Thursday, October 19, 2006

People, History, and the City are One

Even though the events of Albert Wendt’s Black Rainbow is set in the future, the novel itself is really about the past. In writing a novel in the future, the actions of the past and of the present are being critiqued and tested. With many allusions to the 20th Century, Wendt portrays that the things going on in our present world have heavy consequences for future generations. Generations of the future, as Wendt depicts, will drastically be forced to change the way of life we live in today; the results rather shocking.

The reader of Wendt’s Black Rainbow realizes that the reactions of the novel’s characters are more shocking than the acts themselves. The citizens do not find this odd at all. They do not know any other governmental structure or way of life—they take their system for granted. Eric, freeing himself from the constraints of society, starts to realize what is going on in the world around him. Becoming more aware of what he is, he discovers who the people around him are, and he learns of the interconnectedness of the city and the people.

Eric describes the ties the characters he has encountered share after he maps them out on his wall. He “established connections I’d not been aware of before, between my characters, until the walls were crisscrossed, bridged, connected with arrows, talk balloons, crossings-out and insertions, analogies, metaphors, similes, speculations, curses of frustration. My story, a collage of history, contained in the ever-moving present” (Wendt 189). From this passage, one can see—like in the theme of our classroom discussions of all of the novels we have read so far—how people, history, and the city are one. These aspects are a complete, never-ending, connected togetherness.

Average citizens do not know the difference between free will and predetermination. Not only do they not know what it is like to have free will, they also do not question the government, who, in the end decide the fate of each individual. History is illegal in the utopian society of the future. For the price of their individuality, freedom, and history, their society does not experience illness, death, crime, or privacy. In ridding themselves of their history, do citizens start out with a clean slate, or with a loss of everything?

In the end, is denying oneself their personal history positive or negative? Does the lack of history make their city incomplete? Is their “perfect” society really perfect? Is their utopia, in reality, a dystopia? Do we just feel that way because we are unable to rid ourselves of our own histories? Is our society of today truly in the disarray Wendt suggests? Would Wendt’s characters experience as much shock thinking about our savage culture as we do theirs? Similar to the ending of Wendt’s Black Rainbow, these questions are for the reader to ultimately decide.