An Investigation into Carmody's 'Obernewtyn', and its Defiance of the Values of Modern Social Institutions
Isobelle Carmody’s “Obernewtyn,” promotes ideologies starkly contradictory to those promoted by modern social institutions - An Investigation into Carmody's 'Obernewtyn', and its Defiance of the Values of Modern Social Institutions introduction. Set in the future, the book implies that the values of present society will lead to the eventual destruction of the human race. As well as this, there are general anti-Christian and anti-authoritarian messages embedded in the text; a promotion of complete child independence and adult corruption, and the portrayal of social seclusion as an admirable quality.
The book has been a success worldwide selling more than 150,000 copies and winning six awards. Australian Council, 2004) Children have cherished this book since it was first published; yet the values promoted undermine those of modern social organizations. REWARDS and PUNISHMENTS The rewards and punishments within the text demonstrate the unconventional values the text promotes. During the climax of the story when Elspeth is afraid Rushton may die, she is “filled with rage,” as a result of this intense hatred “something inside [her] head cracked violently. ” (237) The solution to the climax’s problem lies in Elspeth embracing her hatred.
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Elspeth’s hatred allows her to save Rushton, avenge her friends and inflict terrible pain on her enemies. An interpretation of these events is that the text is intrinsically promoting both hatred and violence as a necessary way to succeed, as well as implying this is an appropriate, natural, reaction to pressure. Elspeth is rewarded with the honourable task of saving mankind, not as a result of her actions, but as a consequence of her birth. Being born into the “beasting legends,” (18) her goodness and morality are never questioned.
This assumption of Elspeth’s goodness naturalises the judgement of people on their birth right, rather than their actions. This is a further substantiation of the book’s criteria for morality. An analysis of the rewards and punishments of the text reveal they promote subjective categorisation of people and hatred as an emotion beneficially embraced. SETTING, CHARACTERS and GENRE The setting and characters of Isobelle Carmody’s “Obernewtyn” are sufficient to convey the unflattering depiction of adults, normal people and progression within the story.
The book is set in a post-holocaust world where society is ruled by fear of the past. Throughout the book the reader learns that the cause of the current “barren, bleak, dead earth” (64) is because of the “greedy, grasping, selfish before timers. ” (121) This description does not refer to all of pre-holocaust society; merely the ruling generation, adults. Through the breakdown of society, the reader witnesses the parallel breakdown of humanity and the exposure of mankind’s savagery.
Children alone remain civilised and decent. In this modern alternate reality, the true motivations of adults are clear, and the innocent party undoubtedly mutant children. The main characters include Elspeth, a young girl whose parents were burnt by the council for ‘seditious actions;’ (3) Rushton, a parentless teen forced to fight for his own birth right; Daimeon, a blind orphan thrown from his home by a jealous “cousin of a councilman” (118) and Matthew, an average orphan whose parents and background are not mentioned.
All these characters have the defining quality of vulnerability; and as such are inevitably our heroes. None of these characters have the support of an adult and indeed adults fulfil nothing but the negative roles within this story. As well as this, no untalented land people are shown possessing morals or righteous motivations, and all scorn the heroes of the story. Elspeth, the story’s central character, is portrayed as a loner, someone with no emotional connections. These qualities are not only embraced by the character, but are promoted as beneficial to her cause.
Her isolation “nurtures a powerful mental shield,” (27) one that eventually protects her from the torturous ‘Zebrachen machine’. As well as analysing the story, the genre in which it is set sends a message to children. The realms of fantasy allow the writer to explore concepts like isolation, violence and hatred. This challenging content is protected by the fantasy genre and thus made ‘legitimate. ‘ The characters and setting of Carmody’s “Obernewtyn” enhance hatred of adult society and endorse emotional isolation, the fantasy genre shields this content from literal interpretation.
ANTI-CHRISTIAN IDEOLOGY: This text promotes a heavy anti-Christian ideology by portraying the church as a corrupt organisation and ridiculing their aspirations. Modern children relish “Obernewtyn”,’ despite, or because of, its obvious anti-Christian and anti-authoritarian ideology. Post Holocaust society’s religious body is known as ‘the Herder Faction’ and closely resembles the modern Christian church. The Herder Faction perform all ceremonial rites, recite prayers and believe themselves to be in direct connection with God, like Christian priests.
Both groups believe in God, but where the beforetimers named this figure ‘the Lord,’ post holocaust society name him ‘the Lud. ‘ (50) Having established that the ‘Herder Faction’ is in fact Christianity veiled by a thin veneer of language, its ridiculed and evil portrayal seems sacrilegious. Priests of the Faction are described as ‘corrupt and evil’ (47) and are seen sacrificing their religion for personal advantage. It is a Herder that ignores blasphemous remarks because, “he has been warned that the youth is necessary. (5) The entire organization is described as “a fanatical order,” (back cover) happy to burn any one appearing abnormal. The reason the Herder Faction was initially established was “to remove any qualms the people might have about the killing of mutants. ” (2)
Decisions made by the church are purposely disobeyed and, furthermore, it is the group’s aim to “bring down the Council and Herder Faction. ” (243) When Elspeth’s brother, Jess, has aspiration to become a Herder priest, she is unable to divine his motivation, “how could you? she asked him bleakly. (14) Carmody positions the reader to sympathise with Elspeth, by writing from her perspective. As she despises and ridicules the Faction, so too are the readers led to embrace this hatred. Carmody’s book challenges the modern Christian Church by scorning their beliefs and doubting their motives. In doing this she shows disrespect for present social institutions and the values they promote. ANTI-AUTHORITY IDEOLOGY: The heavy scorn and open hatred of the governing body in Carmody’s “Obernewtyn,” promotes an ideology of antiauthoritarianism and implies children are above such power structures.
Throughout the book the children battle numerous enemies, all of which represent the oppressive power structure of their society. The power structure is such that the council and Herder Faction are given most power; ‘normal’ land people or adults are next and orphan children and misfits are given no power. The Herder Faction and Council are portrayed as a joint body, each an extension of the other. It is “the fusion of religious dogma and law” (2) that is able to suppress and control the people.
The role of children in this book opposes the authority’s teachings and reveals the value of child independence. The council is described as “old fools, frightened of everything,” (199), “ignorant” (36) and “ruthless” (2). There is no circumstance where the council act in a way other than that stereotyped by their ‘evil’ role, no incidence where people support their actions and it is only through fear that they are obeyed. This unsubtle depiction of the council by the story’s child heroes implies that deference, obedience and respect are not warranted by figures in power.
By abhorring all “machines, books and artefacts of the old world,” (2) the council reveal their ignorance of technology and progression and are the stereotype of their farmer ancestors. The cultural assumptions in the text here, trusts that the reader will recognise the link between the idea of ‘ignorance’ with respect to farmers and thus reinforce the negativity associated with the council. Indeed cultural assumptions are relied upon for much of the preliminary character definition.
Elspeth, the main character, is a child orphaned at the hand of the council. Regardless of the plot, the cultural assumptions made by the text trust that the reader will immediately identify, that the child’s vulnerability makes her good; and the council’s power makes them bad. The Council is not evil because their actions show them to be; their evil actions are the result of their power. Likewise Elspeth is not good because her actions are moral; rather her moral actions are the result of her being good.
This can be interpreted as a message suggesting anyone in power should not be trusted and those without deserve power as well as a person’s actions are the result of what they are, rather than the reverse. This book oversimplifies the relationship between power and goodness and on this basis promotes anti-authoritarian attitudes. CONCLUSION: “Obernewtyn” promotes ideologies that challenge many current social practices. Messages of hatred, violence and subjective categorisation of people can be perceived through the rewards and punishments in the story.
These ideologies oppose those of the church and government so defy the norm. The text endorses hatred of adult society and emotional isolation through the character’s defining qualities of vulnerability and disobedience. By allying the good with the socially unacceptable, the text naturalises disobedience and ridicules power structures. Carmody’s book blatantly criticises the Christian Church and portrays it as a blood thirsty, power-hungry institution whose sole motivation is power.
This depiction undermines the power of the modern Christian church by showing an alternate negative reading of their role in society. The combination of the hero’s hatred and the Council’s evil actions, firmly establishes an antiauthoritarian ideology within the text. This undermines present social obedience and can be seen as an attack on the present social structure, and indeed all power holding institutions. The controversial ideologies establish Carmody’s “Obernewtyn” to be an immense challenge to present social practices by undermining the values they promote.