Sunday, January 30, 2011

Kim Stanley Robinson: The California Troika

When Kim Stanley Robinson published these three novels--The Wild Shore (1984), The Gold Coast (1988), and Pacific Edge (1990)-- they were known collectively as "The Orange County Trilogy." In 1995, the three were reissued in trade paperback editions and were then called "The Three Californias." This probably represents the recognition that these three works do not constitute a trilogy, at least not in the accepted sense of the word. Calling them three Californias does suggest that they are related but not as tightly as a trilogy would be.

I think a better descriptive would be the Russian term "troika," which is a sled or carriage drawn by three horses that are harnessed side-by-side. The three horses therefore move forward into space side-by-side and are equals in that sense--no lead or trailing horse. The same is true of Robinson's three novels, for they move forward side-by-side into time. There is no first or last novel. All three are independent, and it makes no difference in which order the three are read. I read them over twenty years ago in the order of publication, and for this second visit, I will read them in the same order.

I never learned the reason for the change from Orange County to California, but my guess would be a marketing decision--more readers might go for a series set in California than in Orange County, because California is a more recognizable locale than Orange County.

These three novels are inhabitants of my TBR bookcase (To Be Reread in this case). I won't read all three back-to-back but hope to be able to move them eventually during the year out of the TBR bookcase. I shall start within the next week or two with The Wild Shore.

The Wild Shore is a post-holocaust novel and belongs in the "what if" SF category. "What if the US was suddenly attacked, and it was the only country attacked." No other country came to the aid of the US for fear of retaliation. The novel begins in 2047, several decades after the war, if a one-sided attack can be called a war. The POV character, Hank Fletcher, is a young man who lives with his father in a small community made up of others who struggle to survive on the California coast in what was once known as Orange County. He can see ships from Japan and other countries as they maintain a blockade along the Pacific Coast. They will prevent any ships from entering or leaving the coastal waters.

The people survive by farming and trading surplus goods and pre-destruction artifacts with other small communities in the area. Not surprisingly, barter is now the dominant economic system. These people's lives are not characterized as part of that idyllic pastoral romance that shows up in so many post-holocaust fantasies. It is a hard, difficult life, and there is little in the way of significant change until several strangers arrive, who claim to be from San Diego, and they have some ideas about disrupting the status quo.

The Gold Coast belongs to the "if this goes on" category of SF. It is Robinson's extrapolation of what life would be like in Orange County, California, if some existing trends continued. It is set in 2027 and the back page description says it better than I could:

Southern California is a developer's dream gone mad, an endless sprawl of condos, freeways, and malls. Jim McPherson, the affluent son of a defense contractor, is a young man lost in a world of fast cars, casual sex, and designer drugs. But his descent into the shadowy underground of industrial terrorism brings him into a shattering confrontation with his family, his goals, and his ideals.

Pacific Edge, the third novel in the troika, is set also in the same area in 2065, but again in a very different universe. It belongs to the "what if" category, and frankly I consider it to be closer to fantasy than the other two works. I, anyway, believe this universe to be the one that is least likely to happen because the question answered by Pacific Edge is this: "What if the whole world suddenly goes green?"

Big is bad, small is good. Air and water pollution are not to be permitted for any reason. No company can have more than a certain number of employees. Growth, unless it is demonstrably necessary for survival, is forbidden; increasing profits has nothing to do with survival and therefore is not considered an adequate reason for expansion. A new set of three "Rs" has been added to the traditional "Readin', 'Ritin', and 'Rithmatic": "Reuse, Recycle, and Repair."

From the back cover description: "Kevin Claiborne, a young builder who has grown up in this 'green' world, now finds himself caught up in the struggle to preserve his community's idyllic way of life from the resurgent forces of greed and exploitation." I suspect this book is on or would be on every Chamber of Commerce's black list.

While there are no links among the novels--all three are independent and occupy separate universes--there are some commonalities among them. Locale, of course, is one of them. Another commonality is that the main character in each is a young male. A third is that shortly after the novels begin, the young male is involved in digging up something from the past. A fourth is the presence of the old man, who provides a type of historical commentary or perhaps even continuity with the past in each of the three novels.

What Robinson has created is a work that provides three different futures for Orange County or California, if you prefer, each of which takes place roughly during the middle third of the 21st century. Robinson thus gives readers an opportunity to select and discuss which is the preferable one and which is the most likely one.

I don't know of any other author who has created a similar series. If there is one, I would certainly like to hear about it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Eric Hoffer: a quotation

No. 2

There is something unhuman about perfection. The performance of the expert strikes us as instinctual or mechanical. It is a paradox that, although the striving to master a skill is supremely human, the total mastery of a skill approaches the nonhuman. They who would make man perfect end up by dehumanizing him.

-- Eric Hoffer --
from Reflections on the Human Condition

Do perfect performances strike one as nonhuman? I remember reading a review by a music critic in the BBC Music Magazine. He criticized a CD by the The Tallis Scholars (a choral ensemble specializing in liturgical music led by Peter Philips) for being too perfect and inhuman and, therefore, he could only rate them a 4 on a 5 point scale.

I found that to be strange.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Where the Green Ants Dream, a film

I have a rather long queue on Netflix, so it takes some time for a film to work its way to the top. Frequently, therefore, I'm not exactly sure why I added a particular film to my queue. In this case, I had no doubts about why I added it. Surely, a title such as Where the Green Ants Dream would be sufficient reason alone to take at least a look at it. And, then, when I discovered the director was Werner Herzog, how could I resist? The director and the title seem made for each other.

The film is loosely based on a real event that took place in Australia several years before the film came out in 1985. Even before filming began, Herzog was threatened with a lawsuit if he used the name of the mining company in the film. As Herzog pointed out in his commentary, it really made no difference what name he used because Australians knew the details of the incident.

To be brief, a mining company has sent out a exploratory crew to an area that is considered sacred by the Australian Aborigines who live in the area. It is the place where the green ants dream. First, the mining company was going to conduct tests that would involve numerous explosions in order to get a seismic map of the subsoil. If the tests proved positive, it would then go in and begin digging.

The Aborigines believe that if the green ants' dreaming is disrupted, and the explosions alone would do this, there would disastrous consequences for the land and for the Aborigines who live there. I've read some comments that it wasn't just the land but the entire universe that would be disrupted if the green ants were disturbed during their dreaming. I know very little about the Australian Aborigine beliefs so I can't comment other than to say that it was obvious that they believed it would be catastrophic to awaken the ants and interfere with their dreaming. I think it's a bit ironic that the mining company was searching for uranium, an absolute necessity for the development of nuclear weapons.

It is the classic conflict between native peoples and their sacred lands on the one hand and a corporation that wants to profit by engaging in some activity on those lands, activity that will conflict with the beliefs of native peoples and disrupt or change the land for a long time afterwards, if not permanently.

The POV character is Lance Hackett, a geologist who works for the company. When the Aborigines begin to interfere with the tests, he informs the company of the problem. As the presumed leader of the exploratory crew, he becomes the point man for the negotiations between the company and the Aborigines. As the negotiations continue, he becomes, as one might expect, more sympathetic to the Aborigines.

Those who have seen the recent SF film, Avatar, might see some similarities between the two films. They are there, but one of the major differences is in the portrayal of the two companies. In Avatar, the company is a law unto itself. It uses military force in an attempt to drive out or exterminate the native peoples. This does not happen in Where the Green Ants Dream. The company has obtained the appropriate permits to search for uranium deposits and then begin mining operations if the uranium is there in sufficient quantity. The company does its best to recompense the Aborigines, including getting them a military aircraft that looks somewhat like a large green flying insect.

Unable to dissuade the mining company, the Aborigines go to court and eventually reach the highest court in Australia. According to the commentary, this was the first time the Aborigines had gone to the courts for protection. In the end, the Aborigines lose because, as the judge stated in his decision, the Aborigines were unable to produce evidence that would be acceptable in an Anglo-Saxon court of law.

This is a Herzog film. Those who have seen Fata Morgana (a film I commented on in April 2010) will recognize this immediately. There are scenes of vast wastelands with bizarre rock formations and a burned out bus. Occasionally the viewer will spot an abandoned pickup truck in the middle of nowhere, with a piece of earth moving equipment nearby. Why they are there is never clear. Interspersed is a little subplot, one that seemingly has nothing to do with the main plot: an old woman has lost her dog. It has run into one of several caves and apparently can't find its way out.

In Fata Morgana, the viewer meets a biologist who has spent years of his life studying a lizard that lives in the vast deserts of Northern Africa. We meet another biologist who has spent years of his life studying the green ants of this part of Australia. The green ants do exist, and they are partially a bright green. Only, they really aren't ants; they are in the termite family. The dreaming green ants is not part of the Aborigine beliefs; that is Herzog's creation. However, it is based partially on fact: a type of lizard in another part of Australia is believed to dream and therefore plays an important role in preserving the planet.

Some of the most interesting scenes are those of the negotiations between the Aborigines and the company. The camera focuses on the faces of the Aborigines (Herzog somehow managed to get Aborigines to play the appropriate roles in the film), and I could almost hear the Aborigines thinking. The actions of the white men were completely incomprehensible to them. The mining company's activities were going to be catastrophic, including the destruction of the Aborigines themselves, and the company thought that offering money or a share of the profits would be satisfactory.

The camera would then shift to the company representatives, and I could see the same bewilderment. What did the Aborigines want? They were offered a large cash settlement and a share of the profits which would take them out of poverty, as the company saw it anyway. The company would even build a small museum that would focus on the Aborigine culture. It's as if the company and the Aborigines lived on separate planets.

To be simplistic, the conflict is between profit-making activities and the beliefs of native peoples--between the material and the spiritual worlds--and it seems not to be slackening in any way either.

Which should take priority?


P. S.

Steven Riddle of A Momentary Taste of Being, (see his blog listed on the sidebar) made a comment that started me thinking (which he so often does) . He mentioned the images from the film that stayed with him. That struck a chord and provided an answer to something that was bothering me about this post. There was something I hadn't said yet: it had to do with what images have stayed with me after watching the film. The following is the comment I made on Steven's blog and I decided to post it here also.

"What stays with me are the faces of the Aborigines. Herzog has the camera linger on them much longer than on the white faces. It's almost as though they are a force of nature and not ephemeral beings such as we "civilized people" are. They are rooted solidly while we are transients, if that makes any sense."

I am reminded of the Zen dictum by Yun-Men:

In walking, just walk
In sitting, just sit
Above all, don't wobble

In the film, the Aborigines walked and sat, while the whites wobbled.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Something to think about

Friedrich Nietzsche

Original Error of the philosopher.

All philosophers share this common error: they proceed from contemporary man and think they can reach their goal through an analysis of this man. Automatically they think of "man" as an eternal verity, as something abiding in the whirlpool, as a sure measure of things. Everything that the philosopher says about man, however, is at bottom no more than a testimony about the man of a very limited period. Lack of a historical sense is the original error of all philosophers . . .

Several questions here-

Is this a common error? Is this even an error? Has human nature remained constant over the tens or maybe hundreds of thousands of years?

Do all philosophers share this error? Are there exceptions?

If not philosophers, then one might consider anthropologists and archeologists. They have found burials from 20 or 30 thousand years ago with flowers and other items along with the body. Are they wrong in assuming this showed something significant about the way they felt about the death of this person because we sometimes bury important items with our loved ones?

Or the significance of the cave paintings . . .?

Or in literature? Can we really understand Gilgamesh's behavior or that of the Greeks and Trojans in The Iliad and The Odyssey?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Edgar Allan Poe: Jan. 19, 1809--Oct. 7, 1849

To be honest, I prefer Edgar Allan Poe's short stories to most of his poetry. However, there are some exceptions, and one of them is the following:

Sonnet--To Science

Science! true daughter of old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jeweled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car,
And driven the hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Has thou not torn the naiad from her flood,
The elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?

Poe's complaint here is a common one made by many writers and poets: science is taking the romance out of reality. The Vulture science leaves us with only dull realities. It is too bad that Poe isn't alive today to see what's happened to that dull Vulture science, especially when one considers some of the theories of the cosmologists today: black holes, the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe, and multiple dimensions, are just some examples. Science may have taken the older fantasy and romance out of reality, but many science fiction writers are putting it back into science.

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XXXVI

Quatrain XXXVI is the third in a series of four linked quatrains, all referring to a drinking vessel that has a limited power of speech. The poet has queried the wise and the saintly in the past and now the earthly for knowledge, and at best he learns from the earthly that once gone he will never return--So Drink!

First Edition: Quatrain XXXVI

For in the Market-place, one Dusk of Day,
I watch'd the Potter thumping his wet Clay:
And with its all obliterated Tongue
It murmur'd--"Gently, Brother, gently, pray!"

Second Edition: Quatrain XL

For I remember stopping by the way
To watch a Potter thumping his wet Clay:
And with its all-obliterated Tongue
It murmur'd--"Gently, Brother, gently, pray!"

Fifth Edition: Quatrain XXXVII

For I remember stopping by the way
To watch a Potter thumping his wet Clay:
And with its all-obliterated Tongue
It murmur'd--"Gently, Brother, gently, pray!"

The second and fifth editions are identical, for the only changes FitzGerald made occurred between the first and second editions. The changes in the first line seem to move it from the present to the past. In the first edition, he says that he stopped to watch a potter while in the second edition he tells us that he remembered stopping to watch the potter. Also, in the first edition he says it was at Dusk while in later editions there is no mention of the time of day. The third and fourth lines are identical for all three editions, with the minor exception of the hyphen inserted between "all" and "obliterated" in the second and fifth editions.

The reference to clay, as I have mentioned in previous posts, echoes the creation stories in both the Bible and the Koran, with humans specifically pointed out as coming from clay or earth or even dust. The vessel is shown as having some limited speech ability, but it is hard to understand. In Quatrain XXXIV, it "murmur's," and in Quatrain XXXV, it speaks with "fugitive articulation" And, now in Quatrain XXXVI, it speaks with an all obliterated tongue, which could easily explain why it is hard to understand.

What's new in this quatrain is the reference to the Potter, an analogue to the creator? What's interesting here is that the pot calls the Potter "Brother," which is a significant comment in that the creator is normally referred to as the Father. This suggests a more equal relationship between the creator and its creation than one usually finds, or at least that I have found over the years.

Moreover, it seems to remonstrate with the creator and asks that it be more gentle, surely an unusual comment for a creation to make to its creator. Traditionally, the creator is depicted as being all powerful and free to do as it wishes with its creations and jealously insists on its freedom to do as it wishes. One only needs to read Job in the Old Testament for a very clear assertion of its rights.

I find it difficult to make any general comments bearing on the potter and the pot for this theme occurs again in several quatrains. It's not clear yet exactly what the point is, at least to me anyway. I shall have to wait for later quatrains for illumination.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Just some comments from long ago

The following were written down thousands of years ago, yet too many today ignore them in their worship of the past.

"Similar actions in different situations do not produce the same results. One should adapt to the needs of the time."
-- Lieh Tzu --

"Laws are written to bring about justice. To stick to the letter of a law so meticulously that it creates injustice is to take care of your hat and shoes while forgetting the head and feet they were designed to protect."
-- Lao Tzu --

"Those who understand the spirit of a law adapt it to the changing times. Those who do not understand this continue to follow it even when to do so has become harmful."
-- Lao Tzu --

And something more recent . . .

Abraham Lincoln's Annual Message to Congress: 1862

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Stella Gibbons: Cold Comfort Farm

I will begin reading Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm this weekend. If you are reading along with me and wish to make comments, you can enter them in the comments section to this post. When I finish, I'll put up my reactions to the novel here.

The Sunday Times reviewer said, "Very probably the funniest book ever written . . . a brilliant novel along classic lines . . . "

Now I wish I hadn't read that--usually books or films or whatever seldom if ever match such exaggerated praise.

Oh well--time to push on. This is the first book that will fulfill my New Year's resolution of reading two books every month from my TBR bookcase.

I have started Cold Comfort Farm-- 68/239 pages.

I have to say that it isn't "the funniest book every written." It is a comic novel though, with the usual low key British humor. The humor is mostly in the situation so far: Flora Poste, a young highly educated woman and recent graduate, is left an orphan. Her inheritance is small, around 100 pounds a year and no property. She has had an expensive education, and now that she is twenty, "she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living." Is there a touch of Jane Austen here?

Her solution to her problem of surviving--go live off her relatives. And so, after sending off letters to several relatives, she decides to accept the invitation to stay at Cold Comfort Farm. Not only does she decide to bless them with her presence, but she is also going to improve their way of living, to bring the benefits of a civilized life to them.

Jan. 18, I have finished Cold Comfort Farm

More later . . .

Any comments?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Something to think about

[Humanity] seems to be divided into idealists and realists, and idealism and realism are the two great forces molding human progress. The clay of humanity is made soft and pliable by the water of idealism, but the stuff that holds it together is after all the clay itself, or we might all evaporate into Ariels. The forces of idealism and realism tug at each other in all human activities, personal, social and national, and real progress is made possible by the proper mixture of these two ingredients, so that the clay is kept in the ideal pliable, plastic condition. half moist and half dry, not hardened and unmanageable, nor dissolving into mud.

Lin Yutang
from The Importance of Living

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Carl Sandburg: January 6, 1878--July 22, 1967

Who is the subject of this poem by Sandburg?

Under a telephone pole

I am a copper wire slung in the air,
Slim against the sun I make not even a clear line of shadow.
Night and day I keep singing--humming and thrumming:
It is love and war and money; it is the fighting and the tears,
the work and want.
Death and laughter of men and women passing through me,
carrier of your speech,
In the rain and the wet dripping, in the dawn and the shine drying,
A copper wire.

-- Carl Sandburg --

a wire? a poet?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2011: New Year's Resolution, Reading List, and Reading Challenges

As I trolled the blogiverse to see what's new, I discovered a plethora of New Year's Resolutions, Reading Challenges, and Reading Lists, all for the coming year. I return home, glance at my blog and find--nothing. Obviously I'm out of step here. But, all that takes energy and determination and fortitude. I look around and discover that I'm not exactly brimming over with E and D and F.

On the other hand, I don't wish to appear to be out-of-touch with the blogiverse, so I have to do something. Being a relatively non-energetic sort (I guess "lazy" would be a more apt term), I decided that there was a way I could fulfill some sort of New Year's Resolution, Reading Challenge, and a Reading List with a minimum of effort--Combine the three into one.

So, here is my combined New Year's Resolution, Reading Challenge, and Reading List for 2011. I will read two books a month from my TBR bookcase, a collection of works that have somehow gathered on the shelves over many decades. These are books I already have waiting and gathering dust. This, as you can see, is a three-in-one project.

The Resolution: to reduce the number of books in my TBR bookcase.
The Challenge: to read a certain number of books already in my possession.
The Reading List: those authors present in my TBR bookcase.

I will provide a partial list of those authors here, and if I can figure out how, I will also set up a sidebar which will, I hope, demonstrate what progress I've made. The list is in alphabetical order and does not represent the order in which I will, I hope, read them.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Willa Cather
Joseph Conrad
Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Ford Madox Ford
Karin Fossum
Stella Gibbons
M. John Harrison
Hermann Hesse
Russell Hoban
Henry James
Nikos Kazantzakis
Joseph Wood Krutch
Lady Murosaki
Kim Stanley Robinson
Mary Shelley
Leo Tolstoy
Barbara Tuchman
Fred Vargas
Edith Wharton
Angus Wilson
Gene Wolfe
others, perhaps

If any wish to read along with me, let me know if there are some works in particular. If so, I will post a message when I will begin that work.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Walter Van Tilburg Clark: The Ox-Bow Incident

Warning: I will discuss significant plot elements and the ending.

Walter Van Tilburg Clark: The Ox-Bow Incident

Gil and I crossed the eastern divide about two by the sun. We pulled up for a look at the little town in the big valley and the mountains on the other side, with the crest of the Sierra showing faintly beyond like the rim of a day moon. We didn't look as long as we do sometimes after a winter range, we were excited about getting back to town. When the horses had stopped trembling from the last climb, Gil took off his sombrero, pushed his sweaty hair back with the same hand, and returned the sombrero, the way he did when something was going to happen. We reined to the right and went slowly down the steep stage road.

I don't have to tell anyone what kind of story this is. How many western novels and films have we seen that opened just this way--one or more men on the top of a hill, looking down at a small town in the valley, one road leading into town and one leading out in the opposite direction, and surrounded by snow-capped mountains?

In The Ox-Bow Incident, Walter Van Tilburg Clark gives us the full treatment: the saloon, the painting of the nude behind the bar, the poker game, the accusations of cheating, the barroom brawl, cattle rustlers, and a posse. We get the full picture from Art Croft, the first person narrator of the story. He's one of the two men we meet in the first paragraph and the naive narrator, for he tells us honestly what he sees and thinks and feels, but he doesn't realize the full implications of his tale.

Clark turns the accepted stereotypes around in this tale. It isn't the card sharper who's accused of cheating, it's Gil Carter, Art Croft's working buddy. The fight resulting from that wasn't the typical good-natured brawl we've come to expect from numerous John Wayne westerns. After Gil knocks out his accuser, he then is about to continue beating on the unconscious man when the bartender knocks him out with a skillfully wielded bottle.

Then a rider rushes into town and tells them that the rustlers have struck again, and this time they murdered Kinkaid, a lifelong friend of Farnley, the man who had accused Carter of cheating and had gotten knocked out as a result. Farnley is now out for blood. A posse is formed, but this is not the typical posse one finds in a typical western. This one doesn't rush off in pursuit but delays and delays while the debate goes on.

The debate is simple. What will happen to the men if the posse catches up to them. This is a serious issue for the sheriff is not available to lead the posse, assuming he would even want one. The storekeeper, the minister, and the judge argue that they should be brought back to town for trial. But, there are those, who argue that the law is too slow and too uncertain. Some crooked lawyer might confuse the jury and they might go free. Justice should be quick and certain and on-the-spot and ideally should avoid the necessity of a trial; one can hardly believe that these are real Americans saying these things here!

Why does the posse hang around? My guess is that most of the men feared that there would be a lynching and didn't want to become part of it because they knew it was wrong but were afraid to speak out against it. Why? They feared they might be considered a coward, or perhaps a friend of the rustlers, or perhaps "womanish," the major fear of most of them there. Croft himself refers to those who speak out in favor of bringing them back for trial and cowardly and "womanish."

Someone in the watching crowd asks what they are waiting for and someone else replies "a leader." A cynic remarks that they are really looking for a scapegoat in case something goes wrong, a prophetic remark that comes true by the end of the novel.

A leader appears, a former Confederate army officer, who brings information about cattle tracks heading out of the valley and up into the mountains. They mount up again and finally go. They catch up to three men, driving a small herd of cattle that belongs to one of the ranchers in the valley. One of the posse works for the rancher and insists that he would never sell cattle in the spring, and that he would always give the buyer a receipt. There was no receipt, and moreover, one of the three had a gun that belonged to Kinkaid, the murdered ranch-hand. The three still insist they are innocent and ask that they be brought back to town while their story is checked out. Such a simple thing to ask.

But, it's too much to ask. Justice must be served. The men vote, and only five vote to bring them back to town and let the law handle it. Art Croft and Gil Carter vote with the majority to hang them now.

This is a bare-boned synopsis of this short novel, some 220 pages long in my edition. What Clark gives us, through Art Croft's eyes, is an examination of why relatively decent men turn into a lynch mob, for that is what the posse really is. And all know it from the beginning. When Croft revives Gil after being knocked out by the bartender, they discover something is going on outside the saloon, and when they ask, Canby the barkeep replies, "Lynching, I'd judge."

They are not monsters, inflamed by a desire to kill somebody. I think the delay demonstrates that. Unlike the myth of the American male as one who thinks for himself and makes decisions based on what is right and wrong in spite of what the crowd may want, Clark shows us that they are strongly influenced by those around them, influenced sufficiently to vote for death, even though they may feel it wrong, by the fear that others may not see them as true men, but as cowards or womanish.

As I mentioned earlier, Clark did not fashion a mob of blood-thirsty people. Some were nasty and downright evil; they enjoyed the situation and looked forward to the hanging. Others were trapped on the one hand by their own sense that this was not right and on the other by their perception of the myth of what a man was like. Showing compassion for others or concern for the law was not part of the myth. In fact, even the victims were expected to act as men, strong and silent and taking their punishment like a man, as several told them repeatedly. All were disgusted when one of the men, Martin, broke down and began crying.

One of the most ironic comments in the story is a thought by Croft. After Martin, seemed to regain control, Croft thought, I hoped, for our sake as much as his, that he'd make the decent end he now had his will set on. (emphasis mine) Martin should now straighten up and take his punishment decently as a man should, and that would make it easier for the lynchers as well as for him.

The Ox-Bow Incident ("incident," a truly ironic title) was published in 1940, and the film, starring Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn, and Henry Morgan, came out in 1943. The ending was changed in the film to make Carter and Croft oppose the hanging. The DVD of the film had an interview with the son of the director, William Wellman, who explained that the studio felt that the ending was too bleak for the American public in midst of the war. Apparently they felt Americans wanted heroes more than they wanted the truth.

Back in the 1960s and '70s, many organizations were holding consciousness raising sessions to show men and women the way that cultural expectations were restricting the freedom of women. I remember that someone once suggested the same be done for men for they also were controlled by cultural expectations. Unfortunately nothing ever came of it, or at least I had never heard of anything happening.

Overall Reaction: This novel should be required reading for every high school and college student in the USA.