Monday, September 17, 2007

The Cement Garden

The Cement Garden by my favorite author Ian McEwan.

I think this was his first novel. McEwan started his career gaining a reputation for Macabre stories which daringly explored human nature. This was certainly one of those stories.

The plot centers around a 15 year old, his attractive 17 year old sister, a 6 year old brother, and a 13 year old sister. Their father dies of a heart attack. Then their mother gets sick and eventually dies. In order to avoid being sent to an orphanage and having the family split apart, they bury the mother's body in a chest and fill it full of concrete in the cellar. They continue to live in the house together, keeping their mother's death as a secret. The 6 year old boy has a desire to become a girl so kids at school will stop picking on him. He begins to cross dress. The main character is the 15 year old who is sexually attracted to his sister whom he eventually has incestual relations with.

Some have likened it to "Lord of the Flies", but I don't thikn this was the author's intent really. But it is in part, an examination of unsupervised human behavior.

All this talk of human evolution in the new age community as if it were synonymous with our biological evolution. But send a group of infants to mars to be raised by robots and you'll have a colony of religious savages in no time.

Why did they do it? It felt good.


Gail said...

So I finally had some time to finish the Cement Garden. I saw MANY similarities between it and Golding's Lord of the Flies (even if that wasn't McEwan's intent, as you hypothesize on your blog). I think it's easier for me to examine the book by thinking about it in a broader sense rather than focusing in on McEwan's all-to-well described characters and their individual actions. Probably one of the most striking similarities that I observed between LOF and Cement Garden is that both novels reveal the inevitable negative effects of isolation on human nature. I think it's more than a lack of supervision, as you had put it in your blog, but a sense of being completely cut off from the rest of whatever society you happen to exist within. If you recall in Cement Garden, the children played 'inappropriately' together even when their parents were around and telling them to cut it out, in not so many words. The only time when the children in the book were NOT acting bizarre was when they were able to socialize with the outside world. The youngest boy, for example, with his friend down the road, and Sue, who kept her connection through books and reading and writing and her sense of being able to analyze her situation in a way. In LOF, I believe, if I recall it correctly, the twins, Sam and Eric, were able to maintain their "sanity" for quite some time as they bonded with each other more and more, and eventually became known as "Samneric" because by the end of the novel they essentially functioned like one person, again, in an inadvertant effort to maintain an intimate connection with another person. I think that, fundamentally, there is a need for humans to be connected to one another in some way. Both Golding and McEwan masterfully show what happens when that connection is severed. Heck, the whole idea might even explain why humans are drawn to organized religion, the military, the Internet, You-Tube, or even, dare I say, this very blog site! We duplicitous primates almost instinctively crave being a part of something that we see as bigger and more stable than our individual selves. Anyway, just my two scents. :~)

Aaron said...

What is normal and appropriate is in part cultural. I started reading Infidel recently. In Somalia, they take a 5 year old child and cut her clitoris and labia minora off and sew it shut, then bind their legs for days while it scabs over. People have been doing this for mellenia, even pre-Islam. Would this be appropriate were people in isolation to come across the idea that sexual desire is evil?

Culture is a collective fantasy that prevents people from acting purely egotistical. Human nature is malleable in cultural context, but always goes by a reward/punishment algorithm that nature set us up with. The exception is religion- where a cultural fantasy of an afterlife creates a pseudo reward punishment system that awaits us in a setting beyond the grave that almost certainly does not exist.

Gail said...

Actually, I think that what people consider to be "normal and appropriate" is in fact almost completely culturally-based. (Hense the phrase: 'cultural norms'). Your example of the practice of female genital mutilation is not really an example of a practice that has been performed over the centuries in any sort of isolation from the different cultural norms in which it was initiated. Female castration has been performed all over the world by many different groups, from what I understand, and has only been illegal in the United Kingdom since 1985. Here are some links from the BBC on the topic, if you're interested:

Sure, the practice sounds horrific to those of us who were not brought up amidst such belief systems, and also to a growing number of women raised within these cultures; but in any case, I think that those groups in areas like Somalia who still perform the practice do so because they absolutely think it's appropriate. They truly believe that they are performing it as a ceremonial right of passage for these girls to insure them a good marriage and a prosperous life, thus, in their minds anyway, ensuring a perpetuation of the species, etc., despite how scientifically mistaken they may be. It's their cultural norm, albeit undoubtedly derived from a collective fantasy.