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Book Title: Il mondo di Jonas|
The author of the book: Lois Lowry
ISBN 13: 9788804399025
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 620 KB
Date of issue: April 1995
Read full description of the books Il mondo di Jonas:Lowry's book is a piece of nationalist propaganda, using oversimplification, emotional appeals, and dualistic morality to shut down her readers' minds. More troubling is that it is aimed at children, who don't yet have the critical faculties to defend themselves from such underhanded methods.
Unsurprisingly, Lowry adopts the structure of the monomyth, equating a spiritual journey with a moral one. Her Christ-figure uses literal magic powers to rebel against his society. This rebellion and the morality behind it are presented as 'natural', to contrast with the 'abnormal morality' around him.
Lowry doesn't seem to understand that we get our morality from our culture, it isn't something in-born that we 'lose'. This is the first hint of Lowry's misunderstanding of the human mind. She assumes her own morality is correct, and then builds her story to fit it.
She also makes the character act and think like we do, despite never adequately explaining how he came up with such unusual notions. It's the same trick many historical fiction authors use, leaving us scratching our heads as to why a Fourteenth Century French peasant speaks like a second-wave feminist. I'd suggest that Lowry falls to this fault for the same reason they do: she has no talent for imagining how others might think differently.
Lowry's book ends with the standard nonspecific transgressive spiritual event that marks all monomyths. Since the book is not a progressive presentation of ideas, it does not suggest any conclusion. Instead, the climax is a symbolic faux-death event (symbolic of what, none can say). Confusingly, Lowry later redacts the ending in the sequels, undermining the pseudo-spiritual journey she created.
Though some call this book 'Dystopian', it's closer to the truth to say Lowry borrows elements from the Dystopian authors, attempting to combine the spiritual uplift of the monomyth with the political and social deconstruction of the Dystopia. What she doesn't recognize is that the faith of the one conflicts with the cynicism of the other. She draws on ideas and images from many other authors: Bradbury, Huxley, Orwell, Burgess, but doesn't improve upon them.
These authors created novels that reflected the world around them. They based them on the political events of the times, presented with realism and careful psychology. Though they presented the struggle between the individual and the society, they portrayed morality as grey, and suffering as the result of individual human faults, not political systems. Lowry doesn't realize that the best way to critique Fascism or Communism is not to present it as 'evil', but to simply present it as it was.
But Lowry's world is not based in reality, it is symbolic and hyperbolic. Instead of writing about how poverty makes the world seem small and dull, she has the characters magically unable to experience life. Instead of an impersonal government, she presents a sort of evil hippy commune.
The only political system it resembles is a school, which is a neat little trick to get the kids interested. The idea that 'school=unfeeling totalitarian hell' is not an uncommon one, but it's one I'm surprised teachers would support. The book also suggests a creche, but lacking similarity to any real-world system, it doesn't work as a political criticism.
Lowry creates this artificial world to suit her purposes, but it is not a symbolic exercise like 'Animal Farm'. We understand that the pigs of animal farm are symbolic, because there are no talking pigs. Lowry's world is more insidious, since its oversimplification is hidden. She builds an artificial world to support the dualist morality that she's pushing. She presents the same knee-jerk fears about euthanasia and abortion that people use against Women's Rights or Health Care.
Worse than these Straw Man arguments is the fact that she never deals with the economic causes of totalitarianism. Tyrants don't just rise up and take control by their own force of will, they come into power because of the socioeconomic situations that surround them. Lean times produce strong, fascist leaders while profitable times produce permissive, liberal societies.
Strong, centralized leadership simply doesn't self-propagate in cultures where everyone is clothed, fed, and housed. The Holocaust was socially about some ideal of 'change' and 'purity', but it was economically about the transmission of wealth from Jews, Poles, and Catholics to Germans (and more specifically, to those Germans who had elected the new ruling party).
The atrocities of war are, for the most, part committed by normal people to other normal people. By presenting the power structure as 'amoral' and 'inhuman', Lowry ignores the fact that people will willingly cause others to suffer. Painting the enemy as 'evil' and 'alien' is just an unsophisticated propagandist method.
She contrasts her 'evil' with the idealized 'goodness' of emotion, beauty, and freedom. This is nothing more than the American dream of 'specialness' that Mr. Rogers was pushing for so many years. We are all special, we are all good, we all deserve love and happiness. Sure, it sounds good, but what does it mean?
Where does this 'specialness' come from? If it is just the 'sanctity of human life', then it's not really special, because it's all-encompassing. If all of us are special, then none of us are. There's nothing wrong with valuing life, but when Lowry presents one mode of life as valuable and another as reprehensible, she ceases to actually value humanity as a whole. Instead, she values a small, idealized chunk of humanity. 'People are good, except the ones I don't like' is not a moral basis, nor is it a good message to send to kids.
If the specialness is only based on fitting in with a certain moral and social guideline, then Lowry isn't praising individuality, she's praising herd behavior. The protagonist is only 'special' because he has magic powers. His specialness is not a part of his character, it is an emotional appeal.
The idea of being a special individual is another piece of propaganda, and its one kids are especially prone to, because kids aren't special: they are carefully controlled and powerless. Giving a character special powers and abilities and then using that character to feed a party line to children is not merely disingenuous, it's disturbing.
There is also a darker side to universal specialness: giving a child a sense of importance without anything to back it up creates egotism and instability. Adults noticed that children with skills and friends had high self-esteems, but instead of teaching their children social skills and knowledge, they misunderstood the causal relationship and tried to give them self-worth first.
Unfortunately, the moment unsupported self-worth is challenged, the child finds they have nothing to fall back on. Their entitlement didn't come from their skills or experiences, and so they have nothing to bolster that sense of worth. Instead, any doubt sends them down a spiral of emotional instability.
A single book like this wouldn't be the cause of such a state in a child, but it does act as part of the social structure built to give a sense of worth without a solid base for that worth. People like to believe they are special, kids especially so, but being a remarkable person is not a result of belief but of actions. If the book had informed them, then it would leave them better off, but giving them a conclusion based on emotional appeals does nothing to build confidence or character.
Many people have told me this book is good because it appeals to children, but children often fall for propaganda. Children develop deep relationships with pop stars, breakfast cereals, and Japanese monsters. This does not make them good role models for children.
Feeding 'specialness' to kids along with a political message is no better than the fascist youth programs Lowry intends to criticize. The obsession with individuality is just another form of elitism. It's ironic that people in America most often describe themselves as individuals when pointing out the things they do to align themselves with groups.
But banding together in a community is not a bad thing. For Lowry and other 'Red Scare' children, any mention of 'communal' can turn into a witch hunt, but we all give up some personal rights and some individuality in order to live in relatively safe, structured societies. There are benefits to governmental social controls and there are drawbacks, and it's up to us to walk the line between the two. Anarchy and Totalitarianism never actually exist for long: we are social animals.
It's not difficult to understand why Lowry is so popular, especially amongst educators. The message she gives aligns perfectly with what they were taught as kids, from Red Scare reactionism to the hippy-dippy 'unique snowflake' mantra. These ideas aren't entirely misguided, either. It's good to recognize the benefits of difference and the dangers of allowing other to control our lives.
If a reader believes that fascism and socialism are inherently wrong and that their own individuality is their greatest asset, they will likely sympathize with Lowry's work. However, this doesn't make the book honest, nor beneficial. One of the hardest things we can do as readers is disagree with the methods of authors we agree with ideologically.
It makes us feel good to find authors who agree with us, but this is when we should be at our most skeptical. Searching the world for self-justification is not a worthwhile goal, it simply turns you into another short-sighted, argumentative know-it-all. 'Yes men' never progress.
Lowry is toeing the party line. She does not base her book around difficult questions, like the Dystopian authors, but around easy answers. She doesn't force the reader to decide for themselves what is best, she makes it clear what she wants us to think. Her book is didactic, which means that it instructs the reader what to believe.
Even if her conclusions about Individuality vs. Community are correct, she doesn't present arguments, she only presents conclusions. Like rote memorization or indoctrination, she teaches nothing about the politics, social order, economics, or psychology of totalitarianism or individuality. The reader is not left with an understanding, just an opinion.
The baseless 'individuality' of the book lets the reader imagine that they are rebels--that they are bucking the system even as they fall into lock-step. By letting the reader think they are already free-thinking, Lowry tricks them into forgetting their skepticism.
She is happy to paint a simple world of black and white, and this is likely the world she sees. I doubt she is purposefully creating an insidious text, she just can't see past her own opinions. She writes this book with a point to make, and makes it using emotional appeals and symbolism. She doesn't back it up with arguments because she doesn't seem to have developed her opinions from cogent arguments.
In the end, she doesn't show us that the structure of this society is wrong, she says nothing poignant about individuality vs. community; instead, she relies on threats to the life of an innocent infant. Yet nowhere does she provide an argument for why communal living or the sacrifice of freedoms for safety must necessarily lead to infanticide.
In politics, making extreme claims about the opposing side is called mud-slinging, it is an underhanded and dishonest tactic. It works. Arguing intelligently is difficult, accusing is easy, so that's what Lowry does.
She is another child of WWII and the Cold War who hasn't learned her lesson. She quickly condemns the flaws of others while failing to search out her own. Even after the Holocaust, there are many racist, nationalist, violent Jews; conflict rarely breeds a new understanding.
America condemned the faceless communal life of the Second World, and yet America created The Projects. We critiqued strong governmental controls, but we still have the bank bailout, socialized medicine, socialized schooling, and socialized charity. America condemned the Gulags and Work Camps, and yet we imprison one out of every hundred citizens; far more than Stalin ever did. Some are killed, all are dehumanized.
As a little sci fi adventure, the book isn't terrible. It's really the pretension that goes along with it. Lowry cobbles together religious symbolism and Dystopic tropes and then tries to present it as something as complex and thoughtful as the authors she copied. Copying isn't a crime, but copying poorly is.
Like Dan Brown or Michael Crichton, she creates a political pamphlet of her own ideals, slaps a pretense of authority on it, and then waits for the money and awards to roll in--and they did. Many people I've discussed this book with have pointed to those awards as the surest sign of this book's eminent worth.
Award committees are bureaucratic organizations. Their decisions are based on political machinations. This book is a little piece of Nationalism, and so it was lauded by the political machine that Lowry supports. The left hand helps the right. If awards are the surest sign of worth, then Titanic is a better movie than Citizen Kane.
What surprises me is how many of those who brought up the award as their argument were teachers. If a politically-charged administrative committee is the best way to teach children, then why do you take umbrage when the principal tells you that bigger class sizes (and fewer benefits) are fine? Listen to him: doesn't he have award plaques?
The other argument is usually that 'kids like it'. I usually respond that kids also like candy, so why not teach that? Some people also get angry at me for analyzing a book written for children:
"Of course it's not a great book, it's for kids! If you want a good book, go read Ulysses!"
I prefer to give children good books rather than pieces of political propaganda (even if they agreed with me). Children can be as skeptical, quick-witted, and thoughtful as adults if you give them the chance, so I see no excuse for feeding them anything less.
Kids aren't stupid, they just lack knowledge, and that's a fine distinction. It's easy for adults to take advantage of their naivete, their emotionality, and their sense of worth. Just because it's easier for the teacher doesn't mean it's better for the child.
When we show children something that is over-simplified, presenting an idealized, crudely moralizing world, we aren't preparing them for the actual world. If you give a child a meaningless answer to repeat, he will repeat it, but he won't understand why.
Why not give the child a book that presents many complex ideas, but no rote answers, and let them make up their own minds? If they don't learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff and form their own opinions early, in a safe, nurturing environment, what chance will they have on their own as adults?
In all the discussions and research regarding this book, I have come across very little analysis. It's especially surprising for a book with such a strong following, but there aren't many explanations of why the book is supposed to be useful or important.
This lack of argument makes sense from a political standpoint, since there is no reason to analyze the worth of propaganda: its worth is that it agrees with society and indoctrinates readers. Analyzing it would defeat the purpose; political diatribes do not stand up to thoughtful attention.
Perhaps someday someone will create a thoughtful, textual analysis of this book that will point out its merits, its structure and its complexity. I've gradually come to doubt it. I never expected when I wrote my original review of this book that it would garner this much attention.
I still welcome comments and thoughts, but if your comment looks roughly like this:
"You should read this book again, but this time, like it more. You think you're smart but you aren't. You're mean. Lowry is great. This book won awards and kids like it. It's meant for kids anyways, why would you analyze what its about? I bet you never even read the sequels. Go read 'Moby Dick' because you are full of yourself."
I've heard that one before. If you do want to comment though, you might check out this article; I find it helps me with presenting my ideas.
Read information about the authorTaken from Lowry's website:
"I’ve always felt that I was fortunate to have been born the middle child of three. My older sister, Helen, was very much like our mother: gentle, family-oriented, eager to please. Little brother Jon was the only boy and had interests that he shared with Dad; together they were always working on electric trains and erector sets; and later, when Jon was older, they always seemed to have their heads under the raised hood of a car. That left me in-between, and exactly where I wanted most to be: on my own. I was a solitary child who lived in the world of books and my own vivid imagination.
Because my father was a career military officer - an Army dentist - I lived all over the world. I was born in Hawaii, moved from there to New York, spent the years of World War II in my mother’s hometown: Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and from there went to Tokyo when I was eleven. High school was back in New York City, but by the time I went to college (Brown University in Rhode Island), my family was living in Washington, D.C.
I married young. I had just turned nineteen - just finished my sophomore year in college - when I married a Naval officer and continued the odyssey that military life requires. California. Connecticut (a daughter born there). Florida (a son). South Carolina. Finally Cambridge, Massachusetts, when my husband left the service and entered Harvard Law School (another daughter; another son) and then to Maine - by now with four children under the age of five in tow. My children grew up in Maine. So did I. I returned to college at the University of Southern Maine, got my degree, went to graduate school, and finally began to write professionally, the thing I had dreamed of doing since those childhood years when I had endlessly scribbled stories and poems in notebooks.
After my marriage ended in 1977, when I was forty, I settled into the life I have lived ever since. Today I am back in Cambridge, Massachusetts, living and writing in a house dominated by a very shaggy Tibetan Terrier named Bandit. For a change of scenery Martin and I spend time in Maine, where we have an old (it was built in 1768!) farmhouse on top of a hill. In Maine I garden, feed birds, entertain friends, and read...
My books have varied in content and style. Yet it seems that all of them deal, essentially, with the same general theme: the importance of human connections. A Summer to Die, my first book, was a highly fictionalized retelling of the early death of my sister, and of the effect of such a loss on a family. Number the Stars, set in a different culture and era, tells the same story: that of the role that we humans play in the lives of our fellow beings.
The Giver - and Gathering Blue, and the newest in the trilogy: Messenger - take place against the background of very different cultures and times. Though all three are broader in scope than my earlier books, they nonetheless speak to the same concern: the vital need of people to be aware of their interdependence, not only with each other, but with the world and its environment.
My older son was a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force. His death in the cockpit of a warplane tore away a piece of my world. But it left me, too, with a wish to honor him by joining the many others trying to find a way to end conflict on this very fragile earth.
I am a grandmother now. For my own grandchildren - and for all those of their generation - I try, through writing, to convey my passionate awareness that we live intertwined on this planet and that our future depends upon our caring more, and doing more, for one another."
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