JUNE 25, 2018

Reading Behavior 3

“It did get her out, among people. Whether friend or foe hardly mattered; they ate with their mouths closed and wore shoes without Velcro. She hadn’t been much of a player in public after the diner closed six years ago, and hadn’t planned on missing those long days on her feet or the wages that barely covered her gas.” – Kingsolver, Flight Behavior


The social (socially active) novel is a series of revealing contrasts. Authors tend to set up a panorama of how things are, and contrast those scenes and characters with the way things need to be. So the poor boy with heart is shown in the seedy city among the urban cannibals. The great authors, like Kingsolver, do this without telling us about the intentions of the contrast.

The old naturalistic social novel, sometimes Howells, Crane, and certainly Upton Sinclair, turned some of those subtleties into commentary and, in essence, did much the work for us. It seems Kingsolver, early on, does a nice job suggestiveness and subtlety. The scene in which the family climbs into those fir trees to check out the unusual phenomenon that is occurring there reveals the contrast between those witnesses that might take heart in something beautiful and ‘otherworldly.’ Dellarobia has an inborn sense that they are witnessing something that is not is not normal and feels of the religious; but we notice that this ‘witnessing’ is contrasted with the starker version of explicit or traditional religion, which Cubs’ parents would claim but seems to offer virtually no connected values.

The traditional religion becomes hollow in comparison because it doesn’t show, through the family, anything of a true compassion, anything of a true curiosity, of a love or understanding of the higher value of a natural occurrence which should be, in its more purer form, something to behold of ‘creation.’ I think this is one of the most potent points that cultural critics can unearth in contemporary spiritual culture (if that is even an accurate phrase today), and that is the idea that traditional religion has a tendency toward making outward verbal claims for belief, but when tested for value, the true components of spirit are not present. A farmer, for example, truly at one with the ‘Lord’ would recognize the importance of acknowledging and then hopefully preserving ‘creation.’ Yet other values persist — logging the farm to pay off debt seems to be a virtual model of modern mechanical ‘dis’-belief.

The machinery of culture doesn’t have the time nor resources to cull out the best parts of human nature. If Cub’s family walked up into the woods, saw the butterflies, and then cried out alongside Dellarobia that this was a beautiful sign, or maybe warning, and began in the conversation of how to help the butterflies, then readers and those very same cultural critics would have to disarm and accept the decency of traditional religious values…”that the way it used to be.” Instead, a kind of hollow claim of voice over substance is depicted. In the absence of both the old sturdiness of traditional religion, and the not yet encountered environmental spirituality, the land goes uncared for.

The earth is, literally, in limbo; hence the bizarre northern migration to Tennessee of a species that has tended toward homing in Veracruz Mexico for millennia. Dellarobia is shown to exhibit some values of both the passing and the coming of the spiritual. She had been religious until her father lost his inner light and now has been co-oped by a family that doesn’t particularly shine; although, she has found, as it suggests above in the quote, some partial needs for relgion. “It did get her out, among people.” This statement is a kind of coarse and uninspiring logic of why folks still ‘go to church.’  As these contrasts continue, I will be looking for the contrast even further between the perceived purposes of the church and the perceived purposes of the new cathedral on the mountain.