The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Saunders, George. CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. New York: Random House, The park owner is a highly selfish, unscrupulous man named Mr. When gangs of local teenagers begin vandalizing the park, Alsuga hires a violent, unstable man named Sam as a security operative to deter the gangs.
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We live in a world where cruelty towards others is becoming more and more accepted how easy we rationalize our self-righteous anger against someone who cut us off, brought us an undercooked meal, said something stupid, etc.
Saunders, like the ghost of Christmas future, would like to show us where that is leading us. His satire, which manages to extract a comedic flair from all the foreboding gloom, cuts to the core of our morality. Saunders presents us with the inner thoughts of the poor and the meek, the dregs of a future society not that unlike our own as he cautions us against our mistreatment of others and the self-important beliefs that drive us to sidestep our morality.
George Saunders thinks we are all assholes, and he is probably right. While we feel safety in our knowledge that each story is removed from our own reality, the creeping dread at seeing our own world, our actions or those of people we know, elevated to such apocalyptic proportions is frightening. In nearly every story, the economy has driven us to a state where the wealthy dominate and all others are mere chattel, disposable employees who suffer horrific treatment just to scrape by.
We see people pushed through degrading drudgery just to survive, dehumanized, enslaved and laughed at, and we see those who have risen above it only looking down with mirthful scorn. It is this self-centered view that led the world to such a predicament. Dad said she should try to understand that other people, even ignorant people, even poor people, loved their children every bit as much as she loved hers.
The lb CEO is a ripe example of our cruelty towards others, as the reader witnesses the inner turmoil of a good man, albeit an obese man, as he clings to his morality while beleaguered by insults and jokes at his weight — his coworkers openly mock him to his face with no thought to how it might affect him. I believe he takes more pleasure in his perfect creatures, and cheers them on like a brainless dad as they run roughshod over the rest of us. He gives us a desire to be liked, and personal attributes that make us utterly unlikable.
Having placed his flawed and needy children in a world of exacting specifications, he deducts the difference between what we have and what we need from our hearts and our self-esteem and our mental health. What terrible atrocities we can commit with God on our side.
Money is another scapegoat, as in the title story where even murder seems less repugnant than bankruptcy and lowly employees are pressured into terrible situations in order to feed their families. There is no arguing against those in power, and exposing their depravity, or fighting against it, can only lead one to being squashed by the corporate gears, as in Downtrodden Mary. Some people truly are above the laws.
It is the wicked that rule the world, and the good that are haunted by the ghosts of the slaughter. Those with a good moral compass always get crushed in his worlds, and often they are ridiculed or hated because of their honest and good beliefs.
Saunders wants us to treat each other with respect, to keep an open mind and open heart. In his violent visions, we see the results of our acceptance of picking on the nerds, the physically less fortunate, the weak and the dumb. In the wonderful, and wonderfully terrifying novella Bounty, those with any deformity, the Flawed, are enslaved and dehumanized.
Saunders re-examines the past to portend the future, and extends the horrors encompass us all instead of stopping at boundaries of race, creed or gender.
In each story, the world is headed in a terrible direction that is, for the most part, seen as irreversible. Saunders is looking to us, those in the present, to course correct in order to avoid such a grim future.
In nearly every story which is a bit of a point of contention for me , the narrator works in a theme-park like resort where wealthy patrons can experience a simulated pure, natural world, often one of times past.
We live through our online selves, we escape our world to other worlds, such as seeking solace in times past, through video games and movies. These terrible bosses and evil corporate empires are all around us, and the mistreatment and fear mongering that keeps workers in line happens each and every day.
Just because you have the power over another life, you should not kill it, smite it, ridicule it, enslave it or abuse it in any way. We must be good to one another in order for the world to flourish. This collection is a joy to read. It is witty, downright hilarious at times while uncomfortable at others, and presents a really positive message despite dragging the reader through a world of muck to get there. I really hope Saunders continues writing for a long time to come and goes down as one of the great literary satirists.
While it has a few rough patches, the collection still manages to soar with its comedy and dark visions. In High School we all had to examine how ordinary people could commit terrible atrocities, such as the Nazis and the holocaust, etc. I apologize for the Reductio ad Hitlerum here, but it is necessary , allowing economic pressure and mob mentality to rationalize and assuage any moral qualms against even the most despicable of actions.
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline Summary & Study Guide
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