Saturday, February 27, 2010

George Saunders

“Sea Oak” is a wonderful little story about the decline of American culture punctuated by zombies. At the core of the story are three young adults and their Aunt Bernie, all of whom have been paralyzed in modern life from seeking success. Aunt Bernie, though, has no regrets for the life she lived until death, or more correctly, she returns to life. In life, Aunt Bernie allowed those around her to dominate her life, and in death she finds the power to return to life and dominate those she left.
Zombie Bernie is truly the Bizarro version of herself, in which she no longer allows those she cares for from leading inconsequential lives. She drives them to achieve more in each of their lives, to reach the goals that the people who care about them wish them to reach. Unfortunately for Zombie Bernie, though, they all rejects her power, and her plans (and body) fall apart until they throw her into a garbage bag and bury her.
What I felt from this story is that it takes a special strength to escape from the paralysis of modern society that is so temptingly easy to live. When Bernie, who lacked that power in life, returns to instill it in her nieces and nephew, they reject her. For the stripper, it is embarrassing, and for the girls it is the difficulty of hard work, but that is what it takes to succeed. More than a condemnation of a society that presents the illusion that success comes from a lottery ticket or easy fame, I feel that the criticism here runs deeper. The true criticism is that the society in which these characters live doesn’t want them to succeed, and all the entertainment, tainted foods, and insecurity in their lives is driven by a society actively working to convince them that they should not try to succeed.

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