Thursday, October 19, 2006

Utopia/Dystopia

Depending on your point of view, one would characterize the society in Albert Wendt's Black Rainbow as ether a utopia or dystopia. He creates the society so that there is no "grey-zone," so to speak; ether you exist in bliss or in misery. This speaks volumes about the time in which Wendt wrote the novel and about how we exist in our society today. What sacrifices have we made to assure saftey and security? And furthermore, have these mesures even helped to obtain our goals? This social satire illustrates what our world could become if our society moves closer to conformity, rather than individuality.
Those who are familiar with Loyola College's demographics are aware that the student body is a rather homogenous collection of people, even described at times as a: "living, breathing Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue." We exist in stark contrast to the rest of Baltimore City, in that one of Baltimore's best quallities is its diversity. So, saying that, it is fair to assume that one of the goals of our Year of the City campaign, is to foster a stronger sense of diversity here at Loyola by venturing into the city. What we bring back from our adventures can only make us stronger, smarter and more aware.
There is something to be said about a society that is able to tolorate those that are different. Loyola is pretty good in that respect, we have a long way to go, but at least we're moving in the right direction. Wendt's futuristic society is far from the ideal. How can a society be a utopia if it does not encompass a vast diversity? if it can not tolorate divience? This society is not a utopia, but rather a dystopia where the citizens fear to be individuals.

Identity and the City

The social construction of a city can make a person forget who he or she really is, as Wendt shows in Black Rainbow. I was struck by Wendt’s uses of sentences beginning with “Remembered” in the middle section of the novel. The Free Citizen says, “I put on a pair of black trousers, a black polo-neck jersey, black socks and shoes, and a leather jacket. Remembered I was a vegetarian and dropped the jacket to the floor of the wardrobe” (118). The Tribunal’s new wardrobe has made the Free Citizen forget a part of his identity, with its control over him and its ability to influence him through such gifts. Later, when he is with the youths and trying to find his family, the Free Citizen says, “I got another whisky. Remembered I’d not touched hard alcohol for years. With each sip I relaxed” (127). Here not only does he recognize his changing, the Free Citizen actually continues enjoying something contrary to who he is. Even while trying to circumvent the Tribunal’s controls in seeking out his family, he still is succumbing to their lifestyle due to societal pressures.
I immediately thought of the societal pressures of Loyola. Do we all lose a bit of our identity coming to this school, all being formed by this small society around us? Do we look outside and allow the actual city to influence us? Loyola has placed itself in a bubble, and although the administration is trying to break that bubble, it remains to be seen if the student body will continue these initiatives in the future and make Baltimore a serious part of Loyola’s environment.

Tell Me A Story

In Wendt's "Black Rainbow", the "utopia" that the President and The Tribunal have created was made possible by the erasure of the memory of history of their citizens so as to create a society that is at peace with its surroundings alone. The citizens are left with prescribed mechanical emotions, manufactured fulfillments of desire, and a superficial "peace". There is major emphesis placed on the admonition of storytelling--as it, in some aspects, is a device that allows us to recount our histories, or share in the histories of others--which was strictly forbidden in this uniform utopia. This struck me, as the act of storytelling was considered almost sacred in the other stories we've read: in Danticat's "Krik? Krak!", storytelling becomes the migrated Haitians' "sole inheritance" from their ancestors; in Achebe's "No Longer At Ease", his his connection to Umuofia resonates in his reverting to old Igbo proverbs to explain situations; in Calvino's "Invisible Cities", Polo recounts his history with Venice through a myriad of stories of the lands he's traveled to.
Aeto's story was the most striking, a digression in the story of the quest that completely captivated me. "His mother had a phenomenal memroy which her parents had trained so the otherwolders couldn't obliterate their true history. Her knowledge was in the stories she filled their lives with. The usefulness of usefullness, she described her stories"(159). The power of his story both relied on his recount of details of his past, and the fact that he had never before shared the memory, but obviously carried it with him all those years.
In turn, Wendt demonstrates the importance that storytelling still has in this society, as it is the cause of the Free Citizen's reversion from the ways of the Tribunal and back to reality, "Though the Tribunal has banned history, we are what we remember, the precious rope strecthing across the abyss of all that we have forgotten...And the history, the fabulous storehouse of memories, of our love, opened and gave reason and meaning to my quest across the abyss, a quest which had truned me into a heretic defying the Tribunal and all I'd been raised to believe in"(178). I believe it is when "the true ones"(also note the significance of the fact that he nicknames his comrades from the streets, who have forgone stability the Tribunal would have provided them in order to remain true to themselves and their past, as "true), share the stories of their past, it is completely jarring to the Free Citizen that he could have allowed someone to take those same memories away from him; it is here that he ways the sacrifice and the outcome, and finds them to be nowhere close to comparable.

History in Black Rainbow

In Black Rainbow the quotation that struck me the most was towards the end in chapter 16: True Confessions. Wendt writes, "I slept, woke, ate, read, slept. And repeated that pattern, suspended high in the air, shut away from the passing of time and the world. Only my voracious reading of novels kept me in the society of people, age, love, and death, all fictional of course. ('Art ain't life,' my wife would've said) Only my passion for the literature of the twentieth century, especially that from the 1960s to the 1980s, programmed into me by President Linn, anchored me to place, country, history. I became more addicted to the work of Tangata Maori writers, my ancestors, finding in them the identity and past I'd been denied" (244).
We discussed in class that art can provide for us a frame with which to view reality, but art takes on an even more significant purpose in Black Rainbow. The characters reality had been so distorted that art became his reality, instead of just being a lens to view the world through. Art was what he had to help define who he was, because history had been striped away. This quotation also shows the ever present difference that existed between the central character and his wife when he says 'art ain't life,' my wife would've said. At this point he is completely submerged in a fantasy world of literature. The repetition in his pattern of life merely includes the necessities to survive- eating and sleeping.
This passage struck me as so utterly sad because I saw it as there was no meaning in his life, but rather he was just going through the motions. He does say that he has one passion, which is literature, but his reason for this is that it 'anchors' him in history. I think this is a profound statement because I think Wendt is trying to convey the importance and value of ones past and history. I think Wendt is saying that identity of a person is deeply rooted and cannot ever be entirely separated from one's past. In this passage he says his identity and his history had been denied, and as a result of this he was separated from the world around him. So not only does history and past establish one's identity, it also connects them to the rest of the world, and other people, either united in a common ancestry or able to share with each other their different backgrounds.

Thinking of history and the past in this light reminds me of my interactions at Beans and Bread. Everyone I met, either volunteer or guest somehow introduced themselves through first identifying some element of their past. I am reminded of one volunteer in particular. His name is Monte and immediately after he said his name to me he began telling me of his past, essentially his life story, and how he came to be a volunteer at Beans and Bread. He told me he was once an alcoholic and his life almost ended after driving his car, while intoxicated into a brick wall. He said God saved his life, and gave him another chance. He said slowly he rebuilt his life, from being a guest at Beans and Bread to eventually a volunteer. His story really moved me, and it was his past that made me appreciate him more in the present. I felt I understood more about him because I knew where he came from, and how proud he was to be a volunteer. It was his history that he defined himself and his past he used to describe his postive change in personality.

A Tale of Two Cities

Wendt explores two cities in his novel Black Rainbow. There is a city of the ruling class or the class of the Tribunal where its citizens have everything. The other city is a class of the Polynesian people, who are considered secular. The city of the Tribunal is seen as the “other” by the secular city because the Polynesians have not conformed. The city of the Tribunal and President are described as intruders. The Free Citizens wife states, “They are still here?” (17). The Free Citizens Wife is referring to the Tribunal. She refers to them as “they” meaning the “other”. She does not consider herself part of the city her husband wants to belong to. That city is foreign to her. She does not want to give up her history to the President’s City like her husband. Unlike the Free Citizen’s wife, his companion refers to the Polynesian city as the “other”. She states, “Their refusal to be like us, be law abiding citizens” (27). She believes the Polynesians must conform for her to feel comfortable. There are two distinct cities in the world of the Black Rainbow. These cities cannot seem to commingle. The Polynesian city must conform to the President’s city. The Polynesian must give up their history to be a part of an institution which considers itself superior.
Wendt adapts this story line from the history of the South Pacific Islands. The islands were European colonies and they were constantly overloaded by European immigrants. The people of the islands feared they would lose their history and culture through this immersion of the immigrants. The Polynesian people believed their culture would be siphoned off with the overload of Europeans and their own culture. Today, the Polynesians’ worst fear is coming true. Most schools have converted to teaching French to their students. Many of these generations are not aware of their past. http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/wendt.htm

Baltimore contains two cities like Black Rainbow. There is the city of the privileged and the city of the underprivileged. We as Loyola students are encouraged to seek out the city of the underprivileged and help. However, what if our help is viewed as an intrusion? The city of the underprivileged can see our assistance as an infringement upon their culture. This city does have a history and culture that can be erased by the intrusion of Loyola students. Like the President’s city, we view ourselves as the privileged and the superior, but how do we know our way is the right way? Some people might welcome our help and some might refuse believing the way and where they live is right for them and makes them happy.

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.

The most dangerous opiate

What surprised me most about the world that Wendt created in Black Rainbow is the freedom that he gave to the citizens of his utopia, especially considering the access that they were given to films and literature like 1984, which in 1984 would be kept from the masses because of their revolutionary power.

This troubled me as much as anything else in the novel because it hammered home two points -- first, that the citizens were such emotional geldings that the Tribunal really did not have anything to fear from its population; and second, that the citizenry's trust in the Tribunal was so extreme that it bordered on an emotionless love. What is so scary about this prospect is how effectively it eliminates subversion, the seeds which ripen into true freedom.

The stark contrast between Orwell's Winston and the Free Citizen demonstrate the polarity of the two utopias. Oceania fears its citizens, and Winston proves that it does so rightfully becasue he has the courage and power to question. The Free Citizen, however, does not find himself in this "Game of Life" because he is seeking greater freedom; indeed, he does not ask for anything. He is merely a pawn, a cog in the machine that keeps it running.

Such is why Wendt provides such a chilling picture. His is such a dangerous society because it needs no opiate for its masses; rather, it needs an opiate (The Game of Life) for the system because it has so well mastered controlling its population (through the absolute domination of the flow of thought and knowledge) that it seems like it needs to entertain itself.

Relationship to teh city and relationsips in the city

“What’s the only thing that’s worth living for?” said Mad Max to Wesley. “Tttttrrrrruuuuuueeeee loooovvvveee,” Wesley moaned through the air that was being pushed out of his lungs. Robin Williams faces hell, the epitome of all that is bad, to reunite with his wife. “The Princess Bride” and “What Dreams May Come” are just two examples of story lines where family, those relationships, are fought for. In literature, film, theatre, and other mediums of art, the idea of seeking family, of going after that thing that is such a part of you is a major theme that has been developed. It seems throughout all of these forms of art, family is something that is worth fighting for, that is worth risking your life for.In Black Rainbow, the theme of family is constantly arising. It is because of his family that he originally begins this mission. And through it constant references are being made to families, either his or others. “’Don’t forget his family…That’s why we’re risking our necks,” (152). The presence of the brother and sister through his journey is another example of this bond between family members. But why is this bond important? Why is Wendt making such a specific point about this?Because these relationships, these bonds that we form, either with family because of blood or because of tttttrrrrruuuueeee llllloooovvveeee, they are what make up the city. The alcoholic would not be able to be saved from his illness if he did not have someone there to be by his side. The woman would not learn to speak English if she did not form a bond with the people that surround her in her ESL class. The man could not be served his food without the volunteers that run the soup kitchen. What would the novel, Krik? Krak! be if it weren’t for relationships. Most basically the title would just be Krik?. These stories, these lives depend on relationships with others. Why would Obi do the things he did if he had not established relationships with those surrounding him that encouraged him to commit these bribing acts? And finally Calvino, with his city of relationships, where each person is connected to each person they have a relationship with by an actual piece of string, and when they all leave the city, all that is left is their connections. This thought is almost perfectly copied in Black Rainbow. “Though the Tribunal has banned history, we are what we remember, the precious rope stretching across the abyss of all that we have forgotten,” (178). Relationships are what make cities. Relationships are what make life worth living. Relationships are worth fighting for. And it is through this free citizen’s fight and constant search for his family, that this point is truly proven.

Art, Creation and the City

Throughout Black Rainbow it becomes increasingly clear the importance of and presence of art and creation in this utopian city. We noticed throughout the first half of the novel the many authors and books that are mentioned and the importance of Twentieth Century Literature to the President; he even did a project on it, obviously it had some affect on him and most likely his ruling of the tribunal, city, its people, etc. There is also mention of art, particularly the Black Rainbow lithograph by Hotere. The importance of art is immediately sensed. We discussed how art is a form that is shaped by its creator, making others see his or her point of view, but also art is left to interpretation, allowing the viewer to see what he or she wants to see. It was also stated that fiction distorts the truth and can be seen as positive or negative.

In the second half of Black Rainbow (named after a piece of art, first clue) the references to works of fiction are even more frequent and the ideas of architecture are explored as well. Eric, as I'm going to chose to refer to him, mentions that the President himself was created from the utopian books of the Twentieth Century such as 1984, Animal Farm, etc. This idea of art creating art is very interesting to me and leads me to believe that art influences other art, and from one piece of art another art is born. This is clear in many genres including literature, painting, and architecture. The President read and studied these pieces of fiction and from them his creation of this "perfect" city is born. Wendt even cleverly has the computer in the Palace mention to Eric that Black Rainbow was one of his favorite books, an very ironic (and much enjoyed) statement for Wendt to include. He is proving the point that he believes his work will have an affect on future generations, creators, that they might use his story as a tool of influence, yet he's comdemning this world, pointing out its fault and shortcomings, very paradoxical.

Finally, the idea of architecture as art is introduced at the end of the novel, which leads more into the idea of the city, since a city is made up of many different pieces of architecture. The descriptions of buildings are explored more in this portion than the first half. The neighborhood where the President lives all the houses are built in a similar style, the way the President and the Tribunal think houses should look like. One of the judges in Eric's trial is an architect and he "speciliazed in designing reoridnarination centers according to the principles laid down in President Linn's Architecture for the Ordinary" (247). This shows the idea of art influencing art and the control of creation. In this case President Linn has gathered an idea of what the perfect city and civilization would be through his studying and has laid out certain artisitic ground rules that must be included in the architecture of all buildings in the city. This is seen in any kind of art as far as genre rules within literature (forms of writing, poetry, essay, novel, etc.), painting (certain time periods of art required certain forms to be included in order for the painting to be included in that genre) and architecture (every time period has had its own architectural patterns). This shows the idea of art as a controlled work, something that is created in the eyes of the artist and controlled by them, so the viewer can see what the artist wants them to see.

Wendt writes, "Seated in the cane chair on the balcony overlooking the city, I am alone yet with everything that was my life, and with the city which radiates from the base of the Puzzle Palace in mountains and cliffs and canyons of buildings and lights which glow through the steel and glass and the gloom which is smoking up into the stars and the Unity, and yet is inside me because it is I who give it form, shape, colour, feel. I am the grid through which the Unity is" (264). This shows the aspect of art as something that is also interpretted differently based on who is looking at the art and what state of mind they are in. Eric is saying that he sees the city based on his life, his state of mind and in that way, even though he had no part in physically creating the city and its architecture, he is the artist of what he sees and perceives the city. This is an idea that was seen throughout Calvino and discussed in class. The people of the city make up what the city; it is what the people see and interpret of the art of a city.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A City Underneath a City

In Black Rainbow, Albert Wendt uses the city to aid in his argument against the distorted ideals of The Tribunal. Specifically, the city seems to be used as a critique against extreme captalism and oppressive rule. The three youths that the Free Citizen encounters are the primary characters that help to shed light on the city that Wendt gives us. It seems as though these youths know the city as it really is, unlike the members of The Tribunal, who have a false sense of the city. The Free Citizen says, "They even filled in what wasn't in the maps, especially when we descended into the labyrinth below the inner city, into a world I knew nothing about." (134). The youths open up the Free Citizen to an unfamiliar world full of reality, which aids in the Free Citizen's rebellion from The Tribunal and its ways. The city that the young people expose the Free Citizen to is " a city underneath a city" (134). The young people claim that they were " the first" (134) in this city. Therefore, they illuminate the truth that was buried when the Tribunal took over and imposed its foolish laws on the people. Even though this truth was buried, these rebellious youths are able to expose the city that lies beneath and has long since been forgotten.

The building in which the Government's Insurance Corporation is housed is aptly named " the palace". The Free Citizen describes the building as being, " twenty stories high, stained by rain, [ and] sightless rows of windows" (136). It is altogether ironic that the government believes this place to be a palace when it truly is " just another f****** ugly office building" (136), according to Faintail, one of the young people who know the truth behind the ediface. This office is the epitome of extreme capitalism and oppressive rule; its description is cleverly articulated by Wendt, so as to enlighten the reader on the point he is trying to convey. In addition to being filled with the smell of mildew and people that do not make eye contact with anyone, the office building is " Just hundreds of offices inhabited by nine- to-five people, desks, filing cabinets, paper, memories,paperclips, rubber bands, Twink, word processors, and computers" (136). This dreary, monotonous description of the office building certainly depicts the corporate atmosphere in a negative light, therefore driving home Wendt's message.

Wendt's novel ties in perfectly with the 'Year of the City' here at Loyola. I think it would be beneficial for us to see the city from the perspective of the uncommon citizens- citizens much like the young people who know the underground city so well in Black Rainbow. We can gain valuable knowledge from these people and perhaps discover certain facets of Baltimore that were previously unknown to us. These people can be a lens for us to view the city as it is not normally seen and prove to be invaluable throughout our exploration of the city. As students at Loyola, we see the city as college students only. It is important to recall that one's position in the city affects their overall experience in it. Therefore, it would be helpful to acquire a viewpoint outside of the one we already have of Baltimore.

Animalistic Behavior

Humans in our generation are extremely concerned with individualism and “being their own person.” In Black Rainbow, the citizens act as pawns for the Tribunal. Everywhere the Tribunal infiltrates their life: musical lyrics and messages on buildings. The searcher, or main character is told that he is playing “The Game of Life” which has been set up by the Tribunal as a test. With the Tribunal in place no one possesses any secrets because they not only know everything you do, say or dream, they also control all your moves. This type of control is one that you have over your pets or animals. Although you don’t know their thoughts, you control when they eat, go for walks, play, go to the bathroom, and sleep. When they “misbehave” they are punished accordingly, just as the “deviant” citizens in Black Rainbow. This animalistic imagery of citizens is apparent in one scene where Aeto recalls a couple he met on a park bench that took him in as their son and just fed him.

The couple first brings Aeto into their house. They are seemingly good people when the reader first encounters them but you soon infer that there is something terribly wrong with the situation. They constantly feed him until he almost bursts. Their house is an altar to food with paintings of food, numerous cookbooks and a computer programmed to give the user whatever food he or she could ever desire. During dinner they pray to God, who to them is the “Chef” and constantly tell Aeto that soon he will know “the truth of their love.” This constant obsession over food reminded me of the constant desire animals have for their next meal. The line is not firmly established in this country of what is acceptable to eat and how much is acceptable to eat. The couple eats a pigeon and is obviously fattening Aeto up to eat him. Wendt clearly illustrates how disgusting this cannibalism is but at the same time paints a picture where for this couple a human is just another meal. This relates back to the fact that the searcher is a vegetarian and doesn’t participate in this meat-eating lifestyle. His vegetarianism illustrates his utilization of free thought that those in his community aren’t permitted to use.

Later in that same story Aeto tells the searcher about how he found the couple, who were always sleeping, having sex in his bedroom when he was gone. The way he describes the encounter was one of animalistic behavior; grunting and panting. He describes that they were using “his space, his presence, his smells, to fuck in” (175.) They were not attracted to one another but rather attracted to his lingering presence, To the reader this is a red flag that something is horribly wrong, but to these mindless humans, fully controlled by food, this was seemingly normal. The control of food over this couple made them act irrationally, unconscious of their actions, just as the Tribunal and President holds control over the citizens.

The City Drags Like a Ball and Chain Attached to One Leg

In Albert Wendt's Black Rainbow, one passage describes Aeto as a hostage in a chef couple's home. After breaking the spell of their food and care, Aeto decides to wander the streets in the middle of the night, aware that the man and woman won't notice his absence. "Because they slept from midnight till six he felt safe during that time, so he started leaving the house and walking for exercise. He often walked all night, relearning the city. He never thought of not returning. Why? He would never be able to fathom that one." (175). Throughout this eerie story, the reader senses that this couple represents a ruthless, capitalistic power forced upon Aeto without warning. Tempted by the marvelous food, Aeto never exercises his freedom or will to choose. He has forfeited his place in the city, able only to relearn it, as he describes. He is no longer able to live in it, even though he walks through the streets and observes his surroundings.

Obi, in Chinua Achebe's novel No Longer at Ease, experiences a similar situation to Aeto when he returns to his home city from London. Influenced by British ideals and "bettered" by a proper education, Obi can no longer relate to his people when he arrives. The city in which he grew up is no longer the city to which he arrives when he is sent to London as a promise for the better future of society, an educated man. His fellow citizens actually harmed and alienated him by sending him to pursue what they thought was a better opportunity.

Neither character is good enough, in the eyes of the two societal groups, split according to economic class and dominating power. Both characters have characteristics that allow them access to the members of both classes, but neither is fully able to identify with any particular group. Obi makes grammar mistakes, even with an elite education. Aeto can't abandon the chef couple, even though he knows they are hurting him. In both novels, the issue of language also plays an important role; in Achebe's novel, Obi thinks that nothing gives him greater pleasure than to find another Ibo-speaking student in a London bus, and in Wendt's novel, Aeto and his companions can talk secretly in the back of the narrator's car, "street pidgin, their coinage." (123). Both characters are suddenly caught between two societies within the same city, no longer belonging to the city, lacking connection with any particular group.

Trying to Look In

When we discuss Wendt’s Black Rainbow a word that is constantly repeated by its readers is “shock.” Morality and identity are topics if not central themes in the novel that are exposed to the reader constantly and directly throughout the novel. As we read Wendt’s novel we marvel at the tranquility and acceptance found in its characters. We cannot help but to pulled into the shocking and dramatic world in which our characters live because their world is so much different from ours, but is it really? The characters live in a world where ideas and beliefs about sexuality and individuality are central to their lives and it retrospect don’t we live in a world exactly like theirs?
I often stop and try to look at my life and the world I live in like a novel that I am reading. When I read Wendt’s novel I wondered what people would think of my world if they could look at it? Would they find it “shocking” to realize that I can drive by countless homeless people every year and think very little of it? Would they be “shocked” to find out that I did not care enough to pull over and give a guy a couple a bucks that I technically don’t really need? Would they be shocked to know that I sleep peacefully and comfortably in my bed every night without concern for the others in the world who suffer? Maybe, maybe not, I think that it’s all dependent on the reader. In Wendt’s novel the events that shock us most are probably the “taboos” that we believe span across all cultures (such as incest and homosexuality), but what we all believe to be “universal taboo’s” may not fit the description everywhere in the world.
Speaking of the world, what does the world think of the US? Maybe to the world the US is parallel to the world inside Wendt’s novel. Maybe the world is shocked at the way Americans accept and believe everything that our government says (this is kind of leading toward conspiracy ideas/beliefs). Maybe the world marvels at how the American culture slowly disintegrates ethnic cultures and groups into the homogenized America that we are beginning to know today. Are books like Black Rainbow and 1984 predictions of our future? We’ll probably never know, because whether we like it or not we are very similar to the characters symbolized in Black Rainbow even though we can’t see it.

Youths vs the rest of society

Usually, the youth are seen as rebellious and at odds with the norms of society. The sixties witnessed the era of the hippies, the thriving of rock-and-roll, and the liberation of the woman as a vital presence in the workforce. Thus, society should realize that not all of a younger generation’s differences are for the worse. The youth in a society bring new knowledge, new methods of analysis, and new experiences that might parallel with those of the past. Many times, however, adolescents are seen as a threat to society’s uniformity because they hold the possibilities of things that are unknown to the older generations.

We can see this fear of the minors in Albert Wendt’s portrayal of the city youths in Black Rainbow. The first reference to the difference between these adolescents and the rest of society is when the narrator’s new female companion describes them as, “An unkempt lot, if you ask me. With nowhere to go…They cause a lot of trouble. And a burden to us hard-working taxpayers…No one can reform them. They get rounded up periodically and put into reordinarination centres, but they come right back to the street. Must be in their blood…Their refusal to be like us, be law-abiding citizens” (Wendt 27). The younger generation is immediately portrayed as a menace to the homogeny of the existing society because they do not agree with the attempt to take away their individual personalities. The youths recognize that the current society is corrupt, and thus are wiser than the elders who seen them as brainless because they do not wish to conform.

This difference is further highlighted in the portrayal of the Tangata Maori young adults that the narrator encounters. Referred to as the “True Ones” because they have refused to be “left brown on the outside and filled…full of white, otherworlder bullshit” (Wendt 123), the youths remind the narrator that he has neglected his history and has become part of a homogenous mass that despises individuality. They make many references to there being an antagonistic relationship between their world and the world of the rest of society, noting “He’s one of them. And they’ve fucked us up for centuries” (Wendt 128), and “We see what we believe…You see your society as you believe it is, eh” (Wendt 144). The narrator and the adolescents view their society in totally opposite lights: the narrator initially sees society as a source of protection and order, whereas the others see society as a prison which seeks to destroy everything that makes them different. The rest of the culture does not see the wealth of knowledge that these youths bring because they have remained true to their ancestors and to their history: “A city is layers of maps and geographies, layers of them, centuries of it. We were the first, our ancestors, no matter what lies the Tribunal says. So our maps are at the bottom of the bloody heap. They’re still there though the bloody otherworlders have tried to fucking well erase them. As long as we survive…” (Wendt 134). Because they have realized the importance of preserving their histories, the youths are an invaluable source of the secrets of the city. The rest of society should treasure their abilities to create memories despite the efforts made to destroy the individuals’ pasts. Although there is a definite barrier erected between the rebellious younger generation and the older reserved generation, this barrier acts as a link: the youths are the only tie that the elders have to their histories and to the state of the world before uniformity was required.

Loyola’s students can fulfill this role of providing information to the rest of the Baltimore community while they serve. Although the students may initially be viewed as intruders into different neighborhoods, they are actually a source of comfort for those who are in need. Through service, the students are able to provide others with material necessities, emotional necessities, and educational necessities. The students may also bring their histories with them and thus be able to make a connection with the recipients of their service. Like the True Ones, the students and those being served bring their own histories – this relationship, however, is reciprocal in that both parties have stories to share and can educate the other by shedding light on their experiences. Unlike the society of the narrator’s world, almost everyone in today’s society is able to recount many encounters that they have had over their lives, and are thus able to connect with others. Instead of just one group educating another, both groups are able to draw parallels and to enjoy a deeper relationship with another person

The Hotere Lithograph in Black Rainbow

In his book titled Black Rainbow Albert Wendt uses a lithograph depicting a “black rainbow” by Ralph Hotere and the author even dedicates this work to that artist. The Black Rainbow/ Moruroa lithograph appears in the beginning of the text as a wall hanging in the narrator’s Auckland home. His wife had “bought it the month we’d shifted to Auckland” (10) and one morning she brings the lithograph with them on their walk. She holds the “lithograph in front of her, like an icon” (18) while she circles the Memorial on Maungakiekie, which pays homage to the original inhabitants of the island. The memorial watches the narrator’s every movement (12) and “thrust skywards like an admonishing finger” (13). The narrator’s wife holds the lithograph above her head and allows the rising sun to reflect off the artwork. Wendt writes, “As the sun rose the lithograph’s clock of doom recorded its rising” (18). The previous day, the narrator and his wife argued about their stay in Auckland. The wife accuses him saying, “You like it here. You enjoy what they’re doing to you!” The narrator responds, “But I’m free…We can leave any time” (17), even though he cannot actually leave the city in reality. The wife’s ritualistic action with the Hotere lithograph begins the countdown that ticks in the Free Citizen’s head throughout the novel. The “lithograph’s clock of doom recorded [the sun’s] rising” and the beginning of the Free Citizen’s quest to find out who he is, to discover the history that the Tribunal covered up. The wife’s action also demonstrates her recognition of a connection to the original inhabitants of the island. The fate that the original inhabitants met also awaits the Free Citizen when his countdown is concluded by the Tribunal.

Scattered around the black rainbow in the lithograph are the numbers one through fourteen. These numbers signify a countdown and throughout the book, the Free Citizen hears the ticking of the Hotere clock in his mind. The Black Rainbow lithograph hangs on the wall in his family’s suite in the Puzzle Palace (178), reminding the reader that the Free Citizen’s time is slipping away. Later, the Free Citizen tells Fantail that “it’s ticking away madly, this clock” (234). The narrator realizes that time is passing quickly into history and that his search is nearing its end. The frequent appearance of the lithograph reminds the reader that the narrator’s own “clock of doom” is ticking as he continues his quest.

In the beginning of the book, the narrator says that his wife “circled the Memorial, with the Black Rainbow held out like an icon, to bless the earth and protect it from the clock of doom that ticks in our pulses” (31). At the end of the book, he says that his wife “started our rebellion against the Tribunal” with the ritualistic act with the Hotere icon. He says, “she’d summoned the agaga of our ancient Dead with the Hotere icon to hold back the doomsday clock; she’d linked us again to the earth and our Dead” (242). Thus, the narrator’s wife, in recognizing history and the past inhabitants of the island, begins the rebellion against the Tribunal, which illegalizes memory and history. Through its countdown the lithograph recognizes time and history apart from the government (the Tribunal), a recognition not allowed in this society.