Category Archives: Books and Stories

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Ethics in The Road
Everyone has a friend who says one thing but does another, a person whose actions are contradictory to his or her words. Imagine someone who is in favor of being green and keeping the earth clean. This person does extensive research before purchasing products so that when it comes time to throw them out most of his or her belongings can be recycled and reused by other people. The individual attends environmental protection meetings and is enthusiastic with spreading the word among friends. But at the same time that person smokes cigarettes and pollutes the air. The person believes that he or she is helping the earth by attending meetings and being present at rallies but does not realize that smoking is going against what he supposedly believes in. Similarly in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the father and son define themselves as the “good guys” but they do not help out the rest of the survivors. McCarthy suggests that law and ethics usually go hand in hand. For example, it is unethical to murder someone and it is also against the law to kill another human being. But in a world that has lost authority, ethics is also lost because each person has his or her own definition of what the morally correct thing to do when there is now law.
Cormac McCarthy was first inspired to write The Road when he visited Texas in 2003 with his son. He thought about what the area would look like in the future and saw “fire up on the hill”. The Road won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and is dedicated to his son. (Winfrey) The novel is about a father and his son wandering through the ashes of America after an apocalypse. The book does not explicitly show reader what the catastrophic event occurred, but allows the reader to imagine with meticulous descriptions of many disastrous scenes. They are traveling south towards warmer temperatures. They do not have much left except the road on which they travel on and each other. Since there is no animals or vegetation for consumption some humans resort to cannibalism. Throughout the book the father reassures his son that they are “the good guys” and they must find shelter from “the bad guys”, the cannibals. They have one firearm but only two bullets are loaded in it. The gun is their last resort in case they fall in the hands of the cannibals. The few survivors they meet they leave behind in order to save themselves and hopefully reach their destination. When it comes down to it they father will prioritize his son and himself over everyone else.
Throughout the novel the father constantly reminds his son that they are “the good guys”. He confirms “we’re ok…nothing bad is going to happen to us…because we’re carrying the fire.” (83) With this continual encouragement that they are upright and holding a supposed conflagration the father and son find the strength to keep traveling towards their destination. The father created a divide to separate him and his son from the supposed enemies. The label “the bad guys” consists of roadagents, cannibals, and anyone who could pose a threat to the man and his son. The man tells the boy stories about the old world and hope to try to keep fire alive in his son. They talk about the possibilities about a crow flying to Mars. The father says, “if you had a really good spaceship and you had people to help you I suppose you could go.” (157) The adult tries to instill hope in the child. Even in times of hardship the father teaches the son “This is what the good guys do. They keep trying. They don’t give up.” (137) When the man dies and the boy is found by a family who offer to take him in he asks, “How do I know you’re one of the good guys?…Are you carrying the fire? (283) When the boy runs into trouble in the future he still remembers his father’s words and keeps trying to protect himself and searching for the good guys.
The pair’s behavior is governed by what is right in their eyes. This is also reinforced by the fact that they are the good guys. Throughout the story the father and son’s priority is preservation, but the father’s attitude towards outsiders is not the same. The boy sees another small boy that looked about the same age as him in a house and worries about him. He ponders, “what if that little boy doesn’t have anybody to take care of him? What if he doesn’t have a papa?” (85) Even after his son’s tearful pleas, his father decides to leave the stranger behind. Another incident occurs while they are exploring the basement of formerly magnificent house. The people down there were “huddled against the back wall…naked…all trying to hide…a man with his legs gone to the hip and the stumps of them blackened and burnt.” (110) The scene was horrific. These victims were being kept alive in the basement for the sole purpose of being eaten by the road agents. One of them was already half gone. After escaping the house of horror the boy wonders what fate awaits the victims and confirms his father’s reason for leaving them behind. He says, “They’re going to eat them, aren’t they? Yes. And we couldn’t help them because then they’d eat us too. Yes. And that’s why we couldn’t help them. Yes.” (127) Even after leaving them behind the boy worries about them and tries to justify their actions. Some time later all of our main characters’ belongings were stolen. After tracking down the culprit the man strips the thief, figuratively and literally, of everything he has including his shoes. He protests, “Don’t do this, man. You didn’t mind doing it to us…You took everything…I’m going to leave you the way you left us.” (257) In the end, due to the boy’s pleas, they leave clothes and shoes on the road where they found the man. The boy is compassionate towards the people who are not the “bad guys” and he wants to bring them along for companionship. The father will do what is necessary in his eyes to protect himself and his son even if it means that he is leaving other innocent people to meet their demise.
In each example, the pairs’ ethics are challenged and the father makes decisions that the boy does not agree with but cannot go against. When the son spotted a little boy the father made the decision to keep moving on the road. The boy cried, “What about the little boy?” (86) The son even tried to negotiate with his father that he would share half of his food with the little boy, but his requests were denied. In today’s world if one saw a little boy who seemed lost, the most common question to ask the boy is “Where is your mommy?” Trying to help out the child would be the natural thing to do. But in such a world where survival as become “natural” people are left behind. When the duo left the dozens of victims in the basement the boy felt remorse and attempted to justify their reasons for deserting the ones in need. He says, “We couldn’t help them because then they’d eat us too…And that’s why we couldn’t help them.” (127) The connection to the victim here is not as strong as it was to the little boy because the son could identify with the young child. When the father and son caught the thief with their possessions they took everything he had. The boy protested, “Just help him…He was just hungry, Papa. He’s going to die.” (259) The boy finally convinces his father to leave clothes and shoes for the thief. The boy has a heart for helping others while the man’s heart has grown hard and cold in order to face reality and protect them. This shows that even the father and his son cannot agree on what the “right” thing to do is.
In The Road, Cormac McCarthy conveys that in a lawless society ethics is questioned because of priorities. The son has a strong sense of being a “good guy” and is taught to run away from the “bad guys”. His father’s teachings about what to look for in a good guy follows him even after the man has passed away. The choices the father makes are dependent on what he thinks is the right thing to do. These selections are based on what is advantageous to the father and the son even though it may not benefit the rest of what is left of society. Throughout the novel ethics is applied to each person differently and there is such a clash because the father and son have different opinions about what the “right” thing to do is. Seeing as this is what McCarthy envisions for our future, if some sort of apocalypse occurs there may be a very small bit of hope in mankind. The fact that we do not know if the boy survives after the family takes him in is representative of the mysterious and unknown future.

Stanisław Lem’s Futurological Congress

Decades Old, Yet Relevant Questions in Stanisław Lem’s Futurological Congress

Futurology analyzes the successes and failures of present technologies in order to predict new scientific innovations that may arise at any point in the future. In Stanisław Lem’s novel The Futurological Congress: From the Memoirs of Ijon Tichy, a large group of hilariously incompetent individuals who call themselves futurologists are gathered to solve the sociopolitical issues that have plagued mankind for as long as it has existed. In their solutions, the most difficulty is encountered in their obligation to respect the basic rights entitled to all citizens. Thus, they decide to look past such a minor formality in order to put in action all the spectacular ideas that have been conceived. One of these men will be unwillingly sent forward in time to observe the ripple effects of the policies that result from this congress. Through satirical yet astute criticism of a dystopian alternate society and its obliviously governed inhabitants, Lem’s novel forces us to ponder the extent of authority in our own lives, our use of perception-altering drugs, and other topics of controversy that have only become more relevant since the book was first published in 1971.

We are introduced to our protagonist, a Mr. Ijon Tichy, as he travels to Costa Rica to participate in the eighth world futurological congress. Tichy is a space traveler who is invited to participate by futurologist Professor Tarantoga, who is a recurring character throughout the book. Things are not well in Lem’s caricature of our world: the population is rising at a tremendous rate, terrorism is omnipresent to the point where Tichy’s hotel room comes with a guarantee of being bomb-free, and the members of the congress are desperate to come up with answers. After several futurologists present their own absurd solutions, the meeting becomes the target of a government-administered attack of euphoria inducing “benignimizers,” which are dissolved into the water supply and sprayed into the air. Tichy and Tarantoga escape to the sewers underground, but Tichy suffers from a series of intense hallucinations, in which he sees sewer rats standing upright playing bridge in one moment and is flying around with an imaginary jetpack in the next. Finally, Tichy, believing everything around him to be his hallucinations, is shot by an escaped criminal whose bullet Tichy is sure is just another invention of his own imagination. Our protagonist wakes to learn that he has been preserved for decades in an effort to cure him of his psychological and physical ailments, and now must live in a world where the issues futurologists were tasked with solving are masked from the populace by an abundance of complex drugs suited for any purpose.

This sudden revival in the year 2039 marks a dramatic change in setting as well as style of storytelling. Here, Lem explicitly explains that several of the absurd scenes Tichy witnessed in the past world have been hallucinations. In the later part of the narrative, it is left to the reader to judge the validity of the obviously delusional protagonist’s observations. In both halves of the novel, Lem presents far-fetched, overreaching resolutions to social issues that are exaggerated in the traditional black humor approach to sociopolitical criticism, known well amongst satirists such as Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller. Lem’s opinions on such issues manifest themselves in his explanation of the ridiculous policies that allow society to function at a debatable degree of success.

In the first world presented to the reader, Lem demonstrates the absurdity of the congress from which the novel takes its name. The incompetence of Lem’s futurologists and the superfluous fanfare surrounding the whole event is essentially Lem’s criticism of the luxuries enjoyed by powerful men. While they enjoy performances “in which an all-girl orchestra played Bach while performing a cleverly choreographed striptease” (Lem, 6), the world seems to be on its last hinges around them, with the frequent mentions of kidnapped diplomats, assassination attempts, and dwindling resources. When they finally come around to discussing the plights of their society, it is hilariously inefficient:

Each speaker was given four minutes to present his paper, as there were so many scheduled—198 from 64 different countries. To help expedite the proceedings, all reports had to be distributed and studied beforehand, while the lecturer would speak only in numerals… emphatically repeating: 4, 6, 11, and therefore 22; 5,9, hence 22; 3, 7, 2, 11, from which it followed that 22 and only 22! Someone jumped up saying yes but 5, and what about 6, 18, or 4 for that matter; [futurologist] Hazelton countered this objection with the crushing retort that, either way, 22. (20)

The reader may already be scoffing and realizing Lem’s point in criticizing the seemingly organized discussions that are political debates. By the time the next line is read, the reader is likely giggling and shaking his head at the absurdity of the congress as a whole: “I turned to the number key… and discovered that 22 meant the end of the world.”(20)

In the events leading up to our protagonist’s hibernation, we observe the government experimenting with the administration of calming chemical agents upon its citizens. “Benignimizers” are unknowingly consumed; “Love Thy Neighbor” bombs are dropped from planes. Tichy describes his thinking under the influence of such compounds as docile and accepting: “Every analytical reflex was as if submerged in thick syrup, wrapped and smothered in a porridge of self-satisfaction, all dripping with the honey of idiotic optimism…”(16)

The world of the future is where most of Tichy’s narrative takes place, and it is the setting in which the government’s ambitions to control the populace culminates in a final and tremendous abuse of power. Society is manipulated by the administration of various chemicals; meticulously developed variants of the original “benignimizers” of Tichy’s time. Citizens are either coerced into taking these drugs or unknowingly consume them, and are under their influence during every waking moment of their lives. Pills are commercialized for every possible derivative of basic human necessity. For anybody who is lonely, “… you can take a drug called duetine which doubles your consciousness in such a way, that you can hold discussions with yourself on any topic (determined by a separate drug).”(81) For the overly ambitious, there’s “… authentium. Creates synthetic recollections of things that never happened. A few grams… and a man goes around with the deep conviction that he has written The Divine Comedy.”(81) There are apparently even chemicals to alter physical appearance, as Tichy speaks of a group of black men who have effectively changed their ethnicity with the help of a drug called caucasium (97).

As Tichy becomes increasingly familiar with his new environment, he realizes that the societal struggles he was tasked with solving as a futurologist are not only still present, but also have considerably worsened. There are 29.5 billion living people on the planet (67), but somehow Tichy is made to believe that all the strife that defined his previous life had disappeared. It is still not apparent how these drugs managed to inspire such extreme widespread benevolence until we once again meet Professor Tarantoga, this time in the future world. He explains to Tichy that present society is functional due to a heavy dependence on chemicals known as “mascons,” which simultaneously induce sensory, visual, and auditory hallucinations to “falsify the world.”(113) Unbeknownst to Tichy and the entire population, they are administered these mascons with every meal they eat, every glass of water they drink, and every breath they take. The drug is simply everywhere. Over dinner at a luxurious restaurant, Professor Tarantoga offers Tichy a separate, illegal drug that will block the effects of these mascons, and only under its influence does Tichy understand that everything before him is a façade:

The magnificent hall, covered with carpets, filled with palms… the orchestra in the back that played exquisite chamber music while we all dine, all this had vanished. We were sitting in a concrete bunker, at a rough wooden table… The music was still there, but I saw now that it came from a loudspeaker hung on a rusted wire… the silver dish with steaming pheasant had turned into a chipped earthenware plate containing the most unappetizing gray-brown gruel…(114)

Professor Tarantoga brings the point home with a blunt affirmation of an inevitable truth: “Ours is simply a world in which more than twenty billion people live… In such a world, where are you going to find Chablis, pheasants…? The last pheasant died a quarter of a century ago.”(117)

It can be assumed that in some consecutive meeting of futurologists, held while Tichy was nothing but a frozen block of ice awaiting revitalization, this was suggested as a final solution to exponential growth of the population, opposition to authority, free will, and other pitfalls of humanity’s existence: mind-controlling drugs, to be administered forcefully or under the illusion of choice. Over years of chemical experimentation, starting with the benignimizers and Love Your Neighbor bombs of Tichy’s time, it has been found that a mind whose judgment is clouded by a veil of meticulously designed artificial satisfaction is open to complete manipulation. It’s eerie how relevant Lem’s observations remain forty years after Futurological Congress’s publication. In today’s prescription drug culture, chemical imbalances are quickly diagnosed and pills are prescribed to stimulate the brain, relax it, or anything in between. Lem’s fictional authority, so indifferent in its control, also parallels recent reports suggesting an authorized total invasion of our online privacy. Tichy’s memoirs leave us questioning our own relation to our leaders and the psychoactive chemicals we allow ourselves to consume, and Lem’s tongue-in-cheek approach to observing and criticizing these same issues is how he skillfully balances his work between social commentary and science fiction.

A Crystal Age by W.H. Hudson

How it all began…

This utopian novel was about a man named Smith who woke up on a pile of stones from an unknown accident (although Smith believes that he had fell on to the pile of stones). He wakes up, wanders around and stumbles upon a society in The House. The people in The House were in the middle of a funeral service. Although Smith tried to remain unnoticed, his ‘unusual’ dressing, compared to the people, gave him away. The people then took him in, and that’s how Smith started to learn about this utopian society.

Important characteristics of the society

This society practices an entirely different set of cultures and common sense.

To start off, this society worships nature. They’re entire lifestyle surrounds understanding, admiring, and learning from nature. The citizens of The House believe that nature is how God communicates with them. Although the word “God” was not formally used, words like “the Builder of the world” and “the Father of the world shows that they believe in God. Understanding and learning from nature is their priority above anything else. Therefore, even though people in this community have their own tasks and jobs, their main responsibility as citizens of The House is to learn from and admire nature.

They don’t know about any other societies or places, like England or India, and they’ve never heard of people like Alexander the Great, Confucius, or Shakespeare. Logically, they don’t practice our common language, and law. In terms of language, these people do understand English but not in the written word. In fact, they don’t know English as “English”, but rather, the “language of human beings”. They adopt a Hebrew-like writing system, which sounds exactly like English when read. However, they do not understand the figures of speech that Smith uses. In terms of law, the people are punished for indecent behavior like lying, and minute mistakes in performed tasks. They also punish people when they fall ill because falling ill shows that one is not taking care of himself/herself well. All punishments are usually solitary confinement in varied length of time.

In The House, there is no such thing as money. The prime medium of trade is labor or requests. When Smith wanted to have clothes that the people were wearing, his payment was in the form of a 1-year labor contract. On another occasion, when the Father of The House wanted the special ink pen that Smith has, in exchange, The Father granted his daughter, Yoletta, as Smith’s guide/teacher.

As everyone in this world lives a long life, everyone looks younger than his or her biological age. Hence, this is precisely the reason why there aren’t many children around as there is no need for sexual reproduction. It works well for the society too, since everyone regarded each other as only brothers or sisters, there’s no possibility for a “romantic” relationship to develop. However, the only exceptions to this rule are The Father and The Mother of the house. In addition to being The Father and Mother to everyone in The House, they also have their very own biological children.

The driver of the story, and how it ends.

A Crystal Age, and Smith’s new life, is hugely driven by the character “Yoletta”, who is the most beautiful person to Smith, and Smith falls quickly and deeply in love with her. However, in this society, romantic love does not exist; the only kind of love that exists is sisterly/brotherly love, which extends to all inhabitants of this utopian society. Everyone regards each other as a brother/sister.

Throughout the story, Smith tries to understand the “passionless” nature of this society. He eagerly tries to explain to Yoletta how much he loves her, and that his love is not the love that Yoletta shares with everyone else, but a love that he only reserves for Yoletta. Yoletta, unexposed to Smith’s notion of love, struggles to understand how can anyone love one person in a different way that one would love brothers and sisters.

Being Smith’s teacher, Yoletta spends more and more time with Smith. As time passes, her love for Smith grows, but still not as what Smith has hoped for – a romantic love between them. Smith is incredibly troubled by the passionless nature of this society, and he struggles o find out why. His obsession with this thought drained his soul, and he became less joyful than he originally was. Knowing that Yoletta will never be able to love him the way he wants her to, he thought he might as well learn to be “passionless”.

He stumbles upon a potion in a library that reads “When time and disease oppress, and the sun grows cold in heaven, and there is no longer any joy on the earth, and the fire of love grows cold in the heart, drink of me, and for the old life there shall be new life”. He thought that this potion would help him become “passionless”, and after some deliberation, he drank the potion. As he reads the book by the potion, he slowly feels his bodily sensation fade away. It turns out that the potion was actually poison.

The story ends with Yoletta coming by his side, and the hint that Yoletta and Smith were the appointed new Mother and Father of The House.

Final thought

It seems like Hudson, the author, is trying to convey that romance and sex are sources of unhappiness. In addition to the fact that Smith has died precisely because of his passion, the fact The Mother was also allowed to be the only one in The House to be “unhappy” tells me so too. The Mother, supposedly being the one who has ultimate happiness, is also the only one who is NOT punished for falling sick because childbirth is a natural source of suffering. While one may think that the suffering of childbirth is a temporary one, the only two Mothers (the current one and the preceding one) mentioned in the story were both suffering one way or the other.

Stranger in a Strange Land By Robert Heinlein

The actual Church of All Worlds:

  1. Background information on Heinlein and on Stranger in a Strange Land (1991 Edition)

Robert A. Heinlein has been praised as one of the most prominent science fiction authors whose books were some of the first to be published on the New York Times Best Sellers list. According to The Heinlein Society, a membership society which preserves his work, he was born in Missouri in 1907 and was enamored with astronomy and science fiction by the time he entered High School. Some of his favorite authors that were mentioned include Tom Swift and H.G Wells. In 1929, he graduated from the Naval Academy and served in the Navy until he was medically discharged in 1934. After a stint in politics, he ended up entering learning about Thrilling Wonder Stories’ new policy that encouraged submissions from unpublished writers. He wrote his first short story, “Life-Line”, and instead sent it in to Astounding Science Fiction. Heinlein continued his writing and eventually met Virginia, a friend of his from the Navy, who would be his third and final wife. He was a four-time winner of the Hugo Award, an award for great works of science fiction and fantasy work. The Heinlein Society also credits him with urging the Navy to take up space exploration and creating the waterbed (hydraulic bed, Page 19).

The earliest edition of Stranger in a Strange Land was published in 1961 with the removal of scenes that the editors believed would be offensive to public taste. In the novel, both parts four and five explore the idea of religion and free love which were not the norms of the conservative culture in the fifties. According to the preface in the 1991 original uncut version, Heinlein’s wife, Virginia, states that his publishers feared that this book was “too far off the beaten path”. Originally, he was asked to cut the manuscript down to 150,000 words from 220,000 words, removing almost a quarter of the book. Heinlein was able to cut the book down to 160,087 and the cut version remained in print for 28 years. After Heinlein’s death in 1988, Virginia was given authority under the new Copyright Law of 1976 to renew the book and cancel all of the old contracts. She obtained the original uncut version from archivists at the University of California at Santa Cruz and realized that it was a mistake to cut out so much of the book.

As far as the concept of the book, Virginia reveals in the preface that she suggested the idea of human infant, raised by an alien race. After brainstorming for a short story to publish in a 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, Heinlein liked his wife’s idea but left the notes alone for several years. It was not until eleven years later that Stranger in a Strange Land was completed and readers were introduced to Valentine Michael Smith and The Church of All Worlds. Contrary to popular belief about the novel, this was not a “blueprint for a new society”. According to the 1990 New York Times article entitled “Heinlein Gets the Last Word” by Kurt Vonnegut, “The novel was not written, he explained to one fan, to promulgate any set of beliefs. ‘I was not giving answers. I was trying to shake the reader loose from some preconceptions and induce him to think for himself, along new and fresh lines. In consequence, each reader gets something different out of that book because he himself supplies the answers … It is an invitation to think — not to believe.’” The Library of Congress named the 1961 edition as one of 88 “Books that shaped America”. According to the Library of Congress, it was the first science fiction novel to become a bestseller.


  1. Summary of Stranger in a Strange Land (1991 Edition)

The novel is broken up into five parts: His Maculate Origin, His Preposterous Heritage, His Eccentric Education, His Scandalous Career, and His Happy Destiny. It chronicles the life and death of the stranger, Valentine Michael Smith, who is returning to earth at age 25 from Mars. He has no understanding of humans or our peculiar ways.

A quarter of a century after Envoy was sent to Mars and crashed, a second space ship called Champion is sent. When the new space mission arrives, they discover that there is life on Mars and there is one survivor of Champion – Valentine Michael Smith, also known simply as Mike in the novel. Since he was raised by a group of Martians for the past 25 years, it is obvious he will not be able to adjust to life on Earth. Captain Willem Van Tromp radios ahead to Bethesda Hospital and states, “my passenger must not, repeat, must not be subjected to the strain of a public reception (Page 19)”. The public was hoping that the expedition would bring a Martian back with them to “gawk” at but it seems the crew becomes more focused on the discovery of Mike. Later, the reader learns that Mike is the rightful heir to a large inheritance as the sole survivor of the Envoy expedition. It does not take long for the public to learn about Mike and for the government to use a body double to present to the public.

After hearing from her boyfriend Ben about Mike and that the government is keeping him a secret, Jill is determined to meet Mike. Pretending to be a nurse, she sneaks into his room and they share a glass of water. In Mars, sharing water is considered sacred and they become Water brothers. Every person Mike shares water with becomes another Water brother. Jill dresses Mike up as a nurse and sneaks him out of the hospital. When the police arrive at the apartment where they are hiding, the reader learns that Mike is able to make people vanish out of existence. “The older ones have taught him well…he reached out and Berquist was no longer there (Page 92).” In need of a place to hide, Jill reaches out to her friend Jubal E. Harshaw, L.L.B., M.D., Sc.D., bon viviant, gourmet, sybarite, popular author extraordinary, and neo pessimist philosopher, to take care of them. The introduction of Jubal in the novel represents the beginning of Mike’s education and assimilation with human life. Since he had spent the last 25 years living on Mars, he must learn all aspects of how humans live as well as the language. Out of all aspects of human life, Mike seems to love using his powers to take off women’s clothes and having sex. Eventually, Mike is tracked down but the government is forced into negotiations for his fortune with Jubal as Mike’s lawyer.

The end of the negotiations leads to the beginning on a long list of adventures that Mike embarks on with his money. The most significant adventure is when he discovers the Fosterites. It is a religious movement that mixes gambling, drinking, and sexuality with evangelicalism and decides to commit himself to creating his own church – The Church of All Worlds. Ben, Jill’s friend and once lover, discovers that the parishioners of the Church of All Worlds are learning the Martian language and their philosophy. Everyone is a nudist and can have multiple sexual partners. Once they can understand Mike’s teachings, they can gain Martian powers. At first, Ben seems very disgusted but the reader learns that he ends up joining the church. In the end of the book, Mike’s church is burned to the ground. An angry mob forms outside Mike’s hotel and when Mike attempts to preach to them about God and his offering of the water of life, the crowd throws bricks at him. Even as he is attacked, he still smiles at the crowd of people. When they douse him with gasoline and set him on fire, he still tells them that he loves them. Mike’s message is carried on through Jubal and Mike goes to heaven where he is greeted as Archangel Michael. Jubal, who some critics believed was Heinlein himself, begins writing a story titled “A Martian Named Smith” and Mike goes to the afterlife.


III. Historical context and religious references

Although Heinlein wrote the book throughout the fifties, it became an important part of the counterculture movement in the 1960s. Some writers credit Stranger in a Strange Land with starting the counterculture movement. There was a huge anti-establishment movement occurring in the sixties as the West attempted to contain communism. In the novel, there is this element of government control as they try to keep the discovery of Mike a secret and fool the public. The sixties were also a time of questioning America’s conservative values and experimenting with free love and drugs. The Church of All Worlds is symbolic of the rejection of conservatism and the acceptance of experimentation. On page 447, Ben asks Jubal if he finds the Church of All Worlds to be moral. Jubal responds, “I haven’t had a chance to examine details – but yes: all of it. Group orgies, and open and unashamed swapping off at other times…their communal living and their anarchist code…and most especially their selfless dedication to giving their perfect morality to others.”

This entire novel has satirical references to religion from the choice of character names to the death of the “stranger”, Valentine Michael Smith. The title itself is a reference to Exodus 2:22 in the King James Bible which states “And she bore him a son, and he called his name Gershom [that is, A stranger there]; for he said, “I have been a stranger in a strange land.” Before the novel begins, it states “NOTICE: All men, gods and planets in this story are imaginary. Any coincidence of names is regretted.” Throughout the novel, I found there to be a number of parallels between Michael and Archangel Michael as well as Jesus. In the preface, Heinlein’s wife writes that the given names of the chief characters have great significance – Michael stands for “Who is like God?” This is a direct reference to Archangel Michael, the top angel to God. Additionally, the first part of the book is “His Maculate Origen” is a reference to the Immaculate Conception. Unlike the Virgin Mary who became pregnant free of the original sin, Mike was conceived sex. As Mike creates his church, The Church of All Worlds, he gains disciples that are all working towards becoming like him. Mike’s death is also very similar to the death of Jesus. When Mike goes to meet the crowd of people to preach to them, he is stoned and beaten. Eventually, the crowd sets him on fire but he still preaches and tells the people he loves them (pages 516-517). When Jesus was crucified, he did not curse the people who killed him. Instead, he asked God to forgive them. In the preface, Heinlein’s wife states that Jubal is also a religious reference whose name means “the father of all”. Jubal does guide and support Mike throughout his time on earth. He is the patron saint of The Church of All Worlds (Page 416). On page 519, Mike says “I’ve got some things to attend to. I love you, Father. Thou art God.” After Mike goes on to the afterlife, Jubal takes charge of carrying out Mike’s will.


IV: The Church of All Worlds as the Utopia

I struggled with identifying whether this was a utopian or dystopian novel. It was not until the fourth part of Stranger in a Strange Land that I realized where Heinlein was going with the meaning of his novel. After Mike experiences the human world, he finds his purpose for being there – to be ordained and start a church. The reader learns about this church through Ben and Jubal’s interactions with each other and with Mike.

The most prominent aspect of The Church of All Worlds is the concept of the Nest which is where a group of people live together and have deep feelings for each other. There are about twenty people in the Nest but not all of them have fully reached this enlightened stage associated with being a Martian. Since this is a communal group, there are bowls of money next to the door. If someone needs to leave to go shopping, they can take money as they walk outside. When Ben asks if anyone keeps track of the money, Patty (one of the members) is confused as to why they would need to. Members of the church also practice free low and there is no jealousy in regards to sharing partners. Members are also nudists. They also do not have medicine because they believed they did not need it.

There were rumors that Charlie Manson used Stranger in a Strange Land as his bible but this was a rumor put out by an anonymous publisher. However, there is an actual Church of All Worlds in California that was set up after the founder read this book and fell in love with the concept of the Nest.



“Foundation” (1951) by Isaac Asimov

Foundation is the first book of Isaac Asimov’s acclaimed trilogy, published in 1951. The hit science fiction series was the recipient of a Hugo Award in 1966, claiming the title of “Best All Time Series.” Asimov was a Russian native who emigrated to America with his family at the young age of three. He studied chemistry at Columbia University and went on to get a PhD in the subject, a credible scientific interest which is certainly reflected in his writings. He later became a faculty member at the Boston University School of Medicine. Asimov produced more than two hundred works, most popularly science fiction such as I, Robot, in addition to many works of non-fiction.

Foundation drew its initial inspiration from The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by historian Edward Gibbons, an account read twice by Asimov. Foundation is a combination of five short stories spanning about one hundred and fifty years in the interstellar Galactic Empire. Rather than trace the story of an individual hero in an isolated period of time, Foundation zooms out on the larger picture of civilization over a wide span of time and setting while touching on how forces such as technology, religion, and government all work together.

Asimov relates this concept of emphasizing the bigger picture of the world over the short-term individual to the existing cultural landscape of his own lifetime, where a strong sense of nationalism was on the rise. In particular, Asimov lived through the beginnings of the Cold War tension between Communist Russia and Capitalist America. Both countries isolated themselves from the other and pitted against each other in a head-to-head rivalry. However, Asimov favored a more global unification of this split: “To my way of thinking, the biggest obstacle to solving the problems we have…is that the world is dividing up into separate nations, all of which are more concerned over their own short-term interests than over the long-term survival of the human species. And as long as that is so, then I don’t think we will have a chance, because we will all go down the tube quarreling, so to speak” (Konstantin). Asimov supported unification over disagreement in order to promote the existence of humanity. He was also a strong liberal, a staunch opponent to the Vietnam War, and a supporter of political candidates who focused on grassroots movements as the force of change rather than bureaucratic governmental forces.

Foundation begins with an introduction of Hari Seldon on Trantor, the capitol planet of the Galactic Empire. Seldon is a dying old man who has perfected his own science coined “psychohistory.” This branch of psychology uses statistical science to predict the course of future events, and according to Seldon’s predictions, the Galactic Empire comprised of countless planets is doomed to fall within three hundred years. The data project a thirty thousand year of recovery from this fall rife with anarchy, a parallel to the Dark Ages following the fall of Rome. In response, Seldon formulates a plan to create a new civilization that will survive the fall and change the course of history, cutting the post-fall recovery period down to a mere one thousand years and emerging as the center of the Second Galactic Empire. Seldon is accused of treason for bringing his radical predictions to the government’s attention, yet cleverly negotiates a deal with the Emperor to found a new civilization of scientists on an insignificant planet called Terminus, located all the way on the outer rim of the galaxy. Terminus is created as a small community of scientists working on a scientific Encyclopedia, a disguise for its true setup of the community that will reunite the Galactic Empire in one thousand years.

The remaining four stories track the progress of Terminus in its role, in which it rises to become an all-encompassing political, religious, and economic power. The only catch is that the population of Terminus is not made aware of this plan until fifty years after its initial settlement, when a civilization is already established and there is nothing else to do but stay put and follow Hari Seldon’s plan. This is why Seldon makes intermittent reappearances in the lives of prominent and capable politicians who arise as mayors of Terminus, such as Salvor Hardin and Hober Millow. Prior to his death, Seldon had recorded short clips of himself, which can only be viewed by inhabitants of Terminus when an otherwise unbreakable Vault unlocks every few decades. The timing of these viewings chronologically lines up with Seldon’s data that predicted that Terminus would be in the midst of a major clash of internal and external crises. These “Seldon Crises” are the key points that move the Foundation along the path of rebuilding the Empire. The crises revolve around the other planets on the periphery of the Galaxy that have been forgotten by the declining Empire and left to their own barbarically independent devices.

The comparison to Rome is clear as both the Empire and Terminus were often under pressures both from without and within, which Rome ultimately collapsed from. The references to outside “barbarian” planets parallel the invading tribes that threatened the borders of the Roman Empire. Asimov projected this world far into the future with such strong parallels to likely advance a cyclical view of history in which events repeat themselves. As he said himself, “I was essentially writing future history, and I had to make it sufficiently different from modern history to give it that science fictional touch” (Seiler). The brilliant politicians constructed by Asimov, who play a main role in the resolution of each “Seldon Crisis,” do as little as possible to rectify the problems. Instead, they choose to let the course of history play out on its narrow path, making improvised moves that work around this greater sense of course.

In the context of the time period of the writing of Foundation, countries such as Russia, the United States, and Germany had all begun to play with the idea of space travel. By this point, rocket designs were being drawn and the first monkey was even launched into space in 1948. A futuristic view of spaceships was a fascinating new concept at the time, made even more appealing in its growing accessibility. Comparable technology in Foundation mirrored the rising technologies of Asimov’s time via thinly disguised names: for example, people crowded around visors in their homes, which are essentially televisions.

The first mayor of Terminus, the clever Salvor Hardin, must convince the writers of the Encyclopedia who run the planet (before being made aware of Seldon’s plan) that there is another purpose behind their civilization, and that the neighboring planet of Anacreon presents a severe threat of takeover that must be faced and overcome. He maneuvers out of the situation with his sharp insight and break from traditional means, getting Anacreon and its surrounding three kingdoms to fear Terminus, particularly its use of nuclear power, which has been absent from the periphery planets for decades. In the course of the Foundation’s history, this nuclear power is the main leverage Terminus has over the surrounding warlords of the planets. Salvor Hardin actually forms a religion around the sought after power source: “a fluffy flummery to get them to accept our science without question” (134). The barbarians on other planets see this nucleic power and science as a magical power. Therefore, on Terminus, priests are taught the way of the “Galactic Spirit” and are sent out to the periphery planets to perform their religious duties of operating the equipment, which are in essence a guise for technological power controlled by an all-knowing political force.

Technology clearly is a prominent theme throughout Foundation, particularly the role that nuclear force plays and its entwinement with religion and government. Here again, the theme of the work parallels Asimov’s own life, which witnessed this powerful nuclear force being advanced and utilized in both World War II and the Cold War. During this period of history, nuclear warfare dominated the political landscape, and countries competed for advancements that would enable them to have the military edge. The Foundation, wielding its small supply of nuclear power, therefore makes surrounding planets rely on them for power, economy, and life. The planets become dependent on power plants and technology, while citizens blindly hold fast to this since it is their religion. This pseudoreligion is nothing more than a tool of political conquest paralleling Christianity with its concepts of paradise, hell, a spirit, and even commandments. One example of this combination of government and religion is the divine kingship on Anacreon, where nuclear power allows the divinely crowned king to rise in the air with a beautiful aura surrounding him. This display is proof that he has been specially selected. Asimov’s emphasis on technology as a strong force when combined with government and religion reflects his personal belief in the prominence of technology for human existence both in his time and in the future. Asimov thought technology could be wielded for the good of society, promoting a more optimistic view than many of his science fiction counterparts.

Asimov himself was an atheist and a rationalist who believed in reason alone. Asimov was also a Humanist, philosophical view that credits humans as the guiding forces behind society rather than attributing these to a God. These beliefs led to his representation of religion in Foundation as a usefully constructed tool of government to trick the masses and exercise control. This idea reflects the views of Karl Marx, author of the Communist Manifesto, who said that religion is the “opium of the people.”

Aside from the intermingling of government and religion, another major theme of Foundation centers on the corruption of many governmental systems, which leading political figures of Foundation, beginning with Harry Seldon, exist to outwit. Indeed, mayor Salvor Hardin evades two Seldon Crises using mere improvisation and common sense. Often, the lords and kings of the planets surrounding Terminus are mocked as humorously pompous and overly extravagant with nothing very intelligent to say, and are easily outwitted by Terminus’ capable mayors. These dysfunctional reigns are marked by divine kingships, totalitarian governments, or feudal estates which employ harsh punishments reminiscent of totalitarian dictators, including assassinations to gain power and gas chambers. It seems as if Asimov’s ideal Foundation government centers on scientific progress ruled by the intellectually elite and centered in a representative democracy, as exemplified on Terminus.

The use of science as the focal point of society is reminiscent of Salomon’s House in Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, which focused on the advancement of humans via scientific progress. Much of the scientific language employed in Foundation was also very reminiscent of “We” with its application of mathematics to human life. Here, mathematics was applied not to emotions but to broad historical concepts and events on a large scale through the statistics of psychohistory.

Foundation is a captivating story with many themes; the most fascinating of these is the interplay of technology, religion, and government. While reading this novel, the cyclical view of history presented was a reminder that the Galactic Empire is not a completely far-fetched, fictional society. Foundation is not only meant to be an outline of the past, but a reflection on modern times. Asimov poses the weighty question to readers as a takeaway: “Can we afford to take chances? Can we risk the present for the sake of a nebulous future? We must – because the future isn’t nebulous. It has been calculated” (119).

My presentation

 Works Cited

 Asimov, Isaac. Foundation. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1951. Print.

Konstantin, Phil. “”An Interview with Isaac Asimov.” “An Interview with Isaac Asimov”- by Phil Konstantin. Southwest Airlines Magazine, 1979. Web. 05 Nov. 2014.

Seiler, Edward. “Isaac Asimov FAQ.” Isaac Asimov FAQ. N.p., 1994. Web. 05 Nov. 2014.


Asimov calls religion and politics a “lethal” combination.


The Giver- Lois Lowry

The Giver was written in 1994 by author Lois Lowry. She is an esteemed young adult/ children’s writer and has written over 40 books including the Giver. Her background is very important to the story of the Giver as it shows us where the inspiration for such a book would come from. Although it is often depicted as Utopian/Dystopian literature she wrote the book as an actual thought experiment after an episode dealing with her elder father who was at the time losing his memory. She quickly rejects the idea of the book being a Dystopian novel saying: “I didn’t think of it as futuristic or dystopian or science fiction or fantasy.”[1]  After realizing that her dad had no memory of her sister and her passing away at the age of 28 to cancer, she “…began to think about writing a book about people who had found a way to manipulate human memory, so they wouldn’t have to remember anything bad.”[2]

Lowry was born in March of 1937, making her well into her 50’s at the time of The Giver’s publication. She grew up changing schools constantly, because of her dad’s occupation as an Army Dentist. Lowry found herself having to deal with the many nuances of the different schools she spent time in. Only to figure it all out, and to have to move on to the next school where things were always undoubtedly different. She didn’t actually become an author until the age of 40.  After she was already married, had four children, and divorced in 1977, actually the same year her first book, A Summer to Die, was published. This book actually mirrored her own life as it is about a young girl who has to deal with the death of her sister to cancer. Lowry herself lost her sister to cancer when she was 25 and her sister was 28 as I mentioned briefly.  Lowry says of the books she writes that they are about “the same general theme: the importance of human connections.”[3] They center on “that of the role that we humans play in the lives of our fellow beings.” [4]

With that said, it is still easily understood why the book still falls under the genre of Dystopian Literature as the books many commenters would suggest- myself included although my personal thought is it seems at times more Utopian than Dystopian. Her explanations back it up actually, as Utopian and Dystopian literature is usually based out of the need or want for an alternative way of life. They are thought experiments, what ifs so to speak. That is exactly what writing The Giver was for Lois Lowry. It was a thought experiment; it was a want for an alternative way of living because the way of living we know may sometimes be too harsh.

In the society that Lowry describes in the Giver there is no hunger, no pain, no fear, no illnesses, or conflict. There is no money in the society and no class structure, every citizen is equal and there is the characteristic of “Sameness”, which eliminates any racism or discrimination. The citizens are led by the Committee of Elders and the Chief Elder (a position that is newly elected every 10 years), following strict rules that govern not just their language, occupation, roles in the society, but also the way their families are structured. The family unit as we know it is dissolved. In order to be chosen for a spouse a citizen must apply to The Committee and in the eyes of The Committee they must have the emotional capacity to connect to others in order to actually be assigned a partner.

Children are not conceived in the conventional way by the paired husband and wife, again they must submit an application and wait for approval from the committee before receiving a child. Fifty newborns are allowed each year and they are delivered through birthmothers and then given to a family that has been approved after 1 year of being nurtured by the Nurturers- a group of nursery workers essentially, who are responsible for the emotional and physical needs of all the children under the age of one in the society. If a child does not develop well in that first year they are released from the community and the child is not given a name or a family. However, most children are assimilated into the society well and the December after their birth the child takes part in the age ceremonies where they are given to a family approved for a child and given a name.

Each family is allowed at most one son and one daughter. Every December as the children age they complete another major milestone. The nines (9 year old children) are given their first haircuts and given their bicycle- which is the mode of transportation in the society used by every citizen over the age of nine. The ceremonies end for the children after they become twelves and are given their role in the society. This role is carefully selected for the child after being observed by the Elders and they decide in what ways their personalities and talents align to specific roles in the society. There are many roles or jobs such as Doctor, Laborer, Birthmothers (who conceive 1 child per year for three years and then spend the rest of their “careers” as Laborers), Nurturers, roles in the Department of Justice, Fish Hatchery Attendant, Assistant Director of Recreation, and many more roles that each play a part towards helping the society run smoothly.

We start out meeting the main character Jonas who is anxious about his upcoming age ceremony in December, as this year he will become a Twelve. We are also introduced to his father who is a Nurturer in the community, his mother who holds a role in the Department of Justice, and his younger sister Lily who is a Seven. This would be his last year of being a part of the age ceremonies and he would be given his role in the society. These ceremonies are very important in the society as they essentially decide the lives of all the members of the society in the Giver. The first few chapters are about Jonas and his apprehension for the upcoming ceremony. We learn about the rules in the society and we are painted a wonderful picture of what life is like in this Utopian Community that takes very good care of its members in return for their cooperation with the rules that are imposed on them by The Committee. The citizens do not lie and if they do act outside of the rules such as insensitive chatter- calling attention to the things that are different about others- they are chastised. After three infractions a citizen will be released from the community. “For a contributing citizen to be released [from the community] was a final decision, a terrible punishment, an overwhelming statement of failure.” The only time release was looked upon as a ceremony or time for celebration is for the release of an elder in the community, who had lived a full life that was well lived.

By the time Jonas is ready for his assignment we have learned much about the government (The Committee of Elders), the rules and the norms of the society, and the family structure. The family is constructed of a mother, father, brother and sister; however they are not biologically a family as they have all been placed together strategically by the Elders in the community. They are birthed by birthmothers who do not take care of or get to know their own children. It is quite the opposite actually as birthmothers do not become a part of family units. Other things also become evident, like the strong hold that the Elders have on the thinking and the behavior of the citizens. Through sometimes what I consider passive aggressive tactics they get citizens to do as they are told and the citizens seem to truly believe that to act outside of these rules and the norms put in place by the elders, is a crime of sorts; even a sin.

During the ceremony Jonas is anxiously waiting for his turn to be given an assignment but has to wait through the ceremonies of the 18 other children before him as he was the 19th child born the year he was born. He learns the roles of his two close friends and it is finally his turn to learn his role! Yet he is passed over and the Elders do not immediately give him his role. At the end of the ceremony the elders explain that Jonas has not been given a role but has been chosen for the highly respected role of the Receiver! This is an extraordinary event and causes for a speech by the Elder explaining the new appointment.

He is given the rules for his new role as the Receiver of the community and he is taken aback by their briefness (he had been given only 8 rules that fit on a single page to while others were give thick packets to go with their new jobs in the society), and he is shocked that he is told he is permitted to tell lies which is strictly forbidden in this community besides he has never told a lie in his life.

Jonas immediately begins to train with the current Receiver an elder of the community, who asks to be called the Giver from now on since Jonas is now the Receiver. The Giver has the memories of the past stored within him. He has the knowledge of the world before them- not just the world that the community knows of, but of the world that they are being deprived of. He houses within him the memories of all that has happened in the world up to that point. It is his role to use that knowledge to guide the elders of the community in their decision making and to shield the rest of the community from the knowledge as well. Through his training with the Giver, Jonas begins to receive the memories of the past.

Jonas is startled by the many things he learns about his community and his life. Jonas becomes aware that neither he nor the rest of the community is able to see in color, he begins to learn that they do not understand the true feelings of love, happiness, pain, and hurt. He begins to understand that his community is being deprived of the basic value of life because they are being shielded from reality by the extreme rules put in place by the elders. He also learns of the secrets that the Elders are keeping from the community and of the dark and sinister ways that were unapparent to him before his training with the Giver.

Jonas not only has seconds thoughts about his community because of what he is learning from the training with the Giver but he also starts to dislike his own father because of the truths he learns out about his role in the community. He learns that there is more going on than he first assumed about his community and when a small baby named Gabe, that his father has been caring for is set to be released because he has not adjusted well in the community Jonas decides to escape.

With the memories that the Giver has given him he hopes to survive his attempt to escape the community he once thought that he loved. Jonas will continue to reflect on the community from which he is trying to escape as he makes his journey out into the unknown world of Elsewhere. As in much dystopian/utopian literature the community is separated from the outside world with a forest that has not been ventured in to. The book ends with Jonas trying to escape and us hoping he makes it out and somehow finds a better place for himself and the small baby Gabe…

Class themes:

Similar themes to those discussed in class are the idea and the role of the family unit. Here the family unit is created through strategic placement by the elders after couples have been together for more than three years. The couples do not have sex and the feelings of sexuality are repressed through pills that are taken after the age of puberty. They must apply for children- and only 50 children are created a year.

Another class theme is the ideal role of the government. Here we see the Elders and the Committee in this society as the governing class that rules in this society. The use and the notion of the “great lie” that is told in order to create a sense of reasoning behind their actions. The expect that there citizens behave in a ethical way that constitutes everything from the way they speak, to the way they dress. These things are monitored through the watchful eye of the elders and because everyone in the community buys into the laws and the order set forth for them.

The relationship between the sexes is not that of love but one of necessity. There is no love involved physically or emotionally. There is no religion in the society and there seems to be no idea of God or a higher being.

Although not explicitly mentioned it seems that there is some technical advances they have been able to make in order to have women reproducing without having sex (the birthmothers). It seems technology is also responsible for the fact that they are unable to see in color and the suppression of certain feelings.






“The Iron Heel” (1908), Jack London

The Iron Heel (1908), Jack London

The Iron Heel is a multi-level story of the past, present, and future—all at the same time. Avis Cunningham (Everhard), a middle-class-lady-turned-revolutionist in the United States, writes a manuscript of events that have occurred in her past (1910s), but narrates it in the present tense. She writes about the ongoing revolution to topple the capitalist system, not knowing that it would actually take multiple revolts after her for capitalism to finally fall.

The plot within the manuscript first focuses on Cunningham’s encounter with Ernest Everhard, who eventually becomes her husband. She first meets Everhard, a man from the working class, at her father’s dinner party. Everhard challenges the higher classes to recognize the contemporary flaws and inevitable crumbling of the capitalistic system, debates socialist theories with them, and describes the current reality of the working class. Everhard opens up the door of socialism for Cunningham, Dr. Cunningham, and Bishop Morehouse—gradually allowing each to come to accept a revolutionist’s perspective.

This ultimately leads Everhard to state, “That, gentlemen, is socialism, a greater combination than the trusts, a greater economic and social combination than any that has yet appeared on the planet. We meet combination with greater combination.” (London, Ch. 8).

Cunningham discovers real flaws within the capitalistic system—from company negligence to unjust courts, and from dirty conspiracies to bribes and treason. There are multiple confrontations between Everhard and capitalist defenders. In one instance, he reveals the hypocrisy of middle-class merchants, who support capitalism but rage against “bigger dogs” who have taken their profits. Everhard describes the rise of the socialism, and how a impactful uprising throughout the world is in the works.

The entire second half of the novel deals with the physical revolutionary action against the “Iron Heel”. The revolutionaries plan to seize power and control through a coup d’etat, rather than a social revolution. The proletariats/laborers plan to take power from the ruling class, from the trusts, and gain control of all the machinery. Cunningham goes into secret hiding, changes her identity, and sends and receives messages to/from other revolutionaries—all for the socialist cause. Cunningham and Everhard, even though briefly jailed and separated, continue their plans for the First Revolt with enthusiasm.

The First Revolt was planned for the spring of 1918. The revolutionaries planned to blow up wireless stations; transportation networks (bridges, tunnels); and seize officers of the Mercenaries, police, and Oligarchy. Other simultaneous events were to occur in neighboring cities and countries all around the world. It was doomed from the start, however. While undercover with the Oligarchs, Cunningham discovers that the revolutionary plot in Chicago–the “storm-centre of the conflict between labor and capital”–has been discovered (Ch. 22). Knowing that “Chicago is to be sacrificed,” she still makes her way to the doomed city, where Everhard is presumed to be. Although she is able to reunite with her husband, the destruction is obvious– bodies lay in red pools in the streets, suspicious traitors are questioned and executed on the spot, and bombs and explosions fill the city with noise and destruction.


Although the First Revolt fails, the revolutionaries quickly plan a Second Revolt—even with a recent passing of one of their capable leaders, Everhard (which is never explained). The story ends in mid-sentence, and it is suggested that Cunningham must have been rushed to hide the manuscript. She was never able to return to finish the manuscript, and her fate is also unknown. Unfinished and kept hidden until discovered 700 years into the future, the manuscript gets updated with footnotes and a foreword by Anthony Meredith, who provides useful historical context and explanations. By this time, Meredith is living under socialism.

Jack London’s view of socialism was not concrete. In fact, his political views were a personal cocktail of conflicting theories—emotional demands for social justice, racial superiority of the white race, and social Darwinism (Trott). This idea of social evolution was a part of his socialist thinking—he understood that class conflict and subsequent revolution were inevitable facts of nature (“The Iron Heel: A Jack London Novel…”). He became a member of the Socialist Labor Party in 1896, and joined the Socialist Party of America in the early 1900s.

By 1906, London had already abandoned the idea of a “mass working-class movement to overthrow capitalism and establish a new society” (Trott). Although The Iron Heel starts out with the strong belief that socialism can overwhelm capitalism, London indicates that socialism is not attainable in the likely future (multiple revolt failures)—declaring that the working class is actually powerless in freeing itself from capitalistic rule. Although the Iron Heel eventually topples a few centuries later, the capitalist system fails because of its own vulnerabilities—not through an overtaking.

The Iron Heel was “remarkably prophetic” in describing the actions of government during World War I, after London’s death (“The Iron Heel: A Jack London Novel…”). London discusses the utilization of secret police, reactionary mobs, spies, and terrorism the Iron Heel and revolutionaries participated in. He also describes the heavy censorship of papers and control of media, which proved to be a major disadvantage for the revolutionaries. The Espionage Act passed during WWI brought about paper censorship, jailed outspoken dissenters, and “protection groups” that went around towns dealing with unpatriotic people. His predictions were oddly foretelling.

Circumstances of the times:
The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw much economic and social sickness, including: the Depression of 1873, the Pittsburgh railroad strike and the July riots of 1877, the Haymarket Riot of 1886, the Great Panic of 1893, the mass demonstrations of the unemployed, the control of monopoly and large-scale production in just a few people (Vanderbilt, Moore, Rockefeller), and the establishment of trusts (Khouri). People struggled over power and money.

During this time, socialism and other movements against capitalism were quickly defeated. With an accelerated birth and growth of industrialization and a working-class movement, utopian and dystopian texts were published in great numbers. There seemed to be a collective pursuit of the “future and projection of utopian hopes or anguished fears” (Portelli). Also, the intellectual and economic analysis of socialist thinkers (like Karl Marx) in the early 1900s, started to make influences throughout the modern world.

The society is broken down into three main classes: the Plutocracy (wealthy trusts), the middle class (professionals), and the proletariat (wage workers). In respect to governance, the Plutocracy holds the power over the machines, the economy, the law, and the force that supports the law. They rule with an “iron heel” that is as “relentless and terrible as any despotism that has blackened the pages of the history of man” (London, Ch. 9).

The central struggle occurs between the Plutocrats and proletariats. The Plutocrats have formed the Oligarchy and the Iron Heel to dominate every aspect of this society. The middle class is essentially either bought out by the Plutocrats, or joins the proletarian cause. Because of this separation of the middle class, it eventually dies out. There is no longer a medium, a neutral party—only extremes.

The Plutocrats rule with a capitalist stick. They suppress socialism with its secret agents and control of the press; they whip the Catholic Church into obedience and keep the church on a short leash; they rob the workingman’s vote (Ch. 13). The result? A great surplus they must dispose of abroad.

The proletariats, or revolutionaries, take on a socialist view as their ideal form of government. Everhard attempts to mathematically validate why capitalism is designed to fall, using Karl Marx’s theory of surplus value. According to the capitalist system, any unconsumed surplus must be disposed of overseas, because capital in its own country has already consumed as much as it is capable. Surpluses are sold to countries with undeveloped resources and, eventually, these countries become developed and have their own surpluses. With a limited number of countries on the planet, every country will eventually have a surplus, and will “stand confronting every other country with surpluses in their hands” (Ch. 9). In order to avoid this problem, countries should not generate any surplus by “returning to a primitive method of production”. However, Everhard acknowledges that the machines cannot be destroyed and the “tide of evolution” cannot “flow backward” (Ch. 9). Therefore, possessing power over the machines will allow for careful production. The proletariats do not want to destroy the trusts and the machines, but to own and supervise them.

In an effort to dismiss and discredit socialist theories, the Plutocrats manage the press. Respected thinkers presenting socialist views are written off as sick or mentally unstable, or are branded as anarchists. Certain middle class individuals are invited to join the trusts and enjoy increased wages with shorter hours, if they belong in a favored union (Ch. 15). Members of these favored unions are now relabeled as traitors to the lower classes, and a divided caste system arises (aristocracy of labor, the rest of labor, and military castes).

Human Rights:
The governing class very loosely respects the idea of human rights. When Cunningham investigates Jackson’s case (concerning fairness in the justice system), she discovers that there was absolutely no justice in the judge’s court. She remembers Everhard’s charge that the gowns she wears, the food she eats, and her rooftops all drip with blood of men and children—and she begins to shudder at the size of these stains (Ch. 3).

Speech and the press were often censored to the Plutocrats’ favor. Reporters twisted words out of context and described controlled comments as “howling anarchistic” speeches; socialist presses were destroyed or barred from being mailed; and the Black Hundreds (reactionary mobs) caused violence and havoc to later redirect responsibility to the revolutionary groups (Ch. 10).

People were thrown into sanitariums without sufficient reason. People were jailed but not charged (e.g. Cunningham was kept in prison for six months). People were drafted to serve in the military—forced to serving the Plutocracy by fighting against their own families and friends in their own home-fronts. People who refused to serve in the militia were executed. People disappeared without warning, never to be seen again. The Iron Heel controlled the peoples’ rights.

Bishop Morehouse is a heartbreaking symbol of the vulnerable church. When Everhard first proclaims that the “Church is not teaching Christ these days…the Church is supported by the capitalist class” (Ch. 2), Morehouse experiences a revelation. Now alert, he goes on a “soul-sick” journey to visit the homes of the wageworkers and the slums of San Francisco and finds a renewed purpose. Morehouse states that the “palaces of the Church should be hospitals and nurseries for those who have fallen by the wayside and are perishing” and begins to preach the message of Jesus more passionately to show the church that they need to take a more serious, holy stand (Ch. 7).

His purified passion lands him inside a sanitarium, with the newspapers reporting of his mental instability (Ch. 12). His mandatory solitary confinement helps make him “sane” again, but only momentarily, out of fear. Everhard shares his bitterness with Cunningham by stating, “The Bishop obeyed Christ’s injunction and got locked up in a madhouse…Society has spoken.” This statement strengthens the disappointing realization that the church has strayed so far from the Word (gospel), heavily choked by capitalism’s deadly chains.

Morehouse eventually gets out again and disappears from the public light, continuously working for the Lord in quiet. In the end, his body is discovered in the streets of Chicago “torn and mangled” among other bodies (Ch. 24). Seeing a devoted Bishop die while fighting for the church, and with not much advancement, sadly reduces the level of supernatural hope that people want to have while enduring hardships.

The Iron Heel narrates a determined, revolutionary effort against the Oligarchy. While the manuscript details a motivated effort to bring down capitalism and to replace it with socialism, the reader, through Anthony Meredith’s footnotes, is aware of its doomed ending. This dramatic irony channels the sarcastic humor of Jack London, who wanted to inform society that the working class is powerless at overwhelming capitalism, and socialism is not achievable in its near future.


A PowerPoint PDF with a brief overview is also available, here.


London, Jack. “The Iron Heel.” Project Gutenberg E-Book. Dec. 2012. Web.<>.

Khouri, Nadia. “Utopia and Epic: Ideological Confrontation in Jack London’s The Iron Heel.” Depauw. Science Fiction Studies. July 1976. Web. <>.

“The Iron Heel: A Jack London Novel You Didn’t Read in School!” Daily Kos. 2011. Web.<>.

Portelli, Alessandro. “Jack London’s Missing Revolution.” Depauw. Science Fiction Studies. July 1982. Web. <>.

Trott, Steve. Jack London’s The Iron Heel.” The Socialist Party of Great Britian. Jan. 2008. Web. <>.

The Time Machine: Communist Utopia/Capitalist Dystopia

H. G. Wells wrote The Time Machine in 1895 during the Industrial Revolution of late Victorian England. England at the time had a capitalist economy based on rich people making their money off the backs of poor factory workers. Wells was a socialist.  The Time Machine starts off as a deceptive communist utopia that is ultimately revealed to be an exaggerated future vision of capitalist dystopia.

At the time of his writing, industrialist capitalism had been going on for many years.  According to Hoppen, “By 1850 Britain had become the workshop of the world.  Manual power lay at the heart of the production process, assisted often only by the simplest of mechanical equipment.  Human beings were cheaper to install than steam engines and much more adaptable to their behavior than a self-acting steam or press” (59).

At the same time, critiques of capitalism were being written such as by Karl Marx, whose ideas most likely influenced Wells.  According to Bowles, “Marx argued that capitalism was based on the exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class.  Although it might appear that the buyers and sellers of labor met “equally” in the marketplace and entered “freely” into contracts with each other for mutual gain, this masked the reality of the capitalist system.  The capitalists had a monopoly of the means of production (firms) where workers had only their capacity to work to sell.  This was the basis of capitalist production: capitalists who owned firms hired workers who owned only their labor, and the former sought to use the labor that they had to make a profit for themselves” (63).

Wells, himself a socialist, wrote what seems at first to be a simple time-travel story.  In The Time Machine the reader is introduced to the man who is only ever named as “The Time Traveler” in the frame story where the narrator and other sundry guests are invited to dinner at the Time Traveler’s house in (contemporary to Wells) England.  The Time Traveler announces to his guests that he has built a working time machine in miniature which he then demonstrates to his guests.  It disappears from space into time unknown.  This, he announces is only a prelude to him finishing the full size time machine which he intends to use and report back to his guests, at another dinner next week.

The next week, after he has come back, bedraggled from his travels, the real story starts as he recounts to his guests when he went in time.  The meat of Wells’ story takes place in the year 802, 701 AD.

As he recounts, when The Time Traveler had stopped his machine, he had arrived so far into the future that most traces of British civilization had disappeared.  The earth was filled with “ruinous splendor” (Wells 24).  Humankind had evolved to become smaller, weaker, and with fewer distinctions between the sexes.  There were no longer family units; instead, the people who call themselves the Eloi lived 100 together in communes, large palaces that have tables and cushions.   The Eloi only ate fruit, and as the Time Traveler discovered quickly when he tried to explain how he got there, they had the intellect and attention spans of Victorian children (21).

This, at the time, appeared to The Time Traveler to be a communist utopia.  According to the themes of this course, in this utopia, the ideal form of government was that none was needed.  There were no quarrels because the Eloi were simple minded people without any ambitions or complex wants that couldn’t be fulfilled.  There was no technology in this society, the Eloi lived simply and spent their days talking, eating, sleeping, dancing, playing, and flirting.  No technology beyond the manufacture of their clothing was needed.  As The Time Traveler discovered later, this was the first hint that all was not what it seemed.  The relationship between the Eloi and the natural world was one of harmony with nature.  The Eloi picked fruit from the trees to eat and picked flowers with which they used to decorate themselves but didn’t cultivate the naturally occurring gardens.  In this future, nature had reclaimed the land, but while the buildings were in disarray there were no weeds or poisonous berries that the Eloi had to take care of.  The Time Traveler also never came across any old or infirm Eloi, he assumed they had eradicated disease some time ago, but this was also a clue…

Shortly after the Time Traveler arrived, his time machine was stolen.  The Eloi had not taken it.  When he tried to ask them what had happened to it, they didn’t even understand his questions but simply laughed at him (31). When he goes back to look for it, he thinks he spies a white animal out of the corner of his eye…

The bulk of the novel is spent with The Time Traveler investigating what happened to his time machine, the true nature of human civilization in this future, and a minor romantic subplot after he rescues an Eloi woman named Weena from drowning.

He quickly learns that the reason the Eloi sleep in communes indoors is because they are very, very afraid of the dark.  They have good reason for this, as The Time Traveler discovers when investigating underground ventilation shafts and discovers that the white animals he’s been spying are creatures named Morlocks who have taken his time machine.

The Time Traveler as he chases after the Morlocks in an attempt to get his machine back without being killed comes up with a theory for these two species, the Eloi and the Morlocks.  He notices that the Morlocks, which are furry ape-like creatures with large greyish-red eyes that reflect light in order to see in the dark, live entirely underground, and have some intelligence in order to maintain machinery and their ventilation shafts (39).

His final theory, after coming up with several wrong ones over the course of the novel, is that the Eloi and the Morlocks are both descendants of Victorian humankind.  The Eloi are the descendants of the ruling elite, the bourgeois capitalists that own the factories in England.  The Morlocks are the descendants of the poor factory workers who, having to work to survive, kept getting exiled out of the sunlight by the bourgeois until they had no choice but to live underground and adapt to the darkness.  The ended up living in pitch blackness for so long that their bodies adapted until they no longer resembled normal humans.

Throughout all this, the proletariat-Morlocks kept taking care of the aristocrats-Eloi until it became habit.  Eventually the Eloi, having everything they need provided for, no longer had any wants.  In consequence, their brains and physiques became stunted from lack of stimulation.  They stopped eating meat, and the Morlocks, who still required the nutrients that only meat could provide, started taking care of the Eloi as if they were cattle… and eating them as such as well (48, 52).  No wonder the Eloi were terrified of them!

And so we come to the dystopian aspect of our story.  Like the communist utopia flipped on its head, this dystopia deals also with the course themes.  A capitalist economy is not ideal; it creates a class system with an income disparity and a severe inequality.  The workers depend on their bosses for their livelihood but because poor people are a dime a dozen, and thoroughly disposable, the elites need not care for their quality of living one bit.

Capitalist production was characterized by a central antagonism: the interests of workers and capitalists were diametrically opposed.  It was in the interests of the workers to work as little as possible, and it was in the interests of the capitalists to extract as much effort as possible from workers while paying them as little as possible (Bowles 63).

When the [workers] broke down, the master did not have to pay them for repairs; when they made a mistake he could fire them; when there was no work for them to do he could give them the sack (Samuel 58).

Wells’ story served as a cautionary tale to the capitalists: if you don’t stop now, if you don’t provide welfare for your poor and get rid of this class system- this is your future.

To finish summarizing the story, The Time Traveler, with the help of Weena, though she unfortunately died in the struggle, eventually confronted the Morlocks and took back his stolen time machine.  Exhausted, he got on and travelled even farther into the future when there were no more buildings, no more human or human-like creatures, and eventually the Earth was dead.  At that point, demoralized, he went back home to Victorian England, arriving only a few hours after he left even though he had lived eight days on his travels.  He finishes telling his story, and it seems nobody believes him even though he still has strange flowers in his pocket that Weena had given him.

The narrator is intrigued and goes back to see The Time Traveler one more time only to see him get back into his machine and disappear again into time unknown.  In an epilogue, the narrator mentions that it has been three years since The Time Traveler disappeared and they have not seen him since.

In conclusion, Wells was a socialist who wrote an entertaining science fiction story to comment on the inequality present in his contemporary Victorian England caused by capitalism.  It explored what might happen if history stayed on its present course as a warning that it might be changed.  It also, in the beginning, provided a vision of a communist utopia that society might model itself on if it so wished.

Works Cited

Bowles, Paul. A Short History of Big Idea: Capitalism.  Great Britain: Pearson Longman                             2007.  Print.

Hoppen, K. Theodore. The Mid-Victorian Generation 1846-1886. Oxford: Clarendon Press,                      1998. Print.

Samuel, R.  “Workshop of the World: Steam Power and Hand Technology in Mid-Victorian                     Britain.” History Workshop Journal 3 (1977): 58. Print.

 Wells, H. G. Dover Thrift Editons: The Time Machine.  New York: Dover Publications          Inc, 1995. Print.


Caesar’s Column: A Work of Marxist and Populist Influence


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.



Works Cited

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.