Themes in: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview. Instead of a book review, this will be thematic book discussion.

The Road is a novel by Cormac McCarthy, published in 2006. I wrote a film review of The Road a while ago after reading the book, which you can click here to read.

Dystopian?

The Road is clearly a Dystopian novel. It is set in America, following a worldwide catastrophe which has wiped out all pre-existing forms of society. The environment has been destroyed. Finding food, water, and shelter is a constant hardship. There is both physical degeneration of the earth, and moral degeneration of humanity, as violent, cannibalistic gangs have sprung up to prey on weaker humans for survival.  Furthermore, Dystopian literature often focuses on horrible, unimaginable places worse than the author’s own and highlights the plight of an individual and their attempt to survive in such a place. These genre conventions are evident in The Road, as the novel follows the plight of The Man and The Boy to travel through a harsh, oppressive landscape overrun by damage, decay, and waste in the hope of finding a safe haven at the coast.

Post-Apocalyptic?

The Road can also be considered post-apocalyptic literature, a genre similar to the Dystopian. The Road is set after an apocalyptic, catastrophic event that has destroyed the world. Much of the novel is concerned with detailing this new, frightening, post-apocalyptic world and how survival is even possible in such a place. Furthermore, the function of post-apocalyptic literature is to act as a warning for current readers and to encourage them to take preventative action now to avoid disasters in the future. For example, environmentalists often cite The Road as a warning about what will happen if the environment is not cared for and protected. Others cite The Road as a warning about the collapse of consumerist culture and materialism, as much of the waste littering America is from material luxuries enjoyed by previous societies.

Utopian?

In the midst of all this darkness, decay, and degeneration, it seems impossible that The Road could be considered Utopian in any way. However, The Road could be considered Utopian because it contains hope. Whilst the harsh landscapes and the hardships of life are present in the novel, they are never the central focus. Instead, the emphasis remains on The Man and The Boy, and The Man’s love, care, and protection of The Boy, his son. The Man also continuously encourages The Boy to make moral choices. Key examples of this are The Man’s refusal to engage in cannibalism and The Boy’s refusal to steal from others, even though there is no-one to punish them anymore. Thus, this enduring morality of The Man and The Boy can considered hopeful.

Like The Time Machine, the final decision on whether The Road is a somewhat hopeful, Utopian narrative, or a dark and depressing Dystopian novel is left for the reader to decide.


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Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Themes in: The Unlimited Dream Company by J.G. Ballard

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview. Instead of a book review, this will be thematic book discussion.

The Unlimited Dream Company is a novel by J.G. Ballard, published in 1979. I have not written a book review of it; I think it’s too weird a book for that. The Unlimited Dream Company is about a man named Blake, who crashes a plane into the River Thames, outside the London suburb of Shepperton. He is supposed to drown, but doesn’t, and becomes a form of supernatural messiah figure for Shepperton.

In the lecture we were given on The Unlimited Dream Company, it was pointed out that it is not a novel which can be fitted easily into specific genres. However, I’ll attempt to.

Utopian?

On the one hand, The Unlimited Dream Company can be considered Utopian, because Blake experiences increasing happiness and freedom in the surreal and quasi-magical version of Shepperton in which he finds himself. This magical version of Shepperton is a world full of vibrant colours and plant life, which is encouraged by Blake to become an Edenic perfection. Furthermore, it becomes apparent that Blake is in control of his own reality; his dreams are capable of literally coming true, an aspect of the narrative which is presented as happy and hopeful.

Dystopian?

On the other hand, The Unlimited Dream Company can be considered Dystopian, because Blake is unable to leave Shepperton, although he tries on numerous occasions to escape. He finds himself stuck in this mystical and inexplicable version of Shepperton. Furthermore, Blake seems to lack a moral compass and does whatever he wants, forming Shepperton into what he wants it to be, which may not be a dream come true for everyone else.

Gothic?

The Unlimited Dream Company also draws on many conventions of the Gothic genre. For example, Blake engages in numerous taboos such as paedophilic urges and the sexualisation of children, and extreme violence towards the townspeople of Shepperton. Additionally, the novel contains themes of death, resurrection and the supernatural – all of which are associated with the Gothic genre. Also, there are many liminal spaces in The Unlimited Dream Company, which is a convention of the Gothic genre. The geography of Shepperton morphs over time as Blake alters the world to his liking. Blake crashes into the River Thames at the start of the novel, but none of the townspeople revive him, yet Blake doesn’t drown. This makes it unclear whether Blake is truly alive, or whether he is trapped in some form of purgatory, or trapped within his own mind and sense of self. Blake also sees his doppelgänger (double) in The Unlimited Dream Company. At the end of the novel, Blake discovers the wreckage from the plane crash in the River Thames. He sees the body of a dead pilot within the sinking debris. However, it is left deliberately ambiguous as to whether this is Blake discovering his own dead body, or whether it truly is a different character, and Blake was never the pilot after all.

Overall, I think The Unlimited Dream Company most strongly draws upon surrealism and the Gothic genre. However, as it’s such a weird book, I am still struggling to understand it.


Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more content like this, as well as plenty of book reviews.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Themes in: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview. Instead of a book review, this will be thematic book discussion.

Brave New World is a novel by Aldous Huxley, published in 1932. I already wrote a book review of Brave New World, which you can click here to read. This blog post will not be an inherent discussion of themes in Brave New World, but a discussion of genres instead.

Science Fiction?

Like The Time Machine, Brave New World can be considered science fiction because it is a novel about a futuristic world with extraordinary technological advancements. For example, the society in Brave New World learn through hypnopaedia, a method that teaches a wide range of information during sleep, and laboratories are used to engineer future generations with perfect precision. This emphasis on efficient technology was inspired by Henry Ford’s car factories, as Ford highly valued precise engineering and efficient production. The notion of technological, genetic engineering instead of biological reproduction was also inspired by discussions at the time surrounding eugenics and the possibility of a perfected human race.

Utopian?

Speaking of perfection, Brave New World is an arguably Utopian novel because, as in The Time Machine, there is a strong emphasis on leisure and entertainment, which is most notable in the hedonistic culture encouraged throughout the novel. For example, citizens attend the ‘Feelies’ instead of the cinema which show highly sexualised films with lifelike details and ‘amazing tactual effects’ the viewers can experience themselves (Chapter 3, p. 29). Sexual encounters are encouraged to happy as regularly as possible, with anyone and everyone, to increase happiness. This is demonstrated with the slogan ‘everyone belongs to everyone else’. Furthermore, citizens are encouraged to regularly use the Soma, a drug which increases happiness and decreases worries, anxieties, or dissatisfactions, should they occur. Thus, society is too drugged on hedonistic pleasures to ever consider an uprising against the government. As previously mentioned, children are engineered to save time and the physical effort and expenditure of pregnancy and childbirth. Children are “born” into a rigid class system, determined by their DNA, which determines their quality of life, social status, and employment for the rest of their life. As children, their playtimes are monitored and controlled and as adults, their working hours are meticulously regulated.  In theory then, Brave New World presents an efficient, perfect, Utopian society that is socially, economically and politically successful.

Dystopian?

However, Brave New World can equally be described as Dystopian. Although the government has made many technological advancements and is trying to make society the best it can be, this has negative consequences.  The government regulate and control every aspect of citizens’ lives from their birth to their death; they are “born” from a test tube and after death, their bodies are cremated for ‘phosphorus recovery’, harvesting ‘a kilo and a half per adult corpse’ (Chapter 5, p. 63). The government provide regular Soma and birth-control, to encourage and enforce drug use and promiscuous sex. The government introduced hyphopodia to indoctrinate children to conform to the ideologies of the state. It is evident there is an overwhelming lack of free will and true happiness because society is brainwashed, oppressed, and trapped under totalitarian control, in the government’s pursuit of efficiency and perfection.

Ultimately, the decision as to whether Brave New World is truly Utopian or truly Dystopian is left for the reader to decide. I know I wouldn’t like to live there though.


Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more content like this, as well as plenty of book reviews.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Themes in: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview. Instead of a book review, this will be thematic book discussion.

The Time Machine is a novella by H.G. Wells, published in 1895. I already wrote a book review of The Time Machine, which you can click here to read.

Science Fiction?

The Time Machine most clearly belongs to the science fiction genre, as it contains many conventions associated with the science fiction genre, such as time travel, technology, and the future – the most obvious example being the fact the Time Traveller travels in time to the year A.D. 802,701. He does so with a remarkably advanced piece of technology – particularly for Victorian England – called a time machine, which is ‘delicately made’ from a ‘crystallin substance’ (Chapter 1, page 6). Ironically however, upon the Time Traveller’s arrival into the future, he notes that there is ‘no machinery’ and ‘no appliances of any kind’ (Chapter 5, p. 43) technological advancements have been lost and society has regressed into a simpler, primitive way of life. The Time Traveller also finds the future sublime and inexplicable, which is another convention of the science-fiction genre. This is demonstrated with the numerous rhetorical questions the Time Traveller asks such as ‘Why?’ and ‘How shall I put it?’ (Chapter 5, p. 43), as he struggles to comprehend the new world around him. Furthermore, towards the end of The Time Machine, The Time Traveller travels further into the future to see the apocalyptic end of the world – another convention that can be considered part of science fiction narratives – and watches as the world is consumed by an ‘inky black’ darkness,  a ‘glowing scarlet’ sky and is left utterly lifeless and cold (Chapter 11, p. 88).

Utopian?

The Time Machine can also be considered a Utopian novel. The Utopian genre often focuses on a society which has been perfected, and can enjoy peace and happiness. Indeed, these genre conventions are reflected in The Time Machine. The Eloi, the people of A.D. 802,701 focus their lives on fun, food, and a life of leisure. In this futuristic world, there are many beautiful flowers and gardens, which contrasts against the heavily industrialised setting of Victorian London the Time Traveller has departed from. Furthermore, The Time Traveller observes that the Eloi spend all their time ‘playing’, ‘bathing’, ‘eating’ and ‘sleeping’ (Chapter 5, p. 43). Undoubtedly, many would find this prospect incredibly desirable and relaxing.

Dystopian?

However, these same aspects of The Time Machine can be considered Dystopian, which is the exact opposite of the Utopian genre. Dystopian literature focuses on a world considerably worse than the author’s own, and life is usually oppressive or unfulfilling – or both. The Time Traveller arrives in A.D. 802,701 expecting to find a far more advanced human race than his own, a notion influenced by Darwinian theory of continual evolutionary progression. This is not the case. Instead, humanity has degenerated and split into 2 distinct species, both of which are worse than the Victorian society The Time Traveller left behind. The Eloi may have a seemingly fun and easy life, but they have lost their mental stimulation, physical strength, creativity, knowledge, and intelligence. They lack the motivation for … anything.  The Morlocks have also regressed and are akin to cavemen, as they hide underground and hunt the Eloi at night for meat. This presents the idea of evolutionary regression and is the direct opposite of a perfected, Utopian society.

To sum up, as I hope I’ve demonstrated, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells draws on conventions from the science fiction, Utopian and Dystopian genres.


Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more content like this, as well as plenty of book reviews.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Themes in: War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview. Instead of a book review, this will be thematic book discussion.

War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel by H.G. Wells about when Martians invade Surrey. It was published in 1898, towards the end of the Victorian period, known as the Fin de Siècle (end of the century). To find out more about the plot, and what I thought of the book, you can read my review here:

Otherness

This is the most apparent theme in the entire novel.

The Martians are not human and so are obviously, well, alien. Wells uses language such as ‘strange and ‘monster’ to emphasise how different these creatures are. The Martians are scary and powerful; they bring new technologies with them that humans have never even seen before. They are different, they are intimidating.

‘Machine it was, with a ringing metallic pace, and long, flexible, glittering tentacles. […] Behind the main body was a huge mass of white metal like a gigantic fisherman’s basket […] The monster swept by me. And in an instant it was gone.’

The predatory, animalistic language such as ‘tentacles’ and ‘fisherman’s basket’ once again emphasises that it is the Martians who are the invaders, and the humans who are the invaded.

However, Wells not only makes the Martians “other”, but makes the humans “other” too.

The narrator observes the chaos and catastrophe once the Martians attack; homes are destroyed, streets are turned to rubble, and humans flee. Whilst this is happening however,  the narrator begins to describe the humans  less as individual victims, and more as a homogeneous group, stampeding. He uses language such as ‘the host’ and the ‘multitude’ which is language typically ascribed to alien or other beings.

‘Their skins were dry, their lips black and cracked’

Furthermore, this dehumanising language suggests people have begun to lose their human appearance and behaviours in the face of panic – becoming something strange, something they’re not.

Thus, the alterity of both human and aliens in War of the Worlds can be interpreted in a variety of ways.

1. For example, the fear of an unknown, alien population invading white Victorian Britain reflects fears of reverse colonialism. This was the fear that people from countries colonised by Britain, such as India, would attack or invade Britain in revenge.

2. The fear of a technological, scientific invasion also reflects fears of the increasing modernity of Victorian England. Science was making new discoveries and the capabilities of technology were expanding. This might have made some feel uneasy.

3. Furthermore, the invasion of the unknown and the unusual reflects fears regarding the end of the century. For readers in 1898, the 20th century loomed ahead ominously – nobody knew what it would be like, nobody knew what would happen next. So why not imagine an alien invasion?


Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more content like this, as well as plenty of book reviews.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Themes in: The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview. Instead of a book review, this will be thematic book discussion.

The Sign of Four is a novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and is part of his famous Sherlock Holmes series, published in 1890. The Sign of Four has a plot which involves stolen treasure, a secret pact and the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

I remember reading The Sign of Four while I was trying to read the entire Sherlock Holmes series. I still haven’t managed it, and I didn’t particularly enjoy this one.

Masculinity

Sherlock Holmes is not a stereotypical Victorian gentleman man. He doesn’t work as a detective to support a family, or maintain social standing. He solves mysteries because they’re fun. He also frequently uses cocaine and opium during a time in which, although not illegal, recreational drug use was frowned upon by higher society. It’s clear Holmes does not mesh well with the stereotypical lifestyle expected of a stereotypical Victorian gentleman.

On the other hand, there’s Watson. He has good social standing as a doctor, disapproves of Holmes’ lifestyle somewhat, and even meets and courts Mary Morstan. In other words, Watson is more similar to the Victorian gentleman than Holmes. However, Watson is not entirely squeaky clean. He too is fascinated by mystery and disorder – joining Holmes on adventures together, so he can’t be overly aloof.

Otherness

This is probably my favourite theme to discuss from The Sign of Four. The novel was written during an era where the British Empire was still incredibly powerful; India did not achieve independence from the United Kingdom until 1947. With this in mind, both Watson and Holmes express problematic views regarding India, Indian characters, and convey the notion that white Europeans are ultimately superior.

Firstly, as the narrative is about the discovery of hidden treasure in India, this underlines ideas that India exists solely to be an exotic, unknown place for white colonisers to take from. Secondly, Indian characters such as Tonga are made “other”. To be made “other” in Victorian England means they are represented in a way which deliberately makes them different from, and therefore inferior to, white British characters.

For example, Holmes describes inhabitants from the Andaman Islands – which is located in the Bay of Bengal – and is Tonga’s home, as ‘fierce’, ‘morose’, ‘naturally hideous’, and associated with cannibalism, massacres, and violence. Watson also describes Tonga with abhuman language such as ‘it straightened itself into a little black man’. The use of the pronoun ‘it’ emphasises how Watson refused to acknowledge Tonga as a person or identity, simply because of their ethnicity. This language is indicative of the time in which Conan Doyle was writing, but creates the horrid stereotype that anyone “other” to the “norm” of white British men are violent, cruel, abhuman and animalistic.

Perhaps that’s why I didn’t like the book.


Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more content like this, as well as plenty of book reviews.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Themes in: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview. Instead of a book review, this will be thematic book discussion.

Lady Audley’s Secret is a sensational Victorian novel about  Lady Audley, a beautiful lady residing with her husband at Audley Court, who is keeping multiple secrets and will do anything to ensure they stay hidden. It was written by Mary Elizabeth Braddon in 1862.

Spoiler Warning: There will be some.

Class

The theme of class and social mobility underpins the entire narrative of Braddon’s novel. For example, Lady Audley – previously Lucy Graham, Helen Talboys, and Helen Maldon – soon to become Madame Taylor, slides up and down the social scale. She begins life as Helen Maldon, in a poor family with little financial support. She loathed her upbringing and poverty – even describing it as slavery.

  • I felt the bitterness of poverty
  • ‘I […] was a slave allied to beggary and obscurity’

She then marries, becoming Helen Talboys, only to be plunged into debt by her husband. He travels abroad, clinging to the idea he will make a fortune for her. Helen is less convinced. She determines to make a better life herself, by changing her identity to one Miss Lucy Graham, applying for a position as a governess, and marrying into Audley Court. Thus, over the course of her life, Lady Audley’s position has changed from servant, to mistress at the drop of a hat, highlighting the emerging fluidity in the previously rigid Victorian class system. However, to become socially mobile, Lady Audley had to adopt multiple false identities, commit bigamy and lie excessively. This indicates social mobility was only accessible in the Victorian period through crime and transgression. This is similar to Great Expectations, in which Pip is able to better himself – rising from an impoverished background to the middle-classes – by using finances sent, unbeknown to him, by a criminal.

Transgression

This leads me to discuss transgression in Lady Audley’s Secret. There’s a lot of it!

Firstly, there is transgression of class boundaries. Lady Audley is from a poor background, so she does not fully know what the accepted codes of behaviour are for upper-class ladies. Consequently, she does not follow these codes. She permits her servant, Phoebe Marks, into her private chambers for girlish chatter and friendly company, even insisting the two girls are more alike than Phoebe would believe – an irony, as this is true, as both women have lower-class origins.

Secondly there is a transgression of gender roles and gender stereotypes. Lady Audley, on outward appearance, looks like a typical charming, feminine, domesticated Victorian lady. However, she possesses stereotypically masculine qualities; she is motivated by money, she lacks empathy, she disregards her son to better her own social status, and she is capable of violent acts not stereotypically associated women.

‘”Who ever heard of a woman taking life as it ought to be taken?”‘

Finally, there’s a lot of obvious, criminal transgression in the novel, including, but not limited to, bigamy, identity fraud, attempted murder, actual murder, lies, and violence. The list goes on.


Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more content like this, as well as plenty of book reviews.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.