Distance to Barbarianism

The separation between the barbarian society and the frontier society seems to be mirrored by the separation between the empire and the same frontier society. There are miscommunications between the groups, and there is an undeniable separation between the frontier and the military that comes to their “protection.”

The novel begins by showing the amount of separation that exists between the “civilization” of the empire and these frontier settlements. “Is he blind? I could understand it if he wanted to hide blind eyes. But he is not blind. The discs are dark, they look opaque from the outside, but he can see through them.”(1) He does not understand the new invention; he does not see its use or its reason to exist. This simple bit of information he was not informed of implies a level of separation, and it is furthered continuously throughout the conversations with Colonel Joll and the other soldiers.

These new soldiers are deemed foreign, and the soldiers deem these civilians equally foreign: “He looks at me oddly. For the first time this evening I feel a barrier descend, the barrier between the military and the civilian.”(49) The empire itself has begun to deem the frontier cities as barbaric in and of themselves, with twisted thought processes and stuck in the past. They have evidence of this technologically, such as the sun glasses above, but they transfer this to their way of thinking as a whole. “I think I know what he sees before him: a minor civilian administrator sunk, after years in this backwater, in slothful native ways, outmoded in his thinking, ready to gamble the security of the Empire for a makeshift, insecure peace.”(49) This is how the narrator believes himself to be seen by the military. He is feels degraded and insecure, and knows himself to be seen by these people as uninformed and useless.

The military is even shown to be unnecessary and abnormal in the town itself: “The twice-weekly parade of the garrison has been suspended, the soldiers have permission to quit the barracks if they wish and live in the town, for there is little for them to do but drink and sleep.”(37) They have no reason to be there, they have no purpose. Who are they defending the town from?

As the novel goes on it appears the narrator is feeling more and more of a detachment from everyone; the military is brutal and barbaric, he is simply incapable of understanding the “barbarians,” and his old life and self is slipping way.

Gage Holden

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