Selected Stories of Ourselves, by Various Authors
. Explain how the writers explore the idea of a relationship to a place in the short stories The People Before (by Maurice Shadbolt) and Billennium (by J.G. Ballard).
EXEMPLAR STUDENT RESPONSE:
In both Billennium by J.G. Ballard, and The People Before by Maurice Shadbolt, the reader is presented with a considered exploration of our relationship with our surroundings. In both short stories there exists an antagonistic and belligerent relationship between the locale and the characters, while surreptitiously present is a hint of a greater, far more arduous struggle between the transient and the eternal.
In The People Before, Shadbolt illustrates the aggressive and violent relationship between the narrator’s father and the land throughout the story. From the beginning ‘[the father’s] life was committed to winning order from wilderness.’ The diction choice of ‘winning’ here suggests a competition or a conflict, immediately giving to the relationship a sense of mutual confrontationality and fierce aggression that moves beyond the mere simplicity of a man weeding out wild grass. Furthemore, the description of the father ‘chopping jerkily’ and ‘hacking’ invoke visual imagery of brutality and violence, further suggests adversariality and inimicality.
An integral aspect of the father’s relationship with the land is his desire to assert dominance over it; his immense occupation with complete physical ownership of the land highlights his inability to form a deeper connection with it. The hyperbolic statement ‘...history only began the day he first set foot on the land’ reveals the father’s disregard for the land’s cultural and historical background; to him the land’s significance and value is only validated through his ownership of it. Furthermore, we are told that ‘He’d hardly have said he loved the land....love [was] an extravagance’. Shadbolt’s use of ‘love’, and ‘extravagance’ here creates a contrast between the spiritual and the physical; while love is commonly accepted as something immaterial, the use of ‘extravagance’ assigns a monetary value of sorts to it, as if it were a commodity. It serves to undermine the essence and purpose of such a relationship with the land; the deeper spiritual connection is rejected for an appreciation for the farm’s material and monetary value, and more importantly his ownership of it. Moreover, the father’s assertion of dominance over the land is explored in the description that ‘it was his...legal title...all that could matter’, and ‘In a sense it had only ever been his’. While this assessment of the father’s connection is coloured by the narrator’s biased judgement, it illustrates how the father and the narrator have abandoned the true value of the land, instead choosing to only evaluate the land in terms of its material value. In doing so, the father is asserting his own authority and imposing his own order.