Where I’m Calling From
The cultural setting during the author’s time was that of a society controlled by men, but not in charge. The main character in the Cathedral, is an alcohol addict that has checked into a rehabilitation facility, where he meets J.P. He listens to and talks with J.P, and relates his experience with alcohol to his. Both of them have ruined their families. Alcohol is used to represent a way of exit from the pressure of responsibility that they have to take as family heads. Though they have made the right choice of seeking help in a rehabilitation center, they are very much aware of their mistakes and know what to do. They are afraid of making the right choice and rather choose to hide in the drunken world, as a means of defense against the harsh realities of life. Personal isolation and fear of life and its realities leads to failure; there is no option to life and its challenges other than facing them because humanity cannot exist if life cannot be faced.
Culture and Society
Cultural beliefs define a society. The author writes about his personal experience with a direct relation to the times he is living. To be a man according to the setting, one has to drink and stay reckless and assume control of his wife regardless of her rights and what she wants. In What’s in Alaska, Earl, sitting in a cafe where his wife is working, overhears how two men sitting close to him criticize his wife. He then gets carried away by strangers’ words and takes it to tell his wife to lose weight. It portrays a man that lacks principles to love, and hold his family even in cases where it seems challenging. He tells his wife to lose weight, giving personal recommendations that seem to compromise her health. He can’t afford to buy recommended products as he does not work. He relies on his hardworking wife financially, a role that a man plays, in regard to the times the story is set in.
The author portrays men as ignorant and out of touch with women. In The Student’s Wife, though Mike seems to be responsible and a loving husband, he is totally out of touch with his wife. He does not pay attention to her feminine feminine nature and attend to her conjugal rights. Nighttime is a private, intimate moment between couples. When she tries to create the mood for an intimate moment, Mike appears tired and disengaged. She wants to feel loved and secure. She wants to have Mike listen to her stories, even though meaningless. He ignores her moves and rather decides to sleep. Though together and in love, they are just worlds apart with each holding to personal and natural defining ideologies. Like other relationships that break in the other stories, this one ends is suspense, but with an obvious guess, a broken relationship, especially when she says, “God. God, will you help us, God?”
Bloodchild And The Theme of Irony
In Bloodchild, the author takes a different setting. The story sets in a fiction alien planet with the protagonist, Gan, and his family hosted by powerful insect-looking creatures. It is a story of interdependence to survive, where the alien Tlics, cannot reproduce. With humans they have a chance to enhance reproduction, by using humans as host mothers to reproduce. Here the natural roles of human sexuality are exchanged, when Gan, a man agrees to be impregnated by T’Gatoi, to protect his family. It is strange the way T’Gatoi’s role, a woman is presented, in impregnating Gan, a man which by nature’s rules of reproduction cannot happen. The whole story is portrays a setting of love. But, love only exists between humans as a single group and between aliens as another group, where the aliens are exploiting the humans for their survival. Gan’s decision to agree to get impregnated, even after witnessing how painful it is just to save his family, proves that love exists.
However, portrayed as a story of love, the relationship between humans and aliens is that of in-wishful enslavement. The author portrays it as a story of love, but the irony is that love does not exist when one group is in danger and forced to make choices, not in self interest. Understanding and freedom of choice is what determines love, if it does not exist, then it is not love. The Tlics use narcotics on humans to easily convince them to agree to be pregnancy which does not give them a choice to make independent decisions. It is an example of soft power that is reminiscent in our current society, where a person or group of people, is presented with an option without choices.
Bloodchild, is a science fiction story that carries a lot of relevance to the contemporary human society. The society is unequal and requires interdependence to exist. An example of a rich nation that does not have enough manpower to support its industrial sector will have to look for cheap labor. But, even without the cheap labor still, the country can cope with the limited available labor resources. So in getting in cheap labor, the rich country will set the conditions for the cheap worker. Even though they are exploitative and at times inhuman, the laborer has no other option apart from just getting along, as he needs to survive. The story shows the extremes humanity is ready to reach, just to protect personal interests where the aliens show the inhuman values of humanity. Gan’s actions and that of his mother, are the better and voice of reason in humanity.
Cathedral and Other Stories. Apart from the Cathedral, the rest of the stories feature a setting that is similar. The author depicts the main heroes in the stories as being hopeless and in a state of despair, looking for means to reinvent themselves, with an ending that pokes suspense. But in the Cathedral, there is a different story direction and tone. The author does not only portray the main character, Narrator, as lost and hopeless, but he goes farther and employs a clear style of rehabilitation where he uses a character Robert, to strike a difference between abilities and willpower.
The story is about the Narrator, his wife, and Robert, a friend to his wife. The central theme is irony. The Narrator, like most main characters in other stories, is out of touch with reality. And he is masking himself from reality by abusing drugs and alcohol. He is jealousy about his wife’s past even though it has nothing to do with their relationship. Unlike Robert, who has physical limitations because he cannot see, but still has more fulfillment in life, the narrator has blinded himself by placing personal limitations to life. He does not want anything better or greater in life that what he is, only just getting himself in worse situations. Robert is human, has touch with reality and longs for greatness, values that supersede physical disabilities.
The Narrator’s reaction to the tape his wife shows him of her moments with Robert, proves some degree of sexual intimidation. He, like most main characters in other stores, does not understand his wife. He is dismissive of her and does not have regard for her feelings judging from the way he speaks about them with glibness; he is a chauvinist. As critical as he is however, he does not want to look at himself and try to understand who he is or allow his wife or anyone to confront him about his person. He is a failure in life, who does not have friends because he does not believe in anything small or great other than himself. He tells Robert that “I don’t believe in anything”.
Robert, on the other hand, is curious even though he cannot see what life looks like physically, he lives it with much satisfaction and fulfillment because he does not create, barrier around himself. Robert is more interested about the Narrator’s life and asks questions, but he is not interested and ignores him, and rather directs his interest to Robert’s past life when he says, “They talked of things that had happened to them-to them!-these past ten years!”. The Narrator criticizes Robert’s life and grows jealousy to realize that Robert lived well and still does in a clear opposite of his expectations. He has never seen a blind person before, and Robert seems to be doing great in life than he does, something that makes him feel belittled.
The Narrator’s isolation and self-created barriers to life face a daring challenge as he continues talking to Robert. The transcendent reality that Robert sees regardless of his physical limitations strikes the Narrator. By the time they start drawing the Cathedral, the Narrator is already at crossroads and feels free, and not much isolated in his self-imposed barriers to life. He begins to enjoy Robert’s company and even feels compelled to study the limits of his blindness, and help him in drawing the Cathedral. At the end, they draw the Cathedral, and this finally sets the narrator to feel free. He now feels like not trapped in his body, but rather belonging to some greater existence, the true feeling and essence of life.
The drawing of the Cathedral does not necessarily give a religious theme, rather the important view of life and its reality where Robert helps the Narrator understand himself, which is a connection to a religious human existence. A cathedral is a place where society gathers to worship; that has existed through the dedication of the human generations. The lesson that Robert wants the Narrator to learn is to have faith in something greater. When Robert asks the Narrator whether he is a christian, he confesses that he does not believe in religion. However, he feels the conviction, and he feels the need to understand more of what Roberts knows, only too afraid to admit it.
Robert takes the role of a father or a spiritual leader in liberating the Narrator. He listens to him patiently even with the unwelcome behavior and lack of interest from the beginning. He devotes himself to the benefit of the Narrator’s good. Robert’s goal was to let the Narrator understand that life does not only mean a personal isolation and detachment from the realities of life. It makes more meaning to be a part of something great, a greater believe that instills the sense of humanity in a person. Hiding from reality by abusing drugs and alcohol does not take problems away because soon or later when a person gets sober, the realities of life come back hard. It makes more sense to face them and rise above challenges than running away from them.
The story, like all other stories, dwells on a pessimistic footing. In the case of the Cathedral, the lesson is that not all people who work on it that live to see its completion. But, the effort that humanity invests on behalf of others surpasses anything, because there is a belief in greater good, and not personal isolation. The author’s view of the human society is that of hopelessness than hope. But at the end, there is optimism and winning of the power to transcend. Though it does not uplift the power, struggle and beauty in overpowering personal challenges, isolation and the rise against limits by working hard every day, like the cathedral workers who never live to see the hard work of their time, it is having belief in something greater than personal isolation.
The works, though written at different times, give a clear revelation of what is happening in the human society, that does not change regardless of time. The setting of hopelessness and failure and personal isolation reflects the challenges that our current society faces. The natural responsibility of a man is in ruin, a family is under destruction, and the society that is lost. But, there is hope. At the end of every story, there is a light that slightly lights, that signifies the efforts of brave people, who are not dictated by personal ego. That in whatever situation, no matter how bad it gets, there is always hope, someone always stands against the failures of humanity, and the construction of the Cathedral(humanity), always continues, even though we never live to see the efforts of our good deeds.