“And that,” put in the Director sententiously, “that is the secret of happiness and virtue – liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their inescapable social destiny.” – Brave New World
“The first quarter-century of your life was doubtless lived under the cloud of being too young for things, while the last quarter-century would normally be shadowed by the still darker cloud of being too old for them; and between those two clouds, what small and narrow sunlight illuminates a human lifetime!” – Lost Horizon
“It was a revelation, a liberation. Physicists, mathematicians, astronomers, logicians, biologists, all were here at the University, and they came to him or he went to them, and they talked, and new worlds were born of their talking. It is of the nature of idea to be communicated: written, spoken, done. The idea is like grass. It craves light, likes crowds, thrives on crossbreeding, grows better for being stepped on.” – The Dispossessed
“The time is 800 hours, return to your designated stations,” the voice projected over the loud speaker. I began to walk to my station. For the next nine hours, I will work to construct the lamp heads that top the streetlights of OGS, Our Great Society. Without my work, the city would fail to remain lit at night when my day truly begins.
My mind drifts as I screw the light bulb into its base, wondering how Americans had lived this way in the past for their entire lives. Before the establishment of OGS in 2101, Americans subjected themselves to mundane lives filled with boredom. They died without living a fruitful life. They died as they were born: creatures incapable of acts outside of eating, sleeping, and excretion. Their lives lacked ambition, intelligence, and true understanding of the value of life. This is what the Sanitation intended in their labor requirement for our citizens.
Each day from 800-1800 hours we are to engage in dull activity through our work. While this work is necessary for our society to sustain its economy, it also serves as a reminder of the days before the Sanitation revolutionized our society. I continue to screw bulb after bulb, thinking about how I will compensate for this excruciatingly boring activity following my shift. I continue to screw.
Hours pass and finally I am relieved from my station. I rush home to change out of my work clothes; I don’t have much time. I run into my small, barren apartment. Inside there is a small kitchen with the most basic appliances, a bathroom, living room, and bedroom. The walls are white and there are no adornments or decorations. As I change out of my factory uniform I glance at the alarm clock atop my steel bedside table. “18:17,” it reads. I’m making good time.
By 18:30 I am out the door and in the town square of District Adrenaline. I spy a tall woman with long brown hair dressed in all black across the pavilion. “Joan!” I call out as I wave. Her sharp, gleaming white teeth peeked from behind her lips as they spread into a wide smile. I watch as she slithers through the crowd, her hips swaying as she walks. “Well hello there, Eddie, ready to blow off some steam?” she asks. I chuckle “born ready,” I reply.
We begin to walk down the street, the height of the D-Tower looming in the distance. My heart quickens at the sight of the 600 foot tower. 600 feet of pure adrenaline as you drop down at a 90 degree angle. Joan turns to me with a glimmer of excitement in her eyes and grabs my hand, pulling me to the base of the tower. We strap ourselves into the seats tightly and we begin to ascend. Beads of perspiration appear on my forehead while my palms become damp with sweat. My heart beats faster and faster as we near the top. By the time we’ve reached the tip of the tower, I can hardly hear over the sound of the thumping. Joan looks at me and smiles one last time and grabs my hand. Suddenly we’re dropping at a speed of 200 miles per hour. I close my eyes and attempt to shelter my face from the intense wind. I cannot contain my screams as we plummet to the bottom. We finally land after what feels like hours, though it couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds.
We climb out of our seats and proceed to check our adrenaline meters located on our left forearms. Nearly full. We look to each other and I can tell we both are wondering the same thing: is this enough? Living to the extreme in OGS is what we do; it’s how we live. I look down at my watch, “21:30,” still seven and one half hours left until we need to enter our revitalizing chambers. I lift my head to see Joan staring at the sky, a look of awe on her face. I follow her line of vision and tilt my head toward the top of the D-Tower. At the top of the tower the seat is suspended, a figure seems to be falling from the chair. Not even a second passes before the body begins to fly down, the seat following him. We hear the sharp sound of bones cracking against the pavement, the seat of the D-Tower stopping just above the body. Two Professors of the Sanitation come from behind us in a truck and scoop up the body. “Oh well, we won’t use that one again for a while” Joan says with a shrug of her shoulders and we begin to walk back toward our apartments. Joan’s reaction is typical of those in OGS. We live based on a code of extremity; accidents are bound to happen. I try not to think about the distorted figure splayed on the concrete as we walk home.
I begin screwing. My day at work begins and I am back to the ordinary task of assembling streetlights. Normally during work I would revel in the daredevil act of the night before. Think about my heart beating fast, my adrenaline pumping to drown out the monotony of my task. Today is different, however. For some reason, I cannot get the image of the mangled body out of my head. The body could have been mine. I could have fallen out of that seat, Joan could have, and no one would have cared. Maybe not even Joan. I continue to screw.
When I head home today I do not rush as I usually do. I take my time walking from the factory to my apartment. I get home and change as I usually do. As I fold my work uniform, a piece of paper on my desk catches my eye. I walk to my desk and realize that it is a letter. Confused as to how it ended up on my desk, I decide it best to open it and read it carefully.
I hope you are not angry or fearful that I was in your home during working hours. Please do not feel this way, if you do, for I am assure you I mean you no harm. I too, was in the crowd yesterday when that poor soul fell from the D-Tower. Unlike the rest of the crowd, I could see that you too were disturbed by the traumatic event and the lack of empathy by the rest of the witnesses. If I am correct about this, please meet me behind your apartment complex one hour before revitalization period.
I hope to see you soon.
The fact that a stranger was in my apartment should have frightened me, but it didn’t. I could not detract myself from trying to recreate the image from the night before and envision the faces around me. All are a blur aside from the corpse in front of me. I look at the clock, “18:56” I need to hurry to meet Joan.
I meet Joan in the square once again and we both agree to walk to the knife-throwing tent this evening. When we arrive at the tent we are each given a bow with arrows, a bodysuit and an apple. Joan stands against the wall and places the apple on top of her head, while I walk to the line drawn 15 feet away. I lift my bow and aim toward her head. Joan has excitement pouring from her face, not an ounce of fear. My fingers tremble as I pull back the bow carefully. I release the arrow, piercing the apple directly against the wall. Joan claps excitedly, “nice shot!” she exclaims. I give a smile, bow and proceed to take my spot against the wall and place the apple on top of my head. Heat rises from my feet as I watch Joan lift her bow. I try to close my eyes, but my fear has he frozen. I watch as the arrow sails toward me. I hear a sharp thud. Joan again is clapping excitedly. I turn and see the apple pierced against the wall much the same.
We exit the tent and check our adrenaline meters. Mine is nearly full, from the fear that Joan would mistakenly send an arrow between my eyes. I look down at Joan’s; not even half. “Oh wow, you must trust me quite a bit,” I say to her. “And you clearly don’t trust me at all,” Joan says with a chuckle. I smile and tell her I think I’ve had enough for the evening, “I don’t want to send myself into cardiac arrest just yet,” I say as I kiss her on the cheek. She chuckles once more, “but that’s all the fun! See you tomorrow, Eddie.”
I begin walking back to my apartment. I check my watch, “24:04,” four more hours to decide if I want to meet this mysterious person. As I walk I think of the excitement Joan showed during the knife-throwing; not a glimmer of fear. While we are both adequate shots, neither of us professionals and yet there we stood unprotected with bows pointed at our heads. The thought of one of us dying didn’t even faze her.
As I approach my block I feel the presence of someone behind me. I look at the trashcan and see a Professor in the reflection. My heartbeat quickens again. I walk faster and turn the corner. The Professor turns the corner as well. I begin to panic. What if someone else noticed my reaction yesterday and reported me for not being extreme enough. What if the Sanitation discovered the letter in my apartment. I walk faster and turn the next corner for my apartment. The Professor continues to walk straight. I open my door and when safely inside breathe a sigh of relief. I look down at my adrenaline meter. Full.
It’s nearing 300 hours and I finally decide to meet the mystery writer. I quietly sneak out of my apartment and go behind my complex, careful to stay out of the streetlights. If I am meeting someone secretly, I certainly do not want to be seen. When I get to the back, a man comes from beneath the shadows. “I thought you would come,” he says.
“You’ve captured my curiosity. Who are you?” I ask.
“My name is Sam. I hope my letter did not frighten you and I am sure you have many questions, but first allow me to explain myself. I have spent the last year hiding from the Sanitation and going between the districts. Yes, I am aware that fraternizing with the other districts is illegal, but this society has gone too far. I lead a fraternity of moderates. We believe that the value of life is in the balance of everything. Balance in pleasure, knowledge, pain, and work. The extreme nature of OGS has left us suspicious of and apathetic toward our neighbor. We do not care who lives and who dies, just of getting our fix, however that may be. We have become a society of drug addicts, suppressed by the Sanitation through their provision of the drug. I could see yesterday that you don’t view humanity the same as everyone else. You care about that girlfriend of yours and of the strangers around you. That’s why you leave each activity when you’ve reached the adrenaline minimum. You don’t want to live to the extreme. It’s not the only thing you value.”
“You’re saying there are others like this?”
“Yes! Hundreds more! And tomorrow we are scheduling a protest. Tonight we are collecting beneath the ground, in the abandoned subway system from before OGS. We are going to march to District Authority and we are going to speak our minds. We will not live this way any longer. I invite you to join us.”
“No need to make up your mind now. We meet at 700 hours. Return to this spot if you want to live again,” Sam said and he disappeared into the shadows once more.
I walked into my apartment and look at the clock, “3:39.” Twenty-one minutes until I have to enter the revitalization chamber. Twenty-one minutes to decide if I’m going to end this downward spiral to sudden death. Taking this risk means potentially losing Joan, but I am likely to lose her to death shortly anyway. Taking this risk also means potentially having a real life with her, and for myself.
At 6:45 I am waiting in the same spot for Sam. Having left my revitalization chamber early, I am a little fatigued and the time seems to drag. After a few minutes Sam arrives and beckons me behind a tree. Beside the tree is a grate. Sam lifts the grate and tells me to follow him. We climb down the ladder affixed beneath the grate. The tunnel is dark, damp, and smells like mold. Sam hands me a flashlight and tells me to continue to follow him.
After maybe twenty minutes of walking we reach another ladder. We begin to climb. When we reach the top, Sam tells me to go ahead and he will follow. I climb out of the tunnel and find myself in a white room with a surgeon’s table in the center; the grate shuts below me. I turn to speak to Sam and ask him where we are, but he’s nowhere to be found. I look down at my forearm, my adrenaline meter is full again.
A door opens and a medical team rushes in. A few men in white scrubs grab me and place me on the table. “STOP. WHAT’S GOING ON?” I scream, but receive no answers. I kick and scream some more. Nothing. The guards overpower me and strap me down onto the table. I feel a sharp prick in my arm. The lights above me begin to fade, and I fall asleep.
I begin to screw. My job is to attach light bulbs to their bases in order to create streetlights that power Our Great Society, OGS. As I screw I start to think of how boring life must have been for Americans before the great revolution by the Sanitation. How much life has improved since then; now it is worth living! I wonder what Joan and I shall do this evening during adrenaline hours.
I continue to screw.
I am Legend (2007) is a film based on a novel with the same name by Richard Matheson written in the mid 20th century. The film is set in 2012, three years after a genetically re-engineered version of the measles virus, created as cure for cancer, mutates into a strain that infects humans and some animals. Flashbacks in the film reveal that in this time, over 90% of the world’s population had died, 9% had become infected but not died, and now prey on the survivors. Less than 1% of the population is immune to the virus, and many of those who are immune either committed suicide due to isolation or were killed by the infected. The film follows US Army virologist, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville who remains in New York City to attempt to discover a cure for the vaccine. Robert is the last man in New York City, and he believes, in the world. The infected humans are shown to be hurt by the sunlight, and thus are nocturnal.
Each day, Robert experiments on rats infected with the virus to find a cure, and goes throughout the city searching for food and supplies. Every afternoon he waits at the South Street Seaport and makes radio broadcasts calling for all survivors to meet him there. Robert’s only companion is his dog Sam, who he is forced to strangle after she too becomes infected with the virus while defending him against an infected “dark-seeker.” Robert’s wife and daughter were ostensibly killed in a helicopter crash in 2009 during a military evacuation. Robert has resorted to setting up mannequins in a video store, watching recordings of old news, in addition to his relationship with Sam for companionship. Following Sam’s death, Robert goes on a killing spree at night out of anger. This is when Anna and a child named Ethan come to rescue him. When they return to his home, Robert realizes he has discovered a cure created by a vaccine using his own blood. Robert ultimately sacrifices himself for the sake of humanity after the infected follow them back to his home in Washington Square and gives Anna the vial of the blood from the infected human he was in the process of curing to take to a safe town in Vermont. The film ends with Anna and Ethan arriving in Vermont safely and Anna handing over the vial with the cure.
This post-apocalyptic dystopia relates primarily to the theme of science and the relationships of humans. I am Legend seems to present the idea that we must be cautious with scientific advances so that in the process of attempting to cure an illness, we do not create one that ends society. For instance, one fear by some scientists is that in the process of over-medicating or creating different vaccines, is that some viruses evolve to resist the treatment. This film highlights a more extreme version of this fear. I am Legend also shows the importance of human contact and interaction in society. As the last man in the city, Robert Neville begins to speak to mannequins, even flirting with one at one point, when he loses his dog (his only companion), Neville cracks.
This clip shows Neville’s mental breakdown following Sam’s death and his need for human interaction:
He goes on a nearly suicidal mission in retaliation. In order to maintain a sense of interaction and normalcy, Robert also watches old news broadcasts daily as well. Together, these highlight the importance of interaction on the individual.
In contrast to being the only person left in the world, Lord of the Flies by William Golding sets his novel with a group of boys left stranded on an island. While I am Legend highlights the importance of human interaction, Golding displays the cruelty of human nature. Golding uses the conflicts between the boys on the island and the danger that ensues in order to show the loss of innocence that results from scarce resources. Also a post-apocalyptic work, Lord of the Flies shows how competition and fear can lead even a group of preadolescent boys to steal, kill, and torture one another. While I am Legend emphasizes the need for an individual to engage with society, Golding emphasizes the dark state of human nature when a small group struggles to survive.
The Handmaid’s Tale is the film rendition of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel. The film is set in the futuristic America, governed by the religious right. Past pollution has left only 1% of women fertile and capable of bearing children. Determined to continue the human race, the government has designated the task of childbearing to Handmaids, women who are still capable of bearing children. In this society, bearing children if you are able is a duty to society, not a choice. The film follows Kate, a woman who witnesses the murder of her husband and kidnapping of her daughter as they try to flee to Canada. Kate, a fertile woman, is forced to train as and become a Handmaid. The role of a Handmaid is to bear the children of the man to whom she is assigned. In the case of Kate, she is assigned to a Commander and his wife. While in the Commander’s home, Kate begins an affair with his chauffeur, Nick. Eventually, Kate becomes pregnant with Nick’s child. Ultimately, Kate kills the Commander and with Nick’s help, flees in order to escape her job as a Handmaid and her crime, as well as attempt to find her daughter.
Four of our course themes are extremely prevalent in the film, the themes of: human rights, the family and reproduction, ethics, and religion. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the individual is subordinate to society and is used as a means. The women who are fertile are kidnapped and educated (brainwashed), in their role as a Handmaid. Their task is seen as a duty to the nation morally; the failure to conform to their set of beliefs is met with severe punishment or death. Their freedom is entirely stripped in order to serve society. The role of the family and reproduction is also represented. Kate’s family, for example, is split apart in order to use her body as a Handmaid. Because fertility is rare, even in the men, few families are able to reproduce or have the opportunity. Few families are assigned a handmaid as well. Reproduction and fornication out of wedlock are punishable by public hanging which all partake in. You can see it here:
Ethics and religion also play strong roles in The Handmaid’s Tale. America in the film is run by the extreme religious right. The population is expected to repeat religious phrases such as “bless it be,” and protest against the sins of the past including fornication and abortions. One example in the film is when a girl being educated as a Handmaid is told to tell her story to the rest of the women about how “bad it was back then.” In high school she was raped by multiple classmates and became pregnant as a result. Her mother forced her to abort the child. The educators and women around her began aggressively shouting that it was her fault for being a slut, for leading them on, and ultimately committing the worst crime: abortion. The role of ethics and religion became a force of brainwashing unification in society in order to keep each member in line. The film is also a contrast to the society in Herland. In Herland, while women have freedom in decisions and most are capable of bearing children, only those deemed “fit” for bearing children are allowed to. It is seen as a privilege to give birth, rather than a choice. In The Handmaid’s Tale however, childbearing is seen as a dutiful obligation, rather than a choice. In a sense then, the two are similar by taking exact opposite views.
Ignatius Donnelly’s Caesar’s Column is best fits the genre of dystopian literature. In his novel, Donnelly depicts a world gone wrong. Disappointed and disillusioned by the politics of his era, Donnelly creates a dystopian society in Caesar’s Column. Donnelly begins his novel with a first person narrator, Gabriel Weltstein. He uses this narration in conjunction with structuring his novel as a series of letters from Gabriel to his brother. Gabriel Weltstein is a wool merchant from Uganda, who leaves his home to travel to New York City in order to attempt to sell his product directly to American manufacturers without the interference of an international cartel.
Written in 1890, Donnelly creates a scientifically advanced, futuristic society. Though people in this society still travel by horse and carriage and communicate via letters and couriers, news and documents are depicted on glass walls and the city is illuminated by tapping into the Aurora Borealis. Subways operate below transparent sidewalks and travel by airships; the military version of which are called “Demons.” Upon his arrival in the city, Weltstein notices a beggar, Maximilian Petion, trampled by the coach of Prince Cabano, the American President. Gabriel quickly comes to the rescue of Max as the driver of the carriage begins to attack him with a whip. Gabriel takes the whip and turns against the driver, saving Max. Crowds quickly circle around the carriage and Max, who is actually one of the three leaders of a secret resistance organization, hurries Gabriel away from the scene to protect Gabriel from an inevitable, indefinite arrest. Max soon reveals himself to Gabriel and removes his disguise, revealing to Gabriel that he is in fact wealthy and a member of a secret organization, the Brotherhood of Destruction. Through Max, Gabriel begins to learn of the class struggle present in New York City, a city riddled with an oppressive social and economic order.
Throughout the course of the novel, Gabriel learns more and more about the secret society and about the struggle of the proletariat. In Caesar’s Column, “the right get richer and the poor get poorer” to quote the colloquial phrase. The Brotherhood of Destruction, infuriated by the disproportionate wealth of the upper class, plans a revolution led by the proletariat. The leader of this society, Caesar Lomellini is a ruthless fanatic and leads the violent revolution alongside his vice president, described as a Russian Jewish criminal, and Max, who seeks revenge for his father’s wrongful imprisonment. The proletariat in the society can hardly afford to eat and toil endlessly while the wealthy control the government, newspapers, and economy.
Finally, the Brotherhood organizes a rebellion and succeeds in eliminating the oligarchy in a bloody, merciless manner. Caesar orders the corpses to be stacked in a pyramid and covered in concrete in order to mark the revolution. However, the revolution does not lead the proletariat to success. The vice president of the Brotherhood takes over a million in wealth and leaves on a Demon with some followers to Europe and the masses murder Caesar in the fear that he will do the same. Max and Gabriel flee with their wives and families to Uganda and form their own utopian society while New York City remains in a state of chaos, anarchy, and bloodshed.
Karl Marx’s theories at the time of Ignatius Donnelly’s work was just beginning to peak and Caesar’s Column echoes Marxist beliefs through its governance, economics, and theories on labor. The society in Caesar’s Column is ruled by the wealthy upper class, the oligarchy while the proletariat provides the means of labor and force of production. Though this class produces all the labor and products in society, they own nothing while the upper class disproportionately owns nearly all land and capital. Donnelly uses the Marxist belief of the revolution of the proletariat in order to describe the formation of the Brotherhood of Destruction in Caesar’s Column.
As the domination and arrogance of the ruling class increased, the capacity of the lower classes to resist, within the limits of law and constitution, decreased. Every avenue, in fact, was blocked by corruption; juries, courts, legislatures, congresses, they were as if they were not. The people were walled in by impassable barriers. Nothing was left them but the primal, brute instincts of the animal man, and upon these they fell back, and the Brotherhood of Destruction arose. (Donnelly 81)
As the proletariat grew increasingly enraged by their suffering and oppression, they united in resistance. This class conflict is analogous to the class struggle described my Marx between the ownership class that controls production and the laboring class that provides the forces of production. In addition, Donnelly mentions the labor theory of value in his novel, a direct connection to Marxist theory. Although the laboring class of the Brotherhood of Destruction represents the Marxist proletariat revolution, they fail to meet the Marxist standards in the end. Their revolution leads to murderous chaos without structure and without the establishment of and effective government. However, Max and Gabriel’s utopian settlement in Uganda exemplifies Marxist thought.
In their utopian community gold and silver are eliminated as currency in amounts more than five dollars and replaced with paper currency. Education is mandatory and the illiterate are not allowed to vote. All private schools are eliminated aside form the higher institutions and that all children, rich and poor, are educated and associate together. Racial, religious, and cast prejudices are abolished as the community unites and grows as one communal unit. All interest is abolished in order to prevent the oppression of lenders and banks that was endemic in the previous civilization. The state in this utopia owns all roads, streets, telegraph and telephone lines, railroads and mines, and exclusively control mail. Those who accept public office temporarily relinquish their right to vote as “the servants of the people have no right to help rule them” (Donnelly 262). Further, the governing body is separated into three branches: one of the producers, one of the merchants and manufacturers, and one of the scientists and “literary people.” This is meant to maintain a balance of power as each law must be passed with a majority in each of the three branches or a two-thirds vote in two of them. The executive is elected every four years and may only serve one term and is elected by the branches. Commercial relations with other nations is only permitted so long as the prosperity of their working class is as high as their own. This system of governance is meant to create the perfect society and civilization.
The Marxist thought surrounding Donnelly’s time clearly impacts his work and his belief of a utopian society. The idea of economic and legal equality in Max and Gabriel’s utopia clearly resonates with the ideals of Marxism. The rise of industrialization in America during this time period left Donnelly disappointed and disillusioned with the society and government of his time. Industrialization spread throughout the United States following the Civil War, during Donnelly’s lifetime. The working conditions were disastrous and unregulated by the government. Long work days in poor conditions and child labor were each elements of the industrial work force during this era. In addition, numerous political scandals arose throughout the nation at every political level. The rise of the free-market system and capitalism during this time period in America also market a definitive change in the social structure (Bean 601). The influence of unions also began to grow in influence during this time, resembling the unification of the lower class in the Brotherhood. Even more so than communism however, Donnelly’s work portrays the influence of Agrarian populism on his beliefs. Agrarian populism emerged in the late 19th century in retaliation against the values and social arrangements evolving from the Gilded Age (Johnson 87). The populists felt that these emerging values failed to mark progress for the masses of working people in the labor class. Gabriel, a shepherd and representation of wisdom and purity, goes to New York City as a witness of the corruption and destruction of civilization that embodied these same traits. He then returns to the hillside and establishes a utopian community in which the people rule. Combined, these factors clearly influenced Donnelly’s work.
Ignatius Donnelly includes many of the utopian and dystopian course themes discussed in class. However, the most important of these themes are the role of government in society, and the economy and how labor should be managed and wealth distributed throughout society. Ultimately, through his plot Donnelly uses a class struggle set in the future in order to warn society of the problems they will face without change. In the civilization in Caesar’s Column, Donnelly states that no type of reform or system can simply “fix” their society. Rather, the government requires destruction and the establishment of an entirely new class structure and government. Donnelly uses the demise of both the proletariat and upper class in order to display the danger of allowing the current situation to ensue. He further uses the utopia set up by Gabriel and Max in order to describe the perfect system of labor and government. In short, as Donnelly himself stated, the purpose of this novel was “to do some good and to make some money (Trimble, Winters 111). Donnelly uses the dystopia to highlight the influence of Marxism on political thought and uses his own populist beliefs in the structure of his utopia.
Bean, Christopher B. “Industrialization And The Transformation Of American Life: A Brief
Introduction.” Historian 76.3 (2014): 601-602. Academic Search Complete. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.
Donnelly, Ignatius. Caesar’s Column. N.p.: Public Domain, n.d. Print.
Johnson, Michael N. “Nineteenth-Century Agrarian Populism And Twentieth-Century
Communitarianism: Point Of Contact..” Peabody Journal Of Education (0161956X) 70.4 (1995): 86. Academic Search Complete. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.
Trimble, Steven, and Donald E. Winters. “Warnings from the Past: Casear’s Column
and Nineteen Eighty-Four.” Minnesota Historical Society Magazine: 109-14.
The Shaking Quakers, or “Shakers,” as they are commonly known were members of a movement originated in a Quaker revival in England in 1747 led by James and Jane Wardley. However, their strength and prominence in the United States developed after the appearance of Ann Lee, or as she would become known, “Mother Ann.” The Shaker societies reached their peak during the 1830s. The term “Shakers” was attributed to the group because of their wild outbursts of song and dance during their religious ceremonies.
While singing, dancing, and marching characterized many phases of Shaker worship, other tenets included: celibacy, open confession of sins, communal ownership of possessions, separation from the world, pacifism, equality of both the sexes and the races, and consecrated work.The Shakers rejected the doctrine of the Trinity and drew much inspiration from the Pentecostal Church, of which the five primary principles were: common property, celibacy, non-resistance, separate government, and power over physical disease.
Another critical aspect of their society was the “family” system. In this system, each Shaker community was divided into semi-autonomous subdivisions called “families.” Each community consisted generally between 2-6 families, ranging in size from about ten to more than one hundred members. Each family was administered by either an elder or elders who acted as the leading characters of the family. These leaders knew the occupations and locations of every Shaker within the family, conducted the initiations of novices and controlled the movements of trustees in their external dealings. The basic unit of social interaction for each shaker was the family. While the sexes were equal, they interacted minimally in order to circumvent human sexual desires. In accordance with the practice of Mother Ann, the only question asked of those who sought admission to the society was “are you sick of sin, and do you want salvation from it?” Overall, the society was one of extreme restriction on individual freedom in the interests of the community.
Religion played an immense role in Shaker society. Devotion to God led the Shakers to renounce a decadent life, sexual relations, and even nuclear family relations in order pursue their spiritual beliefs. In order to give all their attention to God and spiritual study, the Shakers eliminated all distractions and used all their energy to their religious devotion. One way of suppressing sexual desires, for instance, was for the Shakers to exert all their energy through active dancing and stomping through which they celebrated their religion.
The Shakers were also well known for their produce. As a self-sustaining community, members of the Shaker community spent the majority of their day contributing labor to the farmlands. This also contributed to their exertion of energy that exhausted them to the point of being unable to consider acting on their sexual desires.
The Shakers are also well-known for their excellent craftsmanship, particularly wood carving. Their simple, functional style has made their work famous throughout the states.
“You shall understand, that there is not under the Heavens, so chast a Nation, as this of Bensalem; Nor so free from all Pollution, or foulnesse. It is the Virgin of the World…” (Bacon, The New Atlantis)
I found this quote particularly emblematic of the utopia Bacon describes. This portion of the world untouched by pollution and all things foul. Bacon repeatedly describes Bensalem in terms of this innocence as seen in his quote here where he uses the word “chaste” to describe the nation. He also exemplifies this chastity, purity, and innocence through his claim that Bensalem is “the virgin of the world.”
This quote also reminded me of a theme I noticed throughout the book. Bensalem is a place free from total authority and even religion to an extent, and serves as a new beginning for the men on the ship in an untouched, and perfect world.
Perhaps the Bensalem is meant to represent Bacon’s idea of a utopia to be created in the Americas?
The song “Where is the love?” by The Black Eyed Peas primarily exemplifies the theme regarding human rights through the relationship between the individual and society. In their song, The Black Eyed Peas describe many of the tragedies constantly occurring throughout the world. These tragedies include violence both domestically and internationally. They describe “nations dropping bombs,” “children hurt,”and “people killing, people dying.” They cite the lack of love throughout the world as the cause of these pitfalls. For example one section of a verse argues, “if you only have love for your own race then you only leave space to discriminate and to discriminate only generates hate.” This verse implies that to achieve a perfect society or to at least overcome the pitfalls of society, love for one another must come to the forefront of human relations. This would in turn end the cycle of violence and pain inflicted by humans on one another throughout the world.
They also place blame on the overwhelming desire by individuals to make money without care for others. Further, they state that the world was not always this way and in order to return to a more “utopian” society we must abandon greed and turn away from the negative images and wrong information produced by the media. Ultimately, their song exemplifies their desire to return to a world with fairness, equality, and humanity. In other words, “instead of spreading love, we’re spreading animosity.”