Saturday, November 11, 2017

God of Small Things, Handmaid's Tale and Brave New World

Been a while since I posted. Been reading on and off and have not been capturing quotes with the same frequency as most of my readings have been when I travel.

Over the past month, I read three books - God of Small Things by Arundatti Roy, Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. All of them brilliantly written and fairly depressing but then again I prefer depressing books as they force you to think. Handmaid's Tale and Brave New World share the context of a dystopian future but somehow I felt God of Small Things seem to have a similar approach to life.

In the God of Small Things, the story gradually unravels on the rather tragic adventures of twins Estha and Rahel and with their cousin Sophie. I guess that is where the title comes from - how a seemingly harmless childish adventure goes horribly wrong and destroys an entire family. But more that this adventure, Arundatti Roy captures the social problems of the time which is what probably launched her career as a social activist later. One of the rather tragic characters in the book Velutha is an untouchable who quite sadly dies in police custody. The book shows how Velutha has extraordinary skills as a child that later ended up with him being a skilled carpenter and machinist. But he still coudn't keep himself away from campaigning for social justice which causes an intermittent disappearance from the village and later a possible involvement with the communist agitation. Roy shows how Velutha's father is completely brainwashed in his servitude towards the upper castes as he sits in wait to kill Velutha for dishonoring the family when all that Velutha has done is fall in love with the daughter of the family that employed Velutha and his father. The family conspires to have Velutha killed through police action and further uses the children Estha and Rahel - well Estha is the one who performs the formal identification that condemns Velutha. It is ironical that Estha in his adult life stops talking almost as a sign of disgust as to what his tongue has achieved. Rahel on the other hand abandons the family but can't get herself to walk away when she hears how her brother is.

Handmade's Tale and Brave New World have stark similarities with many other books like 1984. A future following war and catastrophe where an absolute dictatorship makes a particular form of submission mandatory. In the Handmade's Tale, the main character is a young woman who has been trained to procreate. Her sole purpose is to be a surrogate to a privileged military family where the wife can no longer bear children. In the Brave New World, the main characters are a dysfunctional privileged citizen and a "savage" from the untamed part of the world where the major part of the planet has been converted into a "civilized" society where humans are artificially created and bred to perpetuate a class society. Babies are born with special techniques to ensure that those intended for inferior duties are deliberately cloned through a egg-splitting technique and further these embryos are provided with limited oxygen and nutrients to result in a stunted brain. The babies are then cultivated through propaganda to accept this new world and further everyone is supplied with drugs as adults to ensure that any pain they feel is numbed.

In the Hamdmade's Tale, the main character has lived a past life as a free citizen, a wife and a mother only to see all that vanish as the dictatorship takes over. Her generation is considered the problem generation needing special training as they still hold on to memories of a free past. The hope of the dictatorship is that subsequent generations that know of no free world will be easier to manage. She views every aspect of her captive life with irony and contrasts it with her free life before.

In the Brave New World, the main character is a privileged member of  society but however lacks the physical features of most of his equals for some unknown reason. This leads to rumours about his birth and he becomes skeptical of this perfect drug-induced world as he refuses the drugs prescribed to all adults and blasphemes about freedom and loneliness. He manages a trip to a "savage" reservation where the rules of the perfect society do not apply and they still follow the ways of the old world - family, religion. He brings back a "savage" to the his world who is unable to adapt and is provided with his own solitary abode in the end.

Somehow I felt Arundatti Roy's book is fairly dystopian as it shows the divisions in modern society and how disastrous they can be. Handmade's Tale and Brave New World have a common theme but reading these three books in close succession was fairly disturbing but thought provoking.

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