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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Witch Island or Killing Me With Kindness

Witch Island is a different type of Dystopian novel in its setting and style of writing, but it still encompasses much of what we have come to love about the genre. The story begins with a shipwreck and three survivors (Simon, Jack, and Mary) washing up on an uncharted island.
Jack is a sailor and used to hard work and self-reliance.
Simon is an intellectual convinced of his own importance, his unique kindness, and is big on class separation.
Mary is an aristocrat used to having everything done for her, but not by choice. No one ever asks her what she wants and just assumes she is delicate and incapable of providing for herself.   
Jack helps the others by gather food, making a fire and building shelter. He then tries to teach Simon how to do the same, but Simon’s pride shuts out everything Jack says. Eventually, Simon is able to teach himself how to survive on the island, and chocks it up to his superior intellect that enabled him to do it; even though it was really by following Jack’s advice that he succeeded.
Jack wants to teach Mary how to fish, but Simon is opposed to her learning how to do anything because she is a delicate creature. Eventually they prosper, but Simon becomes convinced that Jack is not doing enough to contribute to their three person community. Simon spends a lot of time wrapped in his thoughts of self-importance and thinks he knows how they should all live: each to their own ability; those with more talents contribute more; those with less contribute less, but all receive equal results.  Unable to convince Jack to live this way, Simon chases Jack out of the camp. Then Simon convinces himself that Jack is being selfish by living on his own, away from them, so Simon attacks Jack one night and severely beats him and steals his stuff. This causes Jack to move to the other end of the island where he isn’t seen again until the end of the book.
 A year goes by with Simon providing for Mary and not allowing her to learn how to do the simplest and most important of tasks: making a fire and fishing. He dies of some disease and manages to scribble an elaborate epitaph commemorating his intellect and saving everyone. This leaves Mary destitute and helpless. She goes through a period of madness at losing her only friend. When she comes back to reality, Mary realizes the Simon was no friend at all because he never taught her how to survive. Without him she cannot make a fire or catch fish to eat. Eventually, she wanders the island and stumbles upon Jack, who is dying from disease. Completely alone, it doesn’t take long for Mary to die as well, but before she does, she leaves a note under Simon’s epitaph explaining how Simon’s tyranny led to their deaths.
A ship finally shows up and they find her lying by Simon’s grave. Even though they were able to make out Mary’s words on Simon’s epitaph, they chose to bury her, marking her as Simon’s beloved and praising Simon’s sacrifice.
This book reminded me of Brave New World and Animal Farm in its themes and writing style.  It is mostly all narrative, which is very different from most modern novels.  However, the book does display some interesting themes. Simon is the typical intellect who think he is better than everyone else and therefore should be making all the decisions. In his efforts to force others to live as he thinks they should, he condemns them all to death.  And despite his obvious failures, he thinks of himself as a success even when he dies. Jack is the typical self-reliant man that is governed by common sense. Mary, is the unfortunate victim, who realizes the truth way too late.  Also, the sailors embody humanity’s willingness to believe a lie than the truth.
For the most part I liked the story.  Though there were parts that were repetitive and the writing style took some getting used to.  Simon’s selfishness ticked me off. Mary’s inability to stand up for herself when Simon kept treating her like a child wore on me. The ending explains why she doesn’t, but still, you’d think a girl would get some gumption after surviving a shipwreck.  The ending ticked me off, even though I saw it coming.  True to most Dystopian novels, it is not a happy ending. The decent characters dies and the truth with them. But I had hoped that maybe Mary would have been rescued so that she could tell the world the truth about Simon.

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