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Nov 04, 2017
In Gene Wolfe
Great episode guys. I really enjoyed the insight. I think the reading of Paul's family as some kind of minority is spot on, but whether they're black, jewish, or some other minority doesn't really matter to the story. I think that what matters, like one of you said, is that they're clearly much more apprehensive about the unrest than Russell, and rightly so, because it's ultimately Morris who's the target of the only violence that we actually see in the story. As far as the violence and the unrest goes, it seemed to me that there were at least three factions in play in the story; the Nazis, the Citizens for Peace, who held the counter protest that was ultimately broken up by Nazis, and the police and national guard. It's interesting to me that the national guard are described as shooting at everything and causing damage. Kent State was still a year away when the story was published, but there was a history of using the national guard to control protests in the late 60s and those events usually ended badly. More interesting though, at least in my mind, is the mention of bikers. I thought that line was significant because at the time bikers were a real thing, and the Rolling Stones show at the Altimont Speedway had just happened a year or two prior to publication. It had probably just happened when Wolfe was writing this story. That event was hugely significant and is pretty much considered the turning point between the peace and love 60s and the violent and frightening 60s that Wolfe is evoking. Wolfe's choice to make the adults our primary viewpoint in the story and also to convey most of the story through dialogue does a great job of withholding information and also creating tension. We, like the adults, know just enough to know that things aren't right, but not enough to really have any idea of what's going on until it literally smashes our windows and hits us with a chain. The device reminded me a lot of the old Twilight Zone episode The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, which uses limited information and a very tight setting to great effect. The only person who really has an idea of what's happening is Paul, who we never hear from at all. I think it's really significant that Paul's treehouse is described as being 50 feet in the air and actually above the roofline of the house. We never leave the backyard, but Paul spends the entire story able to actually see past his yard and out of the neighborhood and because of that presumably knows exactly what's happening around him. I didn't read Morris and Russell's questioning of why Paul has been in the treehouse and ultimate decision to try to get him out as a parenting decision at all. Instead I saw it as normalcy bias. What I mean by that is that in any extraordinary circumstance most people tend to react as though things are normal until it's too late. Normalcy bias is the thing that keeps office workers in their chairs when a fire alarm is going off, it's what causes people to stick around in obviously worsening situations like mass shootings or the rise of fascism, and in this story it keeps Morris and and Russell drinking scotch and lemonade and wondering why Paul is hiding in his treehouse stockpiling stones. Another thing that I found really interesting about the story is that Paul is the only character described as being competent with tools. Paul climbed the tree, built the treehouse, and rigged up the elevator. Paul has a radio and a scout knife, he can climb a rope and he cut off the lower branches of the tree. On the other hand Morris has an old, too short ladder that he can barely climb. Russell has a rusty, dull axe that's falling apart and a ladder that's buried in the back of the garage that's not much better than the axe. So I don't see this as a story about parenting or the rise of fascism at all so much as a reaction to the social unrest of the late 60s (and by extension today) and maybe an examination of two different reactions to that unrest and fear.
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