Art and Humanity

In Never Let Me Go, art serves as the symbol for “true” humanity and as a mechanism to inspire and persuade the masses. Throughout the novel, readers are gradually shown how art is considered crucial to the development of humans, particularly for love. For example, Tommy says, “She told Roy that things like pictures, poetry, all that kind of stuff, she said they revealed what you were like inside. She said they revealed your sou.” (130). Tommy hypothesizes that art serves as proof for authorities that the love between two people is real. Tommy here reveals a fundamental theme of the novel; creativity and the ability to imagine and create is what ultimately characterizes humans as themselves, and art serves as a mechanism of displaying this creativity.

Readers can see this concept particularly in the evolution of Tommy’s drawing. He moves from drawing out childish elephants to saying, “If you make them tiny, and you have to because the pages are only about this big, then everything changes. It’s like they come to life by themselves.” (187). Tommy has the idea that drawing things smaller is what makes them “come to life,” a phenomenon showing his ability to think on the next level. Rather than drawing on the most basic dimension, Tommy now expresses his desire to Kathy to create material that was previously unknown. Here, we see Tommy thinking for himself and trying to express himself originally. It’s not simply the ability to create, but rather the ability to imagine that differentiates him from others at Hailsham.

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In fact, the ability to create is what can particularly inspire and move the masses. Miss Emily explains, “That was why we collected your art. We selected the best of it and put on special exhibitions…’There, look!’ we could say. ‘Look at this art! How dare you claim these children are anything less than fully human?’” (230). Evident in this statement is the idea that even the simple concept of art entails a special ability to create, and this ability, according to Miss Emily, is what characterizes people as human. The fact that Hailsham students were engaging in art was enough to convince others that they were human.

However, Tommy’s art shows us the dichotomy in Miss Emily and Hailsham’s version of art and his idea. Hailsham simply uses the “idea” of art and this ability to create as a propaganda measure for proving “humanness.” What Tommy does instead—try to imagine and create and see art as a metaphor for love—is far more representative of humanness than the idea that Miss Emily and Hailsham propagandize. Thus, art in the novel serves as the line dividing “real” humanness from the fake one and shows readers how the ability to imagine, not simply draw, is what characterizes humans as themselves.

Art as the Test for Being Human

In Never Let Me Go, students at Hailsham are taught to utilize their creativity to create their best work. If the work (a drawing, poetry, or anything similar) is deemed exceptional, then a woman named Madame takes the work to an unknown location for an unknown reason to the students. In the first part of the novel, Miss Lucy initially soothes Tommy by telling him that he does not need to be creative, but she later rescinds this statement. Tommy, consequently, lags significantly behind his peers at Hailsham and at the Cottages in terms of how many works he has created and how many of his works have been taken to the Gallery.

Interestingly enough, Tommy is the one who gives the reader a hint about the art’s true purpose when he explains his theory to Kathy at Norfolk: “Suppose two people come up and say they’re in love. She can find the art they’ve done over years and years. She can see if they go” (176). In Tommy’s theory, we see the synthesis of two nebulous aspects about Hailsham producing a cogent hypothesis. The first aspect deals with why Hailsham students are pressured to create art; the second concerns the rumor that Hailsham students are special because they can delay their fate of becoming donors by having a serious relationship with another Hailsham student. Tommy’s theory suggests that art is used as evidence to determine whether or not two Hailsham students are truly in love or whether they are simply trying to avoid their fates.

Tommy’s theory is the main argument about the purpose of art found in Never Let Me Go in part two, and it points to some interesting ideas about human value. Even though art can supposedly show whether two people are meant to be together, the art still has to be judged. Tommy suggests that “[Madame] could decide for herself what’s a good match and what’s just a stupid crush” (176). Importantly, it is not the art that objectively makes the decision, it is Madame’s subjectivity that ultimately leads to a conclusion. This suggests that an outsider can judge the relationship between two people and seem to have a more accurate idea about the reality than the partners do themselves. Moreover, the students’ art is created in their childhood; judging two people’s adult life based on their childhood efforts emphasizes the idea that the children that are meant to be donors are static individuals. That is, because their futures have been decided, the students cannot change and are not really people who grow and adapt to their surroundings.

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Are Hailsham students actually static?

If donors aren’t seen as totally human, then why is there the option for Hailsham students to delay their donation? One can infer that any individual student does not constitute a person but that the combination of two Hailsham students does lead to humanity. This matching of two students has nothing to do with birth or population because the donors biologically cannot have children. Thus, the option to delay donation if there is love implies that to be human means to be something more than just an individual. Being human consists of relating to another human being. This focus on ties rather than individuals is present throughout the novel because Hailsham students are encouraged to stick together and retain their ties to Hailsham. Kathy is adamant about keeping her old friends close and repeatedly tries to prevent Ruth from changing too much.

In short, art is used as evidence to show that two Hailsham students truly love each other which shows that they are indeed humans. However, this understanding of art is solely based off of Tommy’s theory, but Tommy’s theory is certainly the most believable explanation given in the book. If true, the theory suggests that the students at Hailsham are static individuals who only have value if they are partnered with another Hailsham student.

 

Human Relationships Surpassing Degredation

“I pull her to the ground and roll on top of her to cover her, shield her. Quiet, I say again, my face is wet, sweat or tears, I feel calm and floating, as if I’m no longer in my body; close to my eyes there’s a leaf, red, turned early, I can see every bright vein. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” (Atwood 75)

The world of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a soulless, authoritarian, and apocalyptic setting for the novel, where women are marginalized and transformed by society into reproductive tools in order to combat infertility. However, the novel still highlights moments where humanity is still able to rise above all of the negative situations and degradation of the world.

In this particular passage of the novel, the handmaid, Offred, is in a dream where she and her child are escaping a pursuer through a forest. As the pursuer gains ground, Offred eventually resorts to protecting her child from danger. The act of “pull[ing] her to the ground” (75) resembles a fall of humans from the original honor and nobility associated with being human. The subsequent actions of “roll[ing] on top of her to cover her, shield her” (75) represent the tendencies for humans to hide from their failures and seek protection, instead of facing them directly. In addition, Offred’s silencing of the child depicts the loss of voice of women, who are stripped away from their identity and marginalized in their society. We as readers are also not able to tell if Offred’s face is wet from “sweat or tears,” (75) but are able to conclude that the world Offred lives in is one of distress, which is pictured by sweat, and sadness, which is depicted by tears.

Yet despite these dire circumstances, Offred feels “calm and floating, as if [she’s] no longer in [her] body.” (75) The reader is taken aback and shocked, because Offred manages to find tranquility in such a stressful situation. Since she also feels “floating,” (75) it can be argued that she feels transcendent above her situation due to this out-of-body experience. This lends support to genuine human virtues and relationships that are able to rise above the rest of the world as society continues to take a downward turn.

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Red leaves, albeit closer to death, show vitality in the presence of death. Photo from: http://earthsky.org/earth/why-do-tree-leaves-turn-red-in-fall

In this novel, there is also a substantial amount of plant imagery. In this case, the leaf is a metaphor for Offred’s relationship with her child, which is one of the few hallmarks of humanity left in the degraded society. The fact that the leaf is “turned early” (75) has a dubious meaning, as it can either signify vitality or forewarn death since it prematurely changed colors. However in this case, Offred notices the “bright vein[s]” (75) and remarks that “it’s the most beautiful thing [she’s] ever seen.” (75) The veins lend further support to the leaf as a picture of Offred’s relationship with her child, as it is both alive and beautiful in midst of so much chaos and so many inhumane acts. Even if the leaf is dying prematurely, the beauty of its life is still made known.

Ethiopia woman calms hungry child

The love relationship between a mother and a child is rare in the society Offred lives in. Photo from: http://www.kairosphotos.com/blog/ethiopian-mother-and-child/

This passage has a very calming tone, in contrast to the preceding paragraph, which is marked by diction and syntax that create a violent, nervous, and chaotic tone. Thus, we see a contrast between Offred’s distress in her situation, and then suddenly having an out-of-body experience that brings tranquility and alertness to her. Offred’s out-of-body experience also reveal that she no longer feels confined to her body, which is defined and used by the society in the novel. Through all of this, the passage is able to show that Offred may be the last stronghold of human virtues and integrity in her world, as she bears the memories of the previous society that fostered such loving relationships and uprightness.

Citations:

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. 1st ed. New York: Anchor, 1986. Print.

Norrland, Jörgen. Autumn Picture from Sweden… Earth Sky

Jeffrey, Paul. Ethiopian mother and child. Global Lens

Beyond Survival

Humanity has long fought for more than just its mere survival. The comforts that we enjoy today are built upon the strive of our forefathers for a meaning in life beyond the biological instincts of survival and reproduction. As a head of state, I would have voted to go on the offensive against the zombies. From a militaristic standpoint, this feat would be arduous, if not unimaginable. The enemy are not conventional humans that are subject to the same dimension of emotion as all humans share. In conventional warfare, humans try “to push the other past its limit of endurance,” as said by General D’Ambrosia (273). However, the enemy does not tire or is not subject to the same “will” that humans are subject to.

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Although General D’Ambrosia was quite apprehensive about engaging an “enemy that was actively waging total war,” there is a certain advantage to the will of humans (273). This drive that humans have towards being dominant in their environment is what separates us from other species and the living dead. Whether this is biological, spiritual, or psychological, it fulfills the function of creating a sense of hope that was much needed. This sense of hope is not something that mere statistics can convey. Surrendering to the enemy and cutting our losses is not a human value, so to speak. Humans have succeeded and thrived when we take risks beyond what we imagine conceivable. This drive paired with the calculative strategy of newer generals is what helped Todd and millions of others feel that they were “reclaiming [their] future” (282). Moreover, the lack of hope was causing tangible problems as mass suicides, depression, and other psychological diseases began to emerge and sweep the planet. By simply planning for a future, humans create it.

Surrendering with White Flag

www. voiceoftruthproject.wordpress.com 

Additionally, viewing this event as a war rather than an epidemic is important to improve morale. When fear and suffering are rampant, it is difficult not to victimize yourself, and it is even harder to victimize the cause of your suffering. Putting a face on the enemy, in fact simply stating that there was an enemy, created a pathway out of suffering that brought millions of people together across the world.

To effectively deal with the tangible problem of zombies, to overcome the political and economic constraints in coexisting with zombies, and to rise against our own psychology, a plan similar to the American military plan involving Todd must be implemented. This plan gives the appearance of winning the war against zombies, and often times this is enough to bring it into actuality. By bringing up a different option than simply implementing the Redeker plan and surviving through World War Z, Brooks gives us insight into the complexities that govern policy making and, on a deeper level, what it means to be human.

Citation: Brooks, Max. “The Great Panic.” World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. New York: Crown, 2006. Print.

Total War Might Not Save the World

If I were a head of state, I would definitely have voted against the US President’s proposal in the Honolulu Conference. With every single concern from the aspects of ethics and tactics, waging a total war against the undead is clearly not a cost-efficient decision, which can give rise to serious social ramifications in the post-war era.

First and foremost, the president’s argument and the proposal he brought up contradicts each other from an ethical standpoint, judging from his interpretation of “human spirit”. He believes that without the support of “the human spirit”, we can never build a real future. We need to prove that we are capable of being offensive as the dominant life-form on earth, and rid ourselves of anxiety and self-doubt thus: “we had to prove to ourselves that we could do it, and leave that proof as the war’s greatest monument.” (267) The reclamation of the planet represents reclamation of our dignity as humans – the confidence and power lost in the year-long defensive strategies. I agree on the importance of “human spirit”, as the greatest difference between humans and the zombies is the ability to feel, reason and think, and these are the qualities that set us apart from any other species and make us superior. However, it should encompass much more than our pride as an intelligent and rational being: how about empathy and compassion to other members of the same species? “I’ll only be sending others out to die, and here’s what I’d be sending them up against…Two hundred million zombies…a very gloomy prospect for victory.” (271) At the very moment of time, nobody knows how long the war will last, or whether the human beings can survive or not. But we know that we are outnumbered by far, and we can’t take responsibility for the future of the country when we can’t even take responsibility for the safety of the ones who serve their country with their lives. When the cold, hard facts of the zombies are presented – “…all the experience, all the data we’d compiled on their origin, their physiology, their strengths, their weaknesses, their motives, and their mentality” (271) – I can’t help thinking, is sending young soldiers to a fully committed, all in total war that we have little hope to win a part of “human spirit”? Are they sent out only to prove that the abstract notion of “human spirit” still exists, as it will be “the greatest monument”? Are we trying to save the humanity by diminishing humanity? With all the information given at that point, I cannot reason my way to justify this act, which is basically slaying humans for the sake of humanity.

When we think about this plan from a tactical standpoint, it still cannot offer a promising outlook for us or the next generations. Different from that in a conventional war, our enemy grows as we lose our fighters. “Infect a human, he becomes a zombie. Kill a zombie, he becomes a corpse. We could only get weaker, while they might actually get stronger.” (272) One may argue with this statement with the presence of science and technology, but the saddening fact is, “we weren’t mechanized anymore” (273). We can see the aftermath in China. The huge population was once the origin of the military’s confidence, but it was actually the Achilles’ heel and “the most populous nation on earth … [is] fatally outnumbered”, as “every dead soldier was now a live zombie”(235). When we are sending soldiers to the battlefield with an unreliable supply of ammunition and all the speculations and uncertainty, we are actually sending ourselves to the end. The situation will only worsen unless there are a deliberated plan and a steady supply of goods and materials. But I can’t see either of them at the Honolulu Conference.

We cannot simply rely on unrealistic optimism or a vehement speech when making this life or death decision for the entire human race. Being defensive doesn’t necessarily mean being a coward, and being offensive doesn’t necessarily represent valor. We need to calculate meticulously and use our best judgement, and there must be a better way other than a total war to end this nightmare.

All or Nothing: Humans or Zombies

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If the countries had not voted to attack, there would not have been any survivors left. (quotesvalley.com)

If I were a head of state in World War Z, I would also have voted to attack during the Honolulu Conference. While other countries argued that launching an attack on the zombies would lead to a meaningless loss of life, the governments also hold responsibility for abandoning their citizens during the implementation of the Redeker Plan. For example, Todd Wainio remembers reading a sign saying “Better late than never!” when his unit liberated a civilian zone. Voting against an attack would have proven the lack of responsibility and incompetence of the government that the sign had scornfully referenced.

From a social standpoint, launching an attack on the zombies would also rebuild the confidence of the people and fulfill a responsibility we have to future generations. For example, after the first successful battle against the zombies at Hope, Wainio notices “everyone jawing, laughing, telling stories” (Brooks 282). Wainio derives more satisfaction from taking the offensive against the zombies because he and his troops finally feel enough security and control to be able to relax and enjoy their time. They no longer feel restricted from their fear of zombies.

This similar security is felt by Kwang Jingshu, who notes after stability returns to his community that “real children… don’t know to be afraid, and that is the greatest gift, the only gift we can leave to them” (Brooks 335). By recognizing that zombies are nothing to be afraid of—through the successful war waged on zombies—these children are able to act like “real children” who can enjoy their childhood in a secure, safe environment, protected from the horrors of death and decay. By launching an attack, we would be able to secure a healthy living environment for our future generations.

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“Real children” who can live without fear (multiculturalkidblogs.com)

I would have implemented a plan similar to the U.S.’s plan, which involved marching through the country and killing any zombies sighted. From a tactical standpoint, this would be the most efficient and effective way to rid the world of zombies and prevent another outbreak. The attack on zombies is like a “war” because there are two opposing forces, zombies and humans, who have been confined to their restricted territories. However, zombies are unlike any opposing force that any human army has faced. Unlike enemies like foreign countries or rebel groups, zombies do not have a “limits of endurance” (Brooks 273). In a war between humans, one side will always give up once they have lost too much manpower or spirit. However, perhaps more like viruses and bacteria, zombies will not stop until there are no humans left—by their very nature, humans and zombies cannot coexist. If we did not attack, “we could only get weaker, while they might actually get stronger” (Brooks 272). Unlike a war, the attack on zombies is an unavoidable endeavor to ensure human existence.

 

 

Humanity vs Fear

“The little girl was now close enough so we could see her face. Her eyes were wide, locked on Rat Face. Her arms were raised, and I could just make out this high-pitched, rasping moan… In one smooth motion, Rat Face pulled a pistol from underneath his coat, shot her right between the eyes, then turned around and sauntered back toward us. A woman, probably the little girl’s mother, exploded into sobs. She fell to her knees, spitting and cursing at us…I knew I should have felt bad for the child…and maybe even a little bit guilty because I didn’t lift a finger to stop it…at that point the only thing I could feel was fear” (79).

Maria Zhuganova recounts her first experience with the undead; however, she does not approach the zombie with the same rhetoric that is seen throughout the rest of this novel. One of the ways she humanizes the zombie is by the repetition of “her” instead of the usual “it.” This simple change in pronoun has a significant effect on the reader: it creates a mood of empathy rather than aversion. This tone is bolstered by the use of key phrases, such as “rasping moan,”  that further serve to show how the little girl is a victim of a disease rather than the perpetrator of it. Elements of pathos are intertwined with this description when Zhuganova describes “the little girl’s mother [who] exploded into sobs [and] fell to her knees, spitting and cursing at us.” This emotional description can move even the toughest listener as they are faced with the reality that everyone, even the living dead, have people who love them.

 

This love and care is what causes Zhuganova to feel “bad for the child” and encounter “guilt” while others remain desensitized. She faces inner turmoil as her instinct of wanting to save others clashes with her desire to save herself. The author separates her turmoil from her final conclusion by using a semicolon after Zhuganova discusses what she “should have been feeling.” This separation reveals the conclusion that Zhuganova arrived at: the emotion that trumps everything else is “fear.” This signals an interesting shift from pitying the victim to wanting its destruction. The hatred is not created by a sense of rage but rather by a simple, yet primal instinct: fear.

The author uses syntax, imagery, and pathos to create a sense of escalation for the reader. In the beginning of the paragraph the sentences are short and abrupt, seeming to resemble the cold and calculated murder of the little girl. However, by the end of the paragraph the sentences become more complex, resembling the complexity of emotions battling over each other before “fear” is declared the winner. In this passage, the author uses a lens of pathos to show that treating a zombie as a perpetrator instead of a victim is not a doing of the zombie, but rather it is a change in the emotional construct of the living, who begin to fear what they do not know. In this sense, the author seems to imply that our view of the world, and our actions towards it, largely depend on our perception of it, rather than the actual reality.

Citation: Brooks, Max. “The Great Panic.” World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. New York: Crown, 2006. 79. Print.

 

Humanity in the War

This is the paragraph where Ajay Shah recounted his alarmingly dangerous experience to finally board a ship for a survival chance, no matter how slim, at the vast sea. It has a conversational tone with strong emotions and sheer contrast in tension between the beginning and the end of this paragraph.

Just as I slipped below the surface, I felt a powerful arm wrap around my chest. This is it, I thought; any second, I thought I would feel teeth dig into my flesh. Instead of pulling me down, the arm hauled me back up to the surface. I ended up aboard the Sir Wilfred Grenfell, an ex-Canadian Coast Guard cutter. I tried to talk, to apologize for not having any money, to explain that I could work for my passage, do anything they needed. The crewman just smiled, “Hold on,” he said to me, “we’re about to get under way.” I could feel the deck vibrate then lurch as we moved. (73, World War Z)

I love the use of “slipped” in the beginning sentence. It not only refers to the fact that Ajay lost his balance and footing, but also that he was sinking without attracting anyone else’s attention – like sands slip away. No one noticed him, and therefore no one was coming to him except for those blood-craving ghouls under the water. The repetition of “I thought” is an indication of how overwhelmed and horrified Ajay was, by the expectations of what would come next. The image of “teeth digging into my flesh” fully occupied his mind, but it ends right there. There are not further descriptions of the pain and struggling inflicted when attacked by a zombie. Maybe Ajay was too afraid to imagine or elaborate on that possibility, or maybe he was just too tired – he had an extremely long day on the fine line between life and death, and he didn’t even try to fight back when the arm wrapped around him. More importantly, the repetition of “I think” places the emphasis on dramatizing the situational irony here – readers all know that he survived, and what happened next is definitely different from what was expected.

 

The arm actually “hauled him up” instead of “pulling him down”. The antithesis here creates a light and quick rhythm, corresponding to the joy of being saved and given a chance of survival after all the suffering, both mental and physical. But Ajay realized he didn’t have anything to pay back, so he tried “to talk”, “to apologize”, and “to explain”. The paralleled structure builds up the tension again, and the phrases grow longer and longer in this sentence, as they show how urgent Ajay was begging the rescuer: he was trying to be more persuasive, show what he can offer, and the use of “any”, “anything” in this line demonstrates the desperation.

And here comes the word that only showed up once in this book so far: smile. It’s absolutely stunning. World War Z is brutal and this entire book is about death, pain, struggle, and helplessness, and a smile is so rare and precious among this negativity. The crewman didn’t ask for anything, but offered a soothing smile to Ajay – it is in sheer contrast with the intensity in the previous lines, and it is the shine of humanity. There is hope because there are selfless people who offer help and unite the rest of us, even though we don’t know his name. Finally, the cutter lurched as it started to move, and it is a figuration of the unknown that Ajay was about to face: unsteady, uncertain and uncontrolled, but he had someone on his side.