My Journey of Life and Learning (with occasional digressions)

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Literary Dystopias – Are We There Yet?

Oracle of DelphiBelow is the revised version of the introduction for my Master’s Thesis. Please read, respect my literary rights (don’t plagiarize), and PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE provide constructive feedback. Plenty of you who will read this have your advanced degrees already. If I need to expound, shorten, condense, add, delete, say so.

Thanks!

Literary Dystopias – Are We There Yet?

Oscar Wilde asserts that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life” (382). This comment prompts exploration into the complex intertwining of fact and fiction within dystopian literature. Authors utilize fears or expectations based on events contemporary at the time of writing. The realization of these fears creates positive or negative consequences which are portrayed within the work of fiction and later readers are able to compare their realities to what of the authors’ fears and expectations have actually occurred. Rob MacAlear emphasizes that the fear presented with dystopian literature must be conceivably imminent, thereby persuading the audience that urgency is needed to avoid the situation presented within the dystopia (28). By using this model, authors may create their communities, cities, or planets, portray likely impacts and the readers are then left to consider how astute the authors’ forecasts may have been considering technological or societal change, how common the authors’ expressed fears were and how that impacted developments between the date of publication and today. In many cases, Wilde’s quote about Life imitating art proves true, as Pfaelzer observed, “nineteenth-century utopists anticipated much of today’s welfare state” (“The Impact” 453) and cites such developments as social security and universal education to support that observation.

The three specific texts herein examined present an “arc” of dystopian literature from the late 19th century through the beginning of the 21st century. Anna Bowman Dodd penned The Republic of the Future when “worker riots, class, race and sex struggles were widespread and sometimes violent” (447), the Industrial Revolution was occurring, and the activists proclaimed the virtues of socialism. Aldous Huxley published Brave New World when the global community was between two world wars, trying to reconcile the nightmares presented by technology with the dreams it simultaneously offered (Diken 153). Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, presents a view of a dystopia that exists based on technology and generational issues that are current with the present day. Medical advances, especially in the form of organ transplantation, add plausibility to Ishiguro’s piece. Isolation felt by the clones may be shared by modern readers for whom the world may have been shrunken through the internet and online discourse yet yearn for the personal contact that is being eroded through email, texting and other impersonal communications.

The narrative point of view is different in each of the novels examined and this reflects a temporal continuum concurrent with points of view and means of communication common to the time in which the authors wrote. Dodd’s novel is strictly an “outsider” affair as the omniscient narrator and protagonist writes of his adventure in a foreign land via personal letters to a friend and in this way is the most remote from the reader. In Dodd’s post-Victorian age, letters were a common means of communication, so the correspondence between Wolfgang and Hennevig would be understood to her readers. Huxley presents a modernist tale, the first paragraph contains only sentence fragments and this reflects the dominance of the mechanical over the humane which is the conflict throughout the story. The third person narrative style provides readers a glimpse into character thoughts and emotions which reflect compliance or resistance of respective characters as well as how they have been impacted by the mechanized, engineered world they share. Ishiguro presents a first person account similar to a memoir type of writing which brings readers into a feeling of sympathy and intimacy with Kathy H., the memoir’s author. By presenting his fiction as a memoir, Ishiguro removes the “aura of otherness” common to clone characters and by presenting her situation in this way, makes the story about Kathy and her compatriots and this removes the “bioethical alarm” so commonly sounded when the idea of cloning is broached in literature (Marks 333). Though Kathy and the other clones are not part of the common population, the first person view in the novel precludes viewing the clones as oddities or mere scientific creations.

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Gender Studies “Who I Am” Blog

A classmate mentioned a test to measure your feminist perspective. I also took the “Feminist Perspective Scale” Test (http://personality-testing.info/tests/FPS.php) and I scored as a liberal feminist. Now, I believe I said in my introductory post that I try hard not to label others and resent labels that others place on me. In view of this test, maybe that’s part of my traits as a liberal feminist. I cannot really call myself a feminist. I don’t see myself walking up to a friend at Church (GASP – yes, I go to Church) and say, “Hi there, I’m Richard Matthews and I am a liberal feminist.” I also do not imagine that I would receive a warm welcome if I walked into a rally or demonstration protesting for LGBT equality or Abortion Rights and, sadly, that has nothing to do with how I feel about those issues. As a 51 year old, openly heterosexual man, I fear that I would be viewed more as “the problem” than as a person interested in protecting an individual’s right to use their body as they wish. I’ve gotten along well with most people I’ve met, but I have no desire, nor will I, put a rainbow sticker on my car. Nothing against those who do, I just don’t like bumper stickers.

What I have done in the past, and hope to do in the future, is advocate and support individuals who wish to live a life of their choosing, free of harassment, bullying, or oppression. I confronted people in the Army when they would make some comment about a soldier’s sexual orientation. Generally I would ask the person making the offending comment, “Are you gay?” They would respond, “No.” I would reply, “Then why does it matter if they are?”  I know that there is a difference between apathy, which some may say the above exchange shows, and actively struggling to change the system. I would address those doubting a woman’s abilities to perform a specific task, “Have you seen her do it before?” “No.” “Then how do you know she can’t?”

If I saw a young female being threatened and harassed at as she tried to cross a street to enter a Planned Parenthood center to obtain an abortion, I believe I would help her across the street for her safety. I belong to, and am very active, in my Church which has very strict anti-abortion views. I do not agree with abortion, but I believe a person has their individual right to decide and I further believe that in a country where we have advanced medicine that it is unconscionable that a woman should not be allowed to have the procedure done in a safe, sterile environment. In Germany, I visited a “Crime Museum.” One room was dedicated to “abortion methods” because the procedure was long outlawed. The instruments I saw and descriptions of some procedures brought me to tears and I swore I would never fault a woman for seeking a medical abortion again, whether I found the idea of abortion distasteful or not.

I have never understood how or why companies have a “pay disparity” between employees of different sexes or races. At the same time, however, I have never really worked in “corporate America.” In the military, pay was the same regardless of gender. As a military contractor we were not allowed to discuss our pay with others.

Toril Moi states, “The new field of feminist literary studies is here presented as one essentially concerned with nurturing personal growth and raising the individual consciousness by linking literature to life, particularly to the lived experience of the reader” (42). In that vein, everyone is a feminist. The challenge is recognizing that each of us, as readers, have “lived experience.” Each of our views are as valid, important and necessary as the view of any other, even one historically classified as “the patriarchy.” To deny any one their voice makes feminism a movement of hypocrites, and with so much needed to be said we cannot afford to deny any voice.

Let me summarize who I am. I am me. My childhood was stable, my family showed much love. If there was ever abuse anywhere among aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, I never knew of it. In our neighborhood, we knew of couples who abused each other and we distanced ourselves from them. My parents let me explore my ideas and discussed them with me. I was never told I “had to do this” or “had to do that” because I was a boy. My brothers encouraged me to play sports, but they were so much older than I that they would become impatient when I couldn’t hit the baseball hard enough or run fast enough. My brothers and I were always expected to show Mother respect just as Father did and we still show them respect when we see them. My first wife and I raised two children who are quite happy with who they are, as are their respective spouses. I know we have a blog coming up on parenting, so I won’t go there now.

That’s who I am. I am not ashamed. I have not harmed anyone by being who I am. I have rarely been harmed by others being who they are. I love and adore my second wife. My first wife chose to leave our relationship and that is part of her right to define who she is. My Church provides me guidelines, but I am free to choose my actions. I provide quite a bit of service to members in my Church, so see families and individuals who suffer with abuse, neglect, sickness, and bad habits. I love them each, but they are who they are and I can only make suggestions, not change them. Change comes from within. And that is a discussion for a different forum. I think I’ll put it on my blog: richlynnmatt.com. 

Since this isn’t on my school blog, I feel it appropriate to share an excerpt from a talk given by Ezra Taft Benson:

“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of the people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature” (Ensign, Nov. 1985, p. 6).