The story I want to share with you today is not one that I remember reading in Junior Great Books, though I may have (parts seem pretty heavy for a group of sixth graders though). I really do not remember a single story from JGB other than Harrison Bergeron and The Lottery. In my sophomore year of college, I took a lit class that had a short stories book as the curriculum. I kept the book because it was filled with awesome. If I wasn't lazy I would dig it out and tell you to go buy it. However, we still have not purchased a bookshelf since we moved over a year and a half ago, and all our books are in a tub in a closet underneath other boxes of once important things waiting to be important again. This pregnant lady passes on that experience.
One of the first stories we read in that class was, indeed, Harrison Bergeron. I was so excited. I got to the end of the story, and I was perplexed… my edition had cut out the last third of the story for some reason. I was really disappointed, because I think everyone should read that story. It still bugs me that there are books out there being read with only 2/3 of the greatest Vonnegut piece I have ever read.
The class really only got better. It was in this class that I was introduced to the short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” written by Ursula K. LeGuin. This next statement might officially classify me as a lit nerd, but I really enjoyed deconstructing these stories and talking about how they apply to life as we know it and the human experience. It is just fantastic. So, JGB and this class were my inspiration for this series of posts. There are wonderful morals and ideas embedded within these stories that are of great importance to Feminism.
So, in case you did not link to the story earlier, (link, link, link!) my analysis will include a few passages that specifically impacted me.
“The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. If you can't lick 'em, join 'em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe happy man, nor make any celebration of joy.”
At times there is a false premise that exists in the world of mainstream feminism: the premise is that happiness is directly related to success. This premise exists in other facets as well: politics, religion, etc. but here I refer only to its existence within feminism. Happiness cannot spring from family or a role that somehow ties our fate to that of a man. Without success, happiness is nonexistent so we must seek success as our only goal, no matter the cost. At times, abortion and abortafacients become a part of this process, because children (wanted or “unwanted”) limit success for women. Women are held accountable for children in a deeper, more complex way than men. Children interfere with a woman’s path to success, because children should not be considered a success. They are a hindrance.
This passage from the story now leaves me considering Rebecca Walker’s experience as the “daughter of a feminist.” (Her mother is Alice Walker.) She writes about it in an article called “How My Mother’s Fanatical Views Tore Us Apart.” In short, she was left feeling as though she was delaying her mother’s success versus being a part of it, and she writes about her life then, and her life as a mother. I cannot accept a distorted version of feminism that tears others down, whether it be women, men or children. I cannot accept a version of feminism that uses violence against our children as a stepping stone. When violence towards another becomes acceptable or even vital to a cause, that cause has become distorted. This is not said without appreciation for what women who went before us fought for: the front-runners of our cause did not advocate violence but strength and unity.
“Let tambourines be struck above the copulations, and the gory of desire be proclaimed upon the gongs, and (a not unimportant point) let the offspring of these delightful rituals be beloved and looked after by all. One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt.”
When I view this passage now, I am struck by the thought that all children are beloved, especially within the context of this story. Are they all loved only because of the unpleasant secret, or are all children created to be loved regardless of how they were conceived… say, even in an orgy?
I also marvel at the idea that this utopia is one that values children, and children do not become a source of guilt. This is not truly how we live in reality, yet the sexual description of Omelas is not so different from what is pressed on us in reality. Is it possible to have consequence-free sex and still love and care for all children? I am not so sure our culture allows this when children are viewed as the ultimate consequence.
“They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child's abominable misery.”
Again, I am vividly reminded of our outlook on abortion. It is seen as a necessary evil: a woman must maintain her right to choose. This is ultimately dependent on the death of a child. While all that remain in Omelas seem to be able to accept that this child’s misery allows their lives to be otherwise complete, there are those of us in reality that would do anything to prevent abortion from being, as this writer, Kassie says, “…a divorce of women from their fertility.”
Sometimes I am truly confused at the marriage of happiness to controlling our fertility in this world, the same as I am perplexed by the marriage of destroying a human being for the sake of the many in Omelas.
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