Finding Comfort in Deception

Throughout the novel, Hailsham students (especially Ruth) repeatedly suppress and alter the truth in order to maintain their level of comfort. The students’ primary discomfort originates from the fact that they are different from those in the outside world, as they are genetically copied from a possible and are raised for the sole purpose of donations. To compensate, they turn to methods of escapism, such as reading books and lewd magazines. Each method evolves into its own form of deception, as students claim to read books they have not read and pretend that they have not seen these magazines that they have indeed read. Of the books, Kathy reflects that, “…there was an unspoken agreement to allow for a mysterious dimension where we went off and did all this reading” (123).  The others perpetuate the conformity of this, allowing it to continue by through ignoring what they know are outright lies.

1382764781432944787

Through reading books, scanning lewd magazines, and creating false fantasies, the students attempt to escape their harsh reality, if only for a moment.

Additionally, Ruth attempts to create a new narrative for Hailsham students which Kathy corroborates through her silence. By placing Hailsham students at a more elite level, Ruth creates an imaginary universe in which Hailsham students are able to rebel against their status and achieve the role they truly want. Kathy states that, “Ruth did say a few things every now and then to encourage the idea that, sure enough, in some mysterious way,a separate set of rules applied to us Hailsham students…she seemed confident I wound’t give her away. And of course, I didn’t” (145). In doing so, although the veterans begin with a higher social status than the Hailsham newcomers, Ruth allows for Hailsham students to have a higher status simply due to their educational background. She speaks of an amazing office job, implying that as a Hailsham student she has a higher chance of reaching this goal than those who attended different schools. Ruth fabricates the narrative to both enhance her status as a Hailsham student and create a fantasy that all are able to enjoy and convince themselves that it could occur. Through this, though the students most likely know that this cannot occur, they are all able to indulge in the fantasy for a brief period of time.

Mass Media: Informant or Indoctrinator?

“The anchorman comes on now… What he’s telling us, his level smile implies, is for our own good. Everything will be all right soon. I promise. There will be peace. You must trust. You must go to sleep, like good children. He tells us what we long to believe. He’s very convincing. I struggle against him. He’s like an old movie star, I tell myself, with false teeth and a face job. At the same time, I sway towards him, like one hypnotized. If only it were true. If only I could believe.” (Atwood 83)

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale continually explores the subject of government control. As the reader attempts to understand how the society came to be, he/she looks to the information propagated by the leaders in Gilead.

media_control

Acting akin to a parent, the media can ‘spoon-feed’ information to the viewer.

Atwood uses anchorman’s dialogue to show the government-sponsored infantilization of the populace. The anchorman uses short, simple syntax as one would use to talk to a small child. He even requests that they act “like good children,” submitting to the government’s parental-like authority. Just as children are taught to not question their parents when they make decisions on the children’s behalf, so too is the populace told that they “must trust” in the government. The anchorman tells them “I promise,” as if he carried a sort of credibility. The people must trust because the anchorman says so.

To contrast with the anchorman’s message, Atwood uses complex syntax when Offred is thinking for herself. This is similar to throughout the entire novel, as thought is portrayed as Offred’s primary means of defiance. Every other chapter is “Night,” describing how Offred attempts to remember the past, giving her hope that society has the ability to change if it has changed before. She attempts to tell herself that “he’s like an old movie star” to destroy any credibility that he has an anchor, but she is not powerful enough to fully deny the power of his words.

mindcontrol-500x444

The media functions almost exclusively to elicit obedience.

In addition to Atwood’s utilization of syntax, she also uses diction relating to hypnosis to subtly show the extent of the government’s control. Earlier in the novel, we have seen Aunt Lydia’s attempt to teach morality to the handmaids in brief, definitive instructions, similar in its intent to Brave New World‘s hypnopaedic slogans. Atwood expands on this instruction in this passage of the media, as the anchorman tells the people “you must go to sleep.” Additionally, Offred shrewdly points out that she moves towards the TV, “like one hypnotized.” He assures them, in this altered state, that “everything will be all right soon.” Atwood shows that for this indoctrination to take place, it is preferable, in the government’s perspective, for the people to not fully be conscious.

 

By portraying the media as infantilizing and hypnotic, Atwood asserts that the media has a functional role in the continuation of society. The media operates to comfort its citizens in order to keep the status quo. This will work best if the people are not even fully aware that this is taking place.

Public Health in the Public’s Hands

The content in Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie was not revolutionary. However, the structure, a collectivization of all subjects human knowledge into 28 volumes, was revolutionary. Diderot was not the first to publish in such a format, but his Encyclopédie became the most well-circulated and read. To ensure that he would reach a broader audience, Diderot wrote in French, which was known as the language of the common people, instead of the usual Latin. Additionally, the Anatomie section of the book was one of the first medical images available to people. Because of this effort, the Encyclopédie was banned initially by the Catholic Church in an attempt to suppress the sharing of academic knowledge.

encyclopedie001_0

An image from the Anatomie section, one of the first of its kind.

The internet provides a parallel to printed encyclopedias today, giving common users greater access to a wide variety of topics. Therefore, our group will create a website that appeals to high school and college students interested in access to public health knowledge throughout the ages. The information will be in short blog post format to best interest the audience. Additionally, users will be able to suggest topics for future posts as well as write their own that will be reviewed and then hopefully published on our blog. This will ensure the creation of a community of users that is able to interact with and learn from one another.

The age of the Internet comes with many benefits, but a serious negative is that access to too much information can confuse searchers. This is especially prevalent today with the advent of websites such as Wikipedia or, in the medical field specifically, WebMD. The blog would provide a source of accurate information about a concentrated topic.

8d8

Our website will focus on the access that people have had to public health information over time. We will divide our areas of focus into three categories of time: before Diderot’s time (pre-18th century), Diderot’s time, and post-Diderot’s time/today. We have already begun the process of finding articles and books through the Fondren library and its online resources. We hope to teach the evolution of the public’s access to health information while at the same time adding to the conversation by making this information easily accessible.

Implications of War

A ‘war’ suggests two conflicting opponents, each with their own tactics, purposes, ammunition and organization. By framing the zombie crisis as a war, Max Brooks humanizes the zombies. If indeed these creatures are the enemy in this war, the reader asks: does this imply that the zombies consciously strategizing how to best attack the humans?

At the Honolulu Conference, one group of the delegates thinks of the zombie crisis as a war. They discuss options in terms of military strategy, explaining, “Time was on our side, not theirs” referring to the popular strategy of waiting out the enemy (266).

This does not mean, however, that all those in power view the zombie crisis as a war. Another group of delegates at the Honolulu Crisis instead views the issue as a disease epidemic, questioning, “What about the later cases, the ones still strong and healthy? Couldn’t just one restart the plague all over again?” (266). Using words such as ‘cases,’ ‘healthy,’ and ‘plague’ dehumanizes the zombies, likening them to a deadly viral infection.

Nevertheless, overall Brooks seems to liken the crisis to a war rather than an epidemic. He shows this when the American ambassador recalls the words of Winston Churchill, asking them to fight until, “‘every trace was sponged, and purged, and, if need be, blasted from the surface of the Earth'” (265). These words were first uttered in Churchill’s “Speech to the Allied Delegates,” wherein Churchill called upon other nations to take a harsh stand against Adolf Hitler. The reader can easily conjecture that Brooks is likening the ambassador to Churchill in this moment, asking other nations to aid in his offensive against their modern aggressor, the zombies.

It was in this same speech that Churchill popularized the term ‘quisling,’ to describe one who collaborates with the enemy (named after Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian leader who collaborated with the Nazis). Earlier in the novel, Brooks used this term for, “people that went nutballs and started acting like zombies” (155). As the narrator later elaborates, “…in regular war… people who are invaded sign up for the enemy’s army. Collaborators, sometimes even more die-hard than the people they’re trying to mimic…” (156). These quislings expanded fear in the populace, while at the same time contributing to Phalanx’s popularity (people who were bitten by quislings and did not get infected may have assumed that the drug worked). In doing so, they embodied yet another perpetrator of this war.

quote-do-not-handicap-yourself-with-the-idea-of-revenge-for-the-trend-of-things-will-revenge-vidkun-quisling-71-23-46

Vidkun Quisling, the namesake of the term used, disavows an idea similar to the one that the delegate from the ‘developing’ country suggested: that the zombies were creating justice by providing revenge for those oppressed by imperialist aims.

War often requires strong leaders, like Churchill and the American ambassador, to make tough decisions that often require practicality rather than morality. Remaining on the defensive would run the risk of allowing zombies to regain strength in numbers outside the safe areas. Additionally, politically, keeping the human populace constrained in a particular place for a lengthy period of time almost definitively ensures revolution at some point. Therefore, I would also have voted yes to the resolution and have gone on the offensive against the zombies.

Power of Memories

[Sharon’s voice suddenly simulates the sound of something large braking, a deep phlegm-filled rumble from the bottom of her throat.] ‘They’re coming in! Shoot ‘em, shoot ‘em!’ [She makes the sound of gunfire then…] ‘I won’t let them get you, I won’t let them get you.’ [Sharon suddenly looks away, over my shoulder to something that isn’t there.] ‘The children! Don’t let them get the children!’ That was Mrs. Cormode. ‘Save the children! Save the children!’ [Sharon makes more gunshots. She balls her hands into a large double fist, bringing it down hard on an invisible form.] Now the kids started crying. (75).

In the passage, Sharon, a woman who now lives in a rehabilitation center for “feral children,” recalls the story of her encounter with the living dead. Initially described as a person of rudimentary language and thinking, Sharon recounts her story with great ease.

The passage is marked by a dichotomy of tone between Sharon’s recounting of dialogue and the narrator’s clinical, explanatory tone. This juxtaposition further emphasizes Sharon’s frantic dialogue as she recalls the horrific events she has witnessed. Both methods of storytelling are connected in their use of simple syntax. Sharon’s simple syntax is also coupled with her repetition of phrases (“Shoot ‘em! Shoot ‘em!… Save the children! Save the children!”) as well as simpler, colloquial diction. There is no definitive reason why Sharon’s recalling of dialogue utilizes these – it could be a reflection of her limited cognitive ability, an accurate recalling of dialogue in a terrifying time, or a mixture of the two.

Sharon’s limited cognitive abilities bring into question a variety of other issues, such as: How reliable is she as a narrator? What brought about these injuries to her language and thought processes? Did she sustain such injuries before the Zombie War or because of her experiences during that time?

ptsd_trauma

Sharon’s possible trauma from past events haunts her to this day, trapping her in the mind of a 4-year old.

Initially introduced in a dismissive manner, Sharon recalls her experience with seemingly impressive ability. She describes the episode in an almost possessed sense, taken out of the moment. The narrator notes that she looks, “over [his] shoulder to something that isn’t there.” Sharon has a remarkable narrative talent to bring the reader back to the past as she retells her story. Furthermore, she has an almost unsettling ability to imitate a variety of voices with supposedly impressive accuracy, and create noises based on the setting she describes, with “a deep, phlegm-filled rumble from the bottom of her throat.”

imgres

Similar to the use of the pensieve in Harry Potter, Sharon allows the reader to be transported back in time as she vividly recalls events.

Her talents do not make sense in light of her supposed cognitive deficiencies. Sharon is supposed to have a rudimentary sense of language, yet she is able to weave a detailed image of her experience. What she is not able to communicate through language, she is able to shrewdly supplement with imitations of accents and sounds. Such noises give off the impression to the reader that the event itself has possessed her.

Sharon’s purpose as a whole is to allow for the narrator to break his/her typical structure of the book, which has been thus far to have those he/she interviews recall and reflect on past events. Sharon’s vivid descriptions, however accurate, are the closest that the narrator can get in his/her oral history structure to a more “typical” narration of events, wherein the reader is transported back to the time of the scene.

Seeing is Believing: Archives and the Personalization of History

When I heard that our FWIS class would be using archives for our final project, I was both surprised and extremely nervous. Like the vast majority of our class, I had never worked with archives, and their purpose had always remained a mystery to me. I predicted a day full of latex gloves and stone-faced archivists hovering over the archives, watching our every move to ensure that we would not tear pages or mar precious historical documents with finger oils.

This prediction, however, did not hold once we arrived at the McGovern Historical Center. The archivists welcomed us excitedly. Instead of spending the introductory period chiding the class on possible mistakes that we may make in handling archives, they discussed the work of the McGovern Center so that we might inspect the documents with a clear purpose and keen interest. When we reached the archives that we would be studying, the archivists simply allowed us to explore without their watchful eyes.

It was at that moment that I began to truly understand the purpose of archives. Lectures in history provide essential information about the past, but archives of history allow you to literally come face-to-face with this information.

3ccc2aa80b969ab4eb7fc1261bb217a6.jpg

19th century surgical instruments

While we were inspecting these documents, I was able to examine medical instruments created before germ theory had been widely accepted. These instruments had handles made of wood, which caused blood from patients to often seep through. Because of this wood, physicians were not fully able to remove sickly blood from their instruments. I remembered in history classes when we had touched upon germ theory and its importance in the field of health. But here, I was able to see how the theory has drastically changed the way in which we view medicine and its instruments.

I realized that archives allow for the personalization of history; they force us to apply our own knowledge of the past in order to understand the context and importance of what we are seeing. This application, I now understand, is vital in creating a complete perspective on historical issues.

Defining Public Health

Public health is a field that aims to meet the medical needs of entire communities, in contrast to “typical” health professions, who aim to meet medical needs at an individual level. Sanitation, vaccines, contraception, environmental regulations, etc. all encompass regular functions of public health. I would argue that public health is one of the most (if not the most) important career sectors in the contemporary world. In our current society, humans need (healthy) humans in order to achieve “progress,” or whatever that elusive term may represent. A community can therefore not succeed if there is a continuous, debilitated workforce impeding it. In order to combat this, public health seeks to ensure that a community is indeed healthy.

Due to globalization, our ever-shrinking world is consistently redefining what it means to work in public health, as communities continue to become more interwoven with one other. Because of this interconnectedness, public health officials have been forced care deeply about health in not just their own communities, but in communities around the world. In 2014, the entire world began to fear when West Africa experienced an Ebola outbreak. We knew that one short flight by someone does not know that he/she is affected by the virus could cause the outbreak to spread to anywhere in the world in less than a day. Such has been the reality for less than a century of all of human history. Globalization has not simply brought on the increased migration of diseases, however, but also an increased trading and collaboration on technology. Today, a vaccine that may be developed in Germany can be easily accessible today in all parts of the globe within the span of a week. Additionally, public health officials from different areas of the world are not only able to use each other’s work, but they are also able to collaborate with one other, either by traveling to be with one another in person or by collaborating ideas virtually. While the means to protect public health are ever changing, the sole goal has stood the test of time – ensure the health of the public.