shrewdly, ‘Are you certain that this is not something that you have dreamed, comrades? Have you any record of such a resolution? It is written down anywhere? And since it was certainly true that nothing of the kind existed in writing, the animals were satisfied that they had been mistaken” (44). 

“Napoleon paced to and fro in silence, occasionally snuffing at the ground. His tail had grown rigid and twitched sharply from side to side, a sign in him of intense mental activity” (47).

“‘we know now-it is all written down in the secret documents that we have found-that in reality he was trying to lure us to our doom’” (54). What, exactly, were these documents presumed to have been? Secret correspondence between the farmer and Snowball? Snowball’s secret diary? I love that the lies don’t even have to make sense because Squealer can convince them of anything regardless of how ridiculous it is. It’s a pretty appropriate illustration of how dictatorships and totalitarian regimes work, though, because the important thing is not to understand, but to obey and repeat the party line.

“when Squealer described the scene so graphically, it seemed to the animals that they did remember it. At any rate, they remembered that at the critical moment of the battle Snowball had turned to flee… ‘I do not believe that Snowball was a traitor at the beginning,’ [Boxer] said finally… ‘Comrade Napoleon’ announced Squealer, ‘has stated categorically…that Snowball was Jones’s agent from the very beginning’… ‘Ah, that is different!’ said Boxer. If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.’ ‘That is the true spirit!’ cried Squealer” (55).

Furthermore, I find it hilarious and compelling that Napoleon awards himself medals and the highest honours for no particular reason (55). This personifies (and exemplifies) the opinion such leaders have of themselves, and further demonstrates the insignificance and ultimate uselessness of the grand, overwhelming systems they have built and utterly believe will remain in place for the rest of humanity’s existence.

“The dog shrieked for mercy and…Boxer looked to Napoleon to know whether he should crush the dog to death or let it go…Boxer lifted his hoof, and the dog slunk away, bruised and howling” (56).

I also enjoyed the inclusion of the various confessions sprinkled throughout the book- both those which were forced, and those which seemed to come of the confessor’s deluded belief that they had actually committed some crime. Confessions, spying, and other tools of controlling the citizenry are key elements of regimes such as that of Animal Farm [or as it is later renamed, ‘Manor Farm’], and they are a small but significant element in the work, for they further reinforce the relationship between the leader and his people and the environment of fear he seeks to promote and perpetuate. This is also a fundamental part of 1984, and is an essential component of both.

“Without any further prompting [the four young pigs attacked by the dogs] confessed… When they had finished their confession the dogs promptly tore their throats out…the tale of confessions and executions went on, until there was a pile of corpses lying before Napoleon’s feet and the air was heavy with the smell of blood” (56,57).

I also appreciate (and find quite necessary) Orwell’s description of Napoleon’s followers’ reactions to these occurrences. “They were shaken and miserable. They did not know which was more shocking- the treachery of the animals who had leagued themselves with Snowball, or the cruel retribution they had just witnessed” (57). It is both charming and obviously saddening to see Boxer’s reaction, for it describes so perfectly the internal struggle fought by those who can sense that things aren’t right but don’t have the will or the capacity to demand that things be made right; in this way the animals’ thoughts and perceptions—particularly Boxer, as he is such a simple, dedicated worker who personifies the ideal follower who dreams of a better life and trusts the leader to ensure he will receive it. “He fidgeted to and fro, swishing his long black tail… Finally he said: ‘I do not understand it. I would not have believed that such things could happen on our farm. It must be due to some fault in ourselves. To solution, as I see it, is to work harder. From now onwards I shall get up a full hour earlier in the mornings’” (57). I love this passage not only because it illustrates the effectiveness of the mantra that work will solve all problems, but it also demonstrates the complete and implicit trust the followers have in their leader. It does not even enter Boxer’s head that the leader could be wrong—much less corrupt and intentionally committing these acts with the knowledge that they went against the very principles of their society—and his blind dedication is the only reason any society with a structure like this could ever survive. However, it is shocking to realize that complacency and ignorance are a fundamental part of every society, and that governments and leaders (even—or perhaps especially—today) are permitted to do things that their citizens would normally oppose or steadfastly refuse to allow.

“As Clover looked down the hillside her eyes filled with tears. If she could have spoken her thoughts, it would have been to say that this was not what they had aimed at when they had set themselves years ago to work for the overthrow of the human race. These scenes of terror and slaughter were not what they had looked forward to on that night when old Major first stirred them to rebellion. If she herself had had any picture of the future, it had been of a society of animals set free from hunger and the whip, all equal, each working according to his capacity, the strong protecting the weak, as she had protected the lost brood of ducklings with her foreleg on the night of Major’s speech…Whatever happened she would remain faithful, work hard, carry out the orders that were given to her, and accept the leadership of Napoleon. But still, it was not for this that she and all the other animals had hoped and toiled… Such were her thoughts, though she lacked the words to express them” (58,59). 

Furthermore, I find the sheep with their constant bleating of the “four legs good, two legs bad” [not to mention the later mantra of two legs better] to be an ideal and savvy representation of how the minor details and weapons of the regime can end up being the reason the leader succeeds. Throughout the story the sheep’s repetitive bleating of this simple indoctrinating ideology either distracts the animals from their attempts to create dissent or suitably interrupts the flow of argument so that any rebellious attitudes are abandoned, and is therefore an adept metaphor for both the simple and the more complicated tools through which such brainwashing and convincing can be achieved and applied. “Napoleon was better at canvassing support for himself in between times. He was especially successful with the sheep. Of late the sheep had taken to bleating ‘Four legs good, two legs bad’ both in and out of season, and they often interrupted the Meeting with this. It was noticed that they were especially liable to break into ‘Four legs good, two legs bad’ at crucial moments in Snowball’s speeches” (31,32). Even the simple pageantry and minimal compensation of medals, awards, speeches, marches, uniforms, and gatherings serve to fortify this feeling of camaraderie and success in even the most abysmal, abusive and essentially hopeless group. In their desire to be appreciated and their quest for a sense of belonging, people often accept poor substitutes for what they truly desire, for in the end, some compensation often seems better than acknowledging that your dream has failed and your happy ending might never arrive. Therefore although they are stripped of their encouraging song “Beasts of England” (59) and are forced to accept the meager substitute of the short “Animal Farm” poem, and even though “somehow neither the words nor the tune ever seemed to the animals to come up to ‘Beasts of England’” (60), they accept it as inevitable and simply learn to do without even the paltry comforts they had enjoyed previously. Like the inability to remember whether the past had indeed been worse because the intense desire for success is actually permitting the false illusion of improvement to go unchallenged and unrecognized (with some help from Squealer’s creative accounting skills), this slow acceptance of the new way as perpetually better, regardless of evidence to the contrary, is a remarkable development in the creation of a regime and allows any number of sins to go unnoticed or be forgiven.

“some of the animals remembered-or thought they remembered-that the Sixth Commandment decreed: ‘No animal shall kill any other animal.’ And though no one cared to mention it in the hearing of the pigs or the dogs, it was felt that the killings which had taken place did not square with this…[when they looked at the list on the barn] It ran: ‘No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.’ Somehow or other the last two words had slipped out of the animals’ memory. But they saw now that the Commandment had not been violated; for clearly there was a good reason for killing the traitors who had leagued themselves with Snowball” (61).

“On Sunday mornings Squealer, holding down a long strip of paper with his trotter, would read out to them lists of figures proving that the production of every class of food-stuff had increased by two hundred per cent, three hundred percent, or five hundred percent, as the case might be. The animals saw no reason to disbelieve him, especially as they could no longer remember very clearly what conditions had been like before the Rebellion. All the same, there were days when they felt that they would sooner have had less figures and more food” (62).

“All orders were now issued through Squealer or one of the other pigs. Napoleon himself was not seen in public as often as once in a fortnight. When he did appear he was attended not only by his retinue of dogs but by a black cockerel who marched in front of him and acted as a kind of trumpeter, letting out a loud ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’ before Napoleon spoke. Even in the farmhouse, it was said, Napoleon inhabited separate apartments from the others. He took his meals alone, with two dogs to wait upon him, and always ate from the Crown Derby dinner service which had been in the glass cupboard in the drawing room. It was also announced that the gun would be fired every year on Napoleon’s birthday, as well as on the other two anniversaries” (62). Ah…the subtleties of the power-hungry dictator.

“Napoleon was now never spoken of simply as ‘Napoleon’. He was always referred to in formal style as ‘our Leader, Comrade Napoleon’, and the pigs like to invent for him such titles as Father of All Animals, Terror of Mankind, Protector of the Sheepfold, Ducklings’ Friend, and the like. In his speeches Squealer would talk with the tears rolling down his cheeks of Napoleon’s wisdom, the goodness of his heart, and the deep love he bore toward animals everywhere, even and especially the unhappy animals who still lived in ignorance and slavery on other farms. It had become usual to give Napoleon the credit for every successful achievement and every stroke of good fortune. You would often hear one hen remark to another, ‘Under the guidance of our Leader, Comrade Napoleon, I have laid five eggs in six days’; or two cows, enjoying a drink at the pool, would exclaim, ‘Thanks to the leadership of Comrade Napoleon, how excellent this water tastes!’ The general feeling on the farm was expressed in a poem entitled ‘Comrade Napoleon’…and [Napoleon] caused it to be inscribed on the wall of the big barn, at the opposite end from the Seven Commandments. It was surmounted by a portrait of Napoleon, in profile, executed in Squealer in white paint” (63).

“The pigeons had been told to avoid Pitchfield Farm and to alter their slogan from ‘Death to Frederick’ to ‘Death to Pilkington’” (66).

“The pigs were in ecstasies over Napoleon’s cunning…the superior quality of Napoleon’s mind, said Squealer, was shown in the fact that he trusted nobody, not even Frederick. Frederick had wanted to pay for the timber with something called a cheque, which it seemed was a piece of paper with a promise to pay written upon it. But Napoleon was too clever for him. He had demanded payment in real five-pound notes, which were to be handed over before the timber was removed” (67).

“Smiling beatifically, and wearing both his decorations, Napoleon reposed on a bed of straw on the platform, with the money at his side, neatly piled on a china dish from the farmhouse kitchen. The animals filed slowly past, and each gazed his fill. And Boxer put out his nose to sniff at the bank-notes, and the flimsy white things stirred and rustled in his breath” (67).

“Squealer, who had unaccountably been absent during the fighting, came skipping towards them, whisking his tail and beaming with satisfaction. And the animals heard, from the direction of the farm buildings, the solemn booming of a gun.

‘What is that gun firing for?’ said Boxer.

‘To celebrate our victory!’ cried Squealer.

‘What victory?’ said Boxer. His knees were bleeding, he had lost a shoe and split his hoof, and a dozen pellets had lodged themselves in his hind leg.

‘What victory, comrade? Have we not driven the enemy off our soil-the sacred soil of Animal Farm?’

‘But they have destroyed the windmill. And we had worked on it for two years!’

‘What matter? We will build another windmill. We will build six windmills if we feel like it. You do not appreciate, comrade, the mighty thing that we have done. The enemy was in occupation of this very ground that we stand upon. And now-thanks to the leadership of Comrade Napoleon-we have won every inch of it back again!’

‘Then we have won back what we had before,’ said Boxer.

‘That is our victory,’ said Squealer.

They limped into the yard… [Boxer] saw ahead of him the heavy labour of rebuilding the windmill from the foundations, and already in imagination he braced himself for the task. But for the first time it occurred to him that he was eleven years old and that perhaps his great muscles were not quite what they had once been” (70,71).

“It was announced…that Napoleon had created a new decoration, the Order of the Green Banner, which he had conferred upon himself” (72).

“It was a few days later than this that the pigs came upon a case of whisky in the cellars of the farmhouse…At about half-past nine Napoleon, wearing an old bowler hat of Mr Jones’s, was distinctly seen to emerge from the back door, gallop rapidly round the yard and disappear indoors again…[Squealer] called the animals together and told them that he had a terrible piece of news to impart. Comrade Napoleon was dying! A cry of lamentation went up. Straw was laid down outside the doors of the farmhouse, and the animals walked on tiptoe…As his last act upon earth, Comrade Napoleon had pronounced a solemn decree: the drinking of alcohol was to be punished by death…[the next] day Napoleon was back at work, and on the next day it was learned that he had instructed Whymper to purchase in Willington some booklets on brewing and distilling…a few days later Muriel, reading over the Seven Commandments to herself, noticed that there was yet another of them which the animals had remembered wrong. They had though that the Fifth Commandment was ‘No animal shall drink alcohol’, but there were two words that they had forgotten. Actually the Commandment read: ‘No animals shall drink alcohol to excess’” (72,73).

“For the time being, certainly, it had been found necessary to make a readjustment of rations (Squealer always spoke of it as a ‘readjustment’, never as a ‘reduction’), but in comparison with the days of Jones the improvement was enormous. Reading out the figures in a shrill rapid voice, he proved to them in detail that they had more oats, more hay, more turnips than they had had in Jones’s day, that they worked shorter hours, that their drinking water was of better quality, that they lived longer, that a larger proportion of their young ones survived infancy, and that they had more straw in their stalls and suffered less from fleas. The animals believed every word of it…But doubtless it had been worse in the old days. They were glad to believe so. Besides, in those days they had been slaves and now they were free, and that made all the difference, as Squealer did not fail to point out” (75).

“[The pigs] took their exercise in the garden, and were discouraged from playing with the other young animals. About this time, too, it was laid down as a rule that when a pig and any other animal met on the path, the other animal must stand aside: and also that all pigs, of whatever degree, were to have the privilege of wearing green ribbons on their tails on Sundays” (76). I like this element of ethnocentrism too…it really completes the metaphor.

“Napoleon had commanded that once a week there should be held something called a Spontaneous Demonstration, the object of which was to celebrate the struggles and triumphs of Animal Farm…by and large the animals enjoyed these celebrations. They found it comforting to be reminded that, after all, they were truly their own masters and that the work they did was for their own benefit…So that what with [the Demonstrations], they were able to forget that their bellies were empty, at least part of the time” (77).  Propaganda is always such an indispensable tool for controlling and manipulating the population.

Despite his irritatingly naïve nature, Boxer is such a charming and inherently doomed character. When he falls he says, “ ‘I had only another month to go in any case. To tell you the truth I had been looking forward to my retirement. And perhaps, as Benjamin is growing old too, they will let him retire at the same time and be a companion to me’” (80). For me, the most depressing element is not that Boxer is destined to face a heart-breaking realization—or, at the very least, be profoundly disappointed and confused that the promises he depended upon were just an illusion—but his wish that they would allow him to remain next to Benjamin. Not only is he stripped of his life and his so incredibly-deserved retirement, but he is robbed of his dear friend as well, and even the opportunity to say a proper goodbye and spend his remaining hours peacefully among loved ones. Even his meager dreams are refused him; “Boxer professed not to be sorry for what had happened. If he made a good recovery he might expect to live another three years, and he looked forward to the peaceful days that he would spend in the corner of the big pasture. It would be the first time that he had had leisure to study and improve his mind. He intended, he said, to devote the rest of his life to learning the remaining twenty-two letters of the alphabet” (81). I find this last sentence to be one of the most charming in the entire book, although it inevitably brings forth the concepts of intellectual superiority and the unfortunate trend that has occurred (particularly with globalization and its consequent sharing of language and potential for increased knowledge and competition), in which natural intelligence is mistaken for virtue and those with natural gifts are treated better than those who worked harder but couldn’t match their competitors’ inherent capabilities.

As dismal and depressing as it may be, I love the scene in which “The animals crowded round the van. ‘Good-bye, Boxer!’ they chorused, ‘good-bye!’

‘Fools! Fools!’ shouted Benjamin, prancing round them and stamping the earth with his small hoofs. ‘Fools! Do you not see what is written on the side of that van?’…in the midst of a deadly silence he read:… ‘Horse Slaughterer and Glue Boiler’…Boxer was trying to kick his way out. The time had been when a few kicks from Boxer’s hoofs would have smashed the van to matchwood. But alas! his strength had left him; and in a few moments the sound of drumming hoofs grew fainter and died away…Boxer was never seen again” (81,82,83). Ironically now that they have used up his strength, he can no longer escape their grasp which he had until that moment chosen for himself. It’s tragic that our own actions often result in our destruction, and had we made a different choice at the crucial moment we would have been saved.

Furthermore, Squealer steals the one redeeming consequence of Boxer’s death, which is the opportunity to enlighten the animals and expose their leader for what he truly was. Much like he does in other works, Orwell chooses to represent one ideal or realization as the embodiment of salvation, and then slowly pulls it from the grasp of his characters as the reader witnesses their descent into a doom that only they can anticipate, and is forced to hope until the last moment that they will be released from the terrible clutches of fate and recognize the truth that lies just beyond their reach. It is very beautiful, well-crafted and magnificently sad, and is eerily similar to his final scene in 1984.

“Squealer…had, he said, been present during Boxer’s last hours… ‘At the end, almost too weak to speak, [Boxer] whispered in my ear that his sole sorrow was to have passed on before the windmill was finished. ‘Forward, comrades!’ he whispered. ‘Forward in the name of the Rebellion. Long live Animal Farm! Long live Comrade Napoleon! Napoleon is always right.’ Those were his very last words, comrades.’” (83).

“The windmill had been successfully completed at last... [but] had not after all been used for generating electrical power. It was used for milling corn, and brought in a handsome money profit…the luxuries of which Snowball had once taught the animals to dream, the stalls with electric light and hot and cold water, and the three day week, were no longer talked about. Napoleon had denounced such ideas as contrary to the spirit of Animalism. The truest happiness, he said, lay in working hard and living frugally” (86).

“Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer-except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs. Perhaps this was partly because there were so many pigs and so many dogs. It was not that these creatures did not work, after their fashion…the pigs had to expend enormous labours every day upon mysterious things called ‘files’, ‘reports’, ‘minutes’ and ‘memoranda’. These were large sheets of paper which had to be closely covered with writing, and as soon as they were so covered they were burnt in the furnace. This was of the highest importance for the welfare of the farm, Squealer said. But still, neither pigs nor dogs produced any food by their own labour; and there were very many of them, and their appetites were always good” (86,87).

“Only old Benjamin professed to remember every detail of his long life and to know that things never had been, nor ever could be, much better or much worse-hunger, hardship and disappointment being, so he said, the unalterable law of life” (87).

“And yet the animals never gave up hope. More, they never lost, even for an instant, their sense of honour and privilege in being members of Animal Farm…their hearts swelled with imperishable pride, and the talk turned always towards the old heroic days, the expulsion of Jones, the writing of the Seven Commandments, the great battles in which the human invaders had been defeated. None of the old dreams had been abandoned... it may be that their lives were hard and that not all of their hopes had been fulfilled, but they were conscious that they were not as other animals…No creature among them went upon two legs. No creature called any other creature ‘Master’. All animals were equal” (87,88).

“The sheep spent the whole day there browsing at the leaves under Squealer’s supervision…He was, he said, teaching them to sing a new song, for which privacy was needed…It was just after the sheep had returned…that the terrified neighing of a horse sounded from the yard. Startled, the animals stopped in their tracks. It was Clover’s voice…all the animals broke into a gallop and rushed into the yard. Then they saw what Clover had seen. It was a pig walking on his hind legs…finally there was a tremendous baying of dogs and a shrill crowing from the black cockerel, and out came Napoleon himself, majestically upright, casting haughty glances from side to side, and with his dogs gamboling round him. He carried a whip in his trotter… as though at a signal, all the sheep burst out into a tremendous bleating of- ‘Four legs good, two legs better!” (88,89).

“Without saying anything she tugged gently at his mane and led him round to the end of the big barn, where the Seven Commandments were written… ‘My sight is failing,’ she said finally…But it appears to me that the wall looks different. Are the Seven Commandements the same as they used to be, Benjamin?’ For once Benjamin consented to break his rule, and he read out to her what was written on the wall. There was nothing there now except a single Commandment. It ran:




After that it did not seem strange when next day the pigs who were supervising the work of the farm all carried whips in their trotters…

A deputation of neighbouring farmers had been invited to make a tour of inspection…That evening loud laughter and bursts of singing came from the farmhouse…[the animals] peered in at the dining-room window…There, round the long table, sat half a dozen farmers and half a dozen of the more eminent pigs, Napoleon himself occupying the seat of honour at the head of the table…as the animals outside gazed at the scene, it seemed to them that some strange thing was happening. What was it that had altered in the faces of the pigs?...what was it that seemed be melting and changing?...a violent quarrel was in progress. There were shoutings, bangings on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials…Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which” (90,91,94).

This is such a poignant and beautiful ending, and completely and eloquently encompasses the themes that have dictated the story’s previous sections. Napoleon’s reinstatement of the title “Manor Farm” is an effective and clever device that communicates the point extremely well and is very impressive. I was thrilled to see such a profoundly perfect ending to such a wonderful book, and I look forward to reviewing his others.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Evelyn Waugh - Brideshead Revisited

Although I found it to be inconsistent, I enjoyed this book. It was so poignantly moving and emotionally honest at moments, but occasionally forayed into long descriptions and discussion that were distracting and didn't really add to or improve the story.
I also feel it is unfortunate that there is no clear conclusion about Sebastian, since I think we was one of the more interesting and potentially important characters in this work.
I found Waugh's habit of introducing the reader midway through the story to be somewhat disorienting and unsettling at times.  While I've encountered this convention before, and I do appreciate his efforts to recapitulate what has occurred in the time since the last chapter or event and how they connect, I might have enjoyed it more without this occasional breaking of fluency (although I wouldn't change the overall perspective of the book as having taken place in the past for a man who is revisiting Brideshead in the present. That I did enjoy- it was simply the various smaller diversions- such as the unexpected introduction of Julia at parts out of context and the progression of their relationship being expressed primarily through vague flashbacks and conversations- that really irked me.)
I particularly enjoyed the subtle humor and wit of Waugh's in phrases such as the following: "'Give him time. I've known worse cases make beautiful deaths'" (311). 
Furthermore, I found Lord Marchmain's deathbed conversion to be somewhat contrived (much like the ultimate unexpected and anachronistic endings that were often stuck on the end of the Marquis de Sade's work and seemed utterly unsuitable for his entire stories but were nevertheless attached, I presumed, to please the Church, government and society that still refused to endorse his writing). I would have felt this work to be much more cohesive and integrated if Marchmain had not repented [and for Charles not to have changed his mind at the last moment about Marchmain's conversion, for that matter] with no discernable explanation or rationale.  
Ultimately, I like the book but I hope his other works entail the best styles and themes from this one, and a minimum of the cluttered and inexeplicably fragmented writing that I feel damaged this text and made it much less readable and enjoyable.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Niels Hoyer (ed) - Man Into Woman: The First Sex Change

Man into Woman: The First Sex Change- a Portrait of Lili Elbe. 
I was very interested to find out about how sex changes were treated in the 1920s and '30s, particularly considering the lack of both medical knowledge and general acceptance (in European culture, at least) of multiple gender identities. 
First- on a trivial note- I was interested to read the phrase "throw up the sponge" (34). I'm familiar with the colloquialism "throw in the towel", but this was entirely strange to me. [According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the phrase was used in 1860 in the same way as "throw in the towel" is used now- to submit, or give in- and referred to "the practice of throwing up the sponge used to clean the combatants' faces, at a prize-fight, as a signal that the 'mill' is concluded"]. 
I loved the reference to feeling like "a wretched grub which is waiting to become a butterfly" (34). What a beautiful phrase.
"The reason why he [Andreas] turned his back in early manhood on Copenhagen...was because...In Copenhagen he had frequently been obliged to hear how much his pictures were preferred to those of his wife. And that was perhaps the worst thing that could be said to him. In Paris, where the contrary was generally the case, he felt at home for this very reason. He felt his wife's successes as his own successes, for his dominant characteristic was chivalry towards his wife, as towards women generally" (42). [As he wrote this himself as a prospective obituary, I can only presume that this was a legitimate and sincere intimation]. What a completely charming and lovely person! I don't know if his inherent tendency toward feminine empowerment or his sensitive side was partly  responsible for this chivalry, but he seems to me to be wonderful. I've only known a couple of people in life who have exhibited this, and it is unusual enough even in fiction. I expected to discover in this book the story of a struggle toward achieving identity, but I never anticipated finding such a marvelous personality on its own. 
Here's another outdated phrase; "neck or nothing!" (52) [occasionally "neck or nought"]. According to the OED, it is "determination and readiness to venture everything or to take all risks", or as a noun, "a situation requiring such determination". This makes perfect sense, and it's actually quite a charming phrase also.
I enjoy the delicate and gentil writing, such as "received Andreas in a very considerate manner. He put a series of questions which, although of a delicate nature, were answered by Andreas without the least hesitation...Andreas exerted all his will-power to exclude thought" (52).  
Ironically enough, the patient himself seems to be sensitive to, shocked by, and even mildly intolerant toward other people struggling with their own gender identities. "He felt intensely uncomfortable. In this large room a group of abnormal persons seemed to be holding a meeting-women who appeared to be dressed up as men, and men of whom one could scarcely believe that they were men. The manner in which they were conversing disgusted him; their movements, their voices, the way in which they were attired, produced a feeling of nausea" (54). 
I love the exaggeration inherent to such Victorian-era (and post-Victorian literature) such as "The shame of shamelessness is something that actually an effort to banish the feeling he had of standing there as if in the pillory. His emotional life was undergoing an ordeal which resembled running the gauntlet. And when this torture [an investigation into his emotional and psychologial state of "a thousand penetrating questions"] came at last to an end, the inquisitor dismissed him" (54,55). Awesome.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Steve Dublanica (The Waiter) - Waiter Rant

Having read in its entirety, I was very interested to finally read the book. However, I soon discovered that unlike the blog, which was primarily focused around the food service industry itself, the book tends to reflect quite a bit on the author's life. Perhaps it just seems this way because a blog is expected to be personal and heavily biographical, but in any case, I was disappointed to discover that the content of the book wasn't proportional to that of the blog. For instance, rather than creating a balanced perspective of fellow waitstaff, management and customers along with a picture of his own life and foray into the world of writing, this seemed to follow the waiter himself through his travels at the expense of the amusing and informative stories that attracted me to the blog in the first place (for example, a lot of attention was paid to the development of the book, although I noticed a distinct and somewhat surprising absence of fantasies about red-headed women with belly-button rings). A lot of the material in the book is fairly general, and I find that a lot of it was transmitted just as effectively (and more interestingly) through specific stories and restaurant interactions. Furthermore, the characters and relationships portrayed were some of the more dysfunctional ones, which gave the book a rather pessimistic feel rather than the philosophical and quixotic perspective I noticed online. Simply, I think I would have preferred more condensed reference to the staff and more in-depth attention to the varied array of customers and how you as a server interact with them.
It was quite good- don't get me wrong- but I can't help noticing the ways in which it could have been even better.
Having said that, I have some particular comments about the book.
"The world's a big place. You can't do or be everything, nor should you. Life is bigger than any one man. But when you read about other people's lives, when you read their stories, you catch a glimpse of a world bigger than your own. You may never travel a hundred miles from where you were born, but if you read stories, you'll get to see the entire world. You'll enter into the Great Mystery" (189).
Alternately, "'People say you have to travel to see the world. Sometimes I think that if you just stay in one place and keep your eyes open, you're going to see just about all that you can handle'" - Auggie Wren from Smoke (191).
I was a little surprised to read that The Waiter comments that "doctors say one or two drinks a day are actually good for you" (213), which is apparently true of protection against heart disease, ischemic stroke or dementia, but is also being increasingly contrasted with studies that indicate that it's a fine line and that even marginally exceeding the limit may even endanger your health in general. Besides an increased risk of "cancers of the mouth, esophagus, liver, bladder, pancreas, and colon" from even moderate consumption- and this data about breast cancer- there are the obvious concerns about "liver disease, damage to the brain and pancreas, and hemorrhagic stroke", damaging heart muscle, and the obvious and immediate results of drinking that can have terrible consequences of their own. (
Furtermore I was very surprised to notice that according to this site: , Canadian recommendations for alcohol consumption appear to be half of what is suggested in the United States (for men). I find the notion of two drinks a day to be quite excessive- perhaps I'm overly-uptight, but it does add up quite quickly to a large number of units.
In any case-particularly considering recent evidence that links alcohol consumption to high rates of breast cancer in women with certain genetics- I would be conservative rather than liberal about safe alcohol consumption limits. The highest recommended level I've found (from American authorities) is 2 drinks/day for a male (1/day for females) - but note that this is referring a specific number of alcoholic units and can increase significantly (and inobtrusively) with even a few drinks being turned into doubles or a couple of nights a week becoming binge nights. So beware, everyone out there- there is some evidence that alcohol can help you, but there is a lot of evidence that too much can hurt you. So be careful!
I was also a little surprised to discover that The Waiter himself commits many of these sins himself. Lateness, abusing his power to monopolize the POS computer (particularly my least favorite- logging out other workers while they were placing an order) and other things can only foster a sense of resentment. For all his bluster about poor management, these things go beyond just annoying personality quirks or habits- these are the kind of things that bump you from the category of "annoying coworker" to, well.. something I won't type here. Furthermore, I don't care HOW big an emergency it is- bumping other servers (especially physically) can only destroy the flow of the restaurant and inevitably disrupt the harmony of the servers. Even the Waiter's admitting to intentional flatulence didn't really bother me THAT much- since repressed resentment has to come out somehow, and it's better than spitting in someone's food- but this has effectively worsened my opinion of him personally. The worst part, however? After acknowledging these things, he excuses having lied about a dropped tampon by declaring that it's her fault because she didn't keep her "bodily functions private" (236). I assure you that if the Waiter were a female, he would be complaining about menstruation as vociferously as anyone else (judging by the myriad of other things he openly admits to complaining about), but mostly, it's so petty to justify his actions by blaming women for carrying tampons. If it weren't tampons, I'm sure he would tell her she had toilet paper stuck to her shoe- which would conveniently work any time of month.
In any case, I was a little saddened to discover that the inherent dignity I thought I had detected in his blog was either intermittent or gives way under pressure- either way, it's sad to hear that even The Waiter subscribes to the same levels of petty and unkind behavior he so harshly judges others for. And I don't care if "not doing something you're not supposed to be doing isn't a sign of virtue. But in the restaurant business it almost is" (236), because this isn't about business, and it isn't about compensating on the job for what you've suffered. It's about treating fellow human beings with some respect, and every time you bump another server- physically or otherwise- doesn't help to fix whatever suffering you've endured. It simply denigrates you to the level of those you feel you're superior to.
Furthermore, I'm pretty sure that when you promised Russell Crowe that you'd never write about him again (239), he didn't care whether or not your fingers were crossed- mentally or otherwise- and I'm guessing that he wasn't just talking about your blog. You may have waited for the book, but I'm guessing that putting something into the indelibility of print impresses him even less than a blog. Just a thought.
As painful as it must be to hunt all over the restaurant for printer ribbon- at least you should be glad to find some, even if it is beside the dried pasta (244). It sure beats running frantically to the closest store to buy basic supplies because your boss is incapable of ordering proper amounts and refuses to let you control the ordering. Or even worse, as you demonstrated, the AC and the computer could simultaneously fail. So just remember that as bad as it gets, it could always be worse.
(By the way, you seem to internalize everything into your sphincter. Interesting anatomical response to stress.)
"That's like finding out someone paid a hit man $39.95 to bump you off. It's insulting" (258). I love it. And I sympathize completely... all you can hope for is that after you leave, they'll realize bitterly just how valuable you were. Sometimes that's all you can expect.
"Restaurant owners don't have any friends. This marks you as a clueless poseur the moment you walk in the door" (290). Particularly if you call them "The Owner". I would expect them to at least request the owner by name. If they don't call him by his first name, they're obviously not friends. As the Waiter has mentioned, it's sad when people assume that just because the owner has chatted with you and appreciates the vast amount of money you spend at his establishment, they're your friend. Money can buy a lot of things, but it doesn't buy friendship. Usually.
Also- I have to disagree with the issue of men placing their cell phones on the table when they sit down (291). The only reason you wouldn't do this is if you keep the cell phone in your pocket while sitting down (which hopefully means that it's tiny enough not to leave an awkward bunch in your pants), you're not waiting for a call on silent, or- heaven forbid- you have a hideous belt-clip on your phone. I would rather see every single diner keep their cell phone on the table than have to look at cell phones dangling from people's belts, a la 1992. Furthermore, if someone wants to put their cell phone on the table, it prevents them taking 20 minutes rooting around trying to answer the phone while that "stupid Godfather ring tone" dazzles everyone within hearing range. So as long as people conscientiously move their cell phones when you're trying to set down plates and don't let them get in your way otherwise, I think having them on the table is definitely the lesser of many evils.
Additionally, I can't help but recognize the patriarchal slant of much of this book. Comments like "recovering on the couch while watching Nigella Lawson's breasts bounce" (151) doesn't offend me as much as it makes me think of you, The Waiter, as adolescent, immature and ultimately interested in appealing to only male readers. While that's not a crime, it does reduce my enjoyment of the book somewhat. Just imagine how you would feel reading a presumably gender-neutral book and finding a passage like "having time to sit on the beach and gazing at curvaceous penises". It doesn't ruin it, but it sure makes you feel like the book isn't meant for you- and I assume that alienating your target audience (which is presumably people like me, since I purchased your book) isn't your goal. You might want to keep that in mind for your next work!
Finally, I believe you used the phrase "retarded" in this book. Although I can't remember where- and I'm resisting the urge to re-read the entire thing just to find this phrase- the context is irrelevant because in my opinion, that is something that is never appropriate. Being mentally challenged isn't a voluntary state. Therefore using it as derogatory slang (or even to legitimately address someone who is mentally challenged as you do in your July 6, 2005 blog post) demonstrates that you don't grasp just how fully insulting this phrasing is. Can you imagine if someone used "Steve" or "Stevish" as a general insult? If everytime someone got drunk, tripped and broke something you said, "Man, you're Steve today" or something similar? It's not about political correctness - and I'm aware that you've worked with various types of people in need and presumably have your own considered opinions about these things- but the word "retarded" should never be uttered by anyone under any circumstances. Furthermore, how do you think it makes people feel if they have a mentally challenged child, sibling or spouse and hear you use the word as a slur? It's something nobody should ever have to endure, and hearing it used as a general insult can only be distressing to everyone aware of what that word truly entails. Imagine how a "retarded" person would feel reading this book? I can only imagine how much it would hurt to see this kind of comment used for amusement with no regard of what it actually means. At this point, "man's inhumanity to man becomes that much easier to ignore" (201)... or, unfortunately, as you have shown, perpetuate.
After reading this, it doesn't surprise me that much that other servers like Saroya aren't jumping over backwards to help you when you're in trouble (273). Sometimes karma happens pretty quickly.

Ultimately though, what distresses me most is the phrase "two-dollar Bankok whore" (187). I can only assume- from having read some of your fiction on your blog- that the insensitive 1920's detective novels have altered your sense of what is ultimately acceptable in modern prose. I can assure you with complete certainty that if you had ever actually seen a two-dollar Bangkok whore, you would never even think such a terrible thing again, much less print it. It is bad enough that young women are pressured into selling their bodies, youth, health and safety to survive (you think being a waiter is tough? Try pleasuring drunk tourists for insanely low wages when you've barely reached puberty because you have no other way to support your family), but having you so lightly refer to their plight is saddening and destroys whatever point you were making. Furthermore, as I indicated above, it makes me significantly less sympathetic to your plight of working in a relatively safe, clean environment in a restaurant in the United States when you bring up the Asian sex trade industry, no matter how flippantly. Just picture that "two-dollar Bangkok whore"- or go get a picture or watch a video if you don't know what I'm referring to- and then think about the fact that this:  

is what I think of when you say it.

Finally, if you want to be "'The best man in his world and a good enough man for any world'" (268), "Who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.'" (268), you need to do more than get rid of fear. You need to put yourself into the place of others and recognize that your comments do impact this world, and even justified cruelty perpetuates the cycle of unhappiness.

Despite these criticisms, I did enjoy this book. Through it I also got to vicariously experience some things I've never personally encountered. For example, I've obviously seen many people specifically request a certain table because it's close to the fireplace or has better lighting, but I've never seen people freak out over getting a "better" table (198). Perhaps there is some social hierarchy that applies to New York that doesn't really work in my ~1 million-population prairie town, but in any case I've never witnessed that- even in some of the more expensive restaurants in the city. Don't get me wrong- people go insane for a myriad of reasons. But table placement isn't generally one of them (perhaps we're naturally gifted at reserving our tables in advance and we're not too picky about what we end up with?)
Although I liked the book, but it didn't have the same light feeling as the blog. While there was still a lot of serious contemplation in the online posts, I appreciated their concise and interesting format. I suppose it's inevitable that a book will be formatted in such a manner that the pleasantly-fragmented style of the blog is lost, but I still can't help thinking that some of the charm of the online version was lost when it was converted to print. Ideally, I would simply have taken selective posts and printed them in conjunction with appropriate alterations rather than compressing the material into traditional chapters.
Overall, I enjoyed the book- but I would advise reading the blog as well. Together they provide a much more comprehensive view of The Waiter's opinions, and it's interesting to see the changes between a relatively quickly-developed piece of prose and the polished format of the book. It's the first blog I've ever seen converted to book form, and it's interesting to see how the transition is accomplished. Despite the issues I have with the book, I have to say "Well done, Waiter". I look forward to "At Your Service!"

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Jeannette Walls - The Glass Castle

I read this book a little while ago, so my recollections are fairly vague.
I found it to be well written, interesting and very moving, but I did not enjoy reading it whatsoever. I spent the majority of the time it took to finish the book in horror at the parents and system that allow children to suffer this way.
I would like to imagine that things have improved since the authour's childhood, but I'm guessing that it's not the case. While it is common knowledge (and generally accepted as unfortunate but inevitable) that children in other countries often suffer from lack of food, care and appropriate stability, it is not often realized that children in America are not always free from such troubles. Aside from the issues such as effective education or the childhood obesity debate, there are many families whose children are legitimately suffering from a lack of food, safety and psychological stability needed to allow them to properly develop without trying to raise themselves as they attempt to manage their parents.

It's been argued that the author's parents were full of life and enjoyment which gave her some happiness, but in my mind there is no excuse for that kind of abuse. I don't care if they taught her how to enjoy the world and gave her a unique perspective on life; the fact remains that what they did surely stunted her sense of security (not to mention her health, beyond her burns as a child) and her sense of how the world works.
Essentially, they were acting like selfish children themselves, and they deprived their children of the upbringing everyone deserves. I believe that people have a strong responsibility toward their children, and if they cant provide a home equipped with more than adventure and occasional exhibitions of love, they should be forced to relinquish their upbringing until they can provide adequate surroundings. I am certain that it would have caused Jeannette considerable pain to have been removed from her parents' care, but the fact remains that she endured things that no person- never mind a child- should have to endure. For this reason, I can not think of this book as anything other than a profound argument for supporting Child and Family Services. I pray that if I am ever in a situation where I can help someone suffering like this that I will take it, and furthermore - God forbid- if I myself ever discover that I have to choose between my own selfish enjoyment and giving up someone I love for their own benefit, I pray that I would have the strength to do what is best for them and not just what is most interesting for me.
I feel that their failure to appropriately love their children (by caring for them properly, such as by selling the land [in Texas, I believe] for the sake of their current and future happiness is unforgivable, and for that reason I am unable to see her parents as anything other than cautionary tales about childrearing and how it should NOT be done. I find myself profoundly angry at these parents- even more so than the FLDS parents I posted about in Stolen Innocence- because unlike the members of a cult who are motivated by religious necessity, they should know better. Anyone should know better.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Elissa Wall - Stolen Innocence

Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs.

I found this book to be profound and moving. It was wonderful to to hear this story from an inside perspective free of the rumours and myths of questionable sources (such as the media) who report on the subject second-hand and without providing appropriate context.
Having seen religious fanaticism and even participating to some extent, I found this account to be both informative and emotional. After hearing so much about these events (especially since the relatively recent raid on El Dorado), I was thrilled to find a first-hand account of not only a critical participant in the FLDS, and not only a victim of Warren Jeffs' rule, but the woman whose courage helped bring Warren Jeffs to justice. Without her it is impossible to know how long he would have managed to continue not only evading the law but tormenting so many other young women (and young men who have no reason to think their actions [no matter how hideous] are not advocated by God through the Prophet).
I appreciate the level of detail included in the book and while I'm sure it was incredibly painful for her to publish the intimate details of her experiences- particularly the rapes and the miscarriages- I think it was absolutely essential to the value of the work. Only by exposing the true extent of Jeffs' actions could she truly demonstrate who he is and how he should be dealt with, and her book was a beautiful way of accomplishing that.

I am tempted to think that as horrendous and traumatic as it must have been for her to suffer two miscarriages, there is some poetic justice in the fact that none of her pregnancies from Allen were carried to term, but the two pregnancies with her chosen husband produced two beautiful, wanted children. Obviously I understand that the primary reason for these successful births (according to what I read in the book) was the medical treatment she received for her blood type rather than some miracle from God, but it is appropriate that she not have to bear a child of a man she hates, in an emotional prison, but the children of a man she loves in a state of freedom and happiness.
Primarily, I was so thrilled to discover the happy ending to her story, but I'm saddened to discover that not only did she suffer so much and will always carry the burden of that past, but that others (including her family) are still stuck in that terrible vortex of lies, manipulation and religious abuse.

I hope that her brave actions help those she loves to free themselves from the FLDS, and I'm so glad that I got to read about her story and hear the truth about what has really happened behind the closed doors of this group. I hope too that with Jeffs' capture, this damaging and misled faction will return to the previously-happy and fair (or at least better) state it once held, and that those suffering from it will find solace in an alternate way of life free from control and pain.