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The firmness of man's limit is ostensibly placed under intense scrutiny in George Saunders' science fiction novel, Escape from Spiderhead. These boundaries are spiritual, physical, and emotional in particular. Saunders' narrative naturally prompts the listener to consider two major questions. These are: "At what degree does an inherent sense of responsiveness outweigh the powerful impact of the body's chemical composition?" and “at what point is a man ever compelled to sacrifice himself in order to defend the health of another guiltless human?” The quest for humanity is a prominent theme in this literary work. Specifically, the author aimed at exploring at what point does man’s fulfilling his nature as a sentimental being supersede his desire to satisfy his superiors as well as the scientific progress that he purposes to develop. Escape from Spiderhead makes it apparent that human beings are inherently empathetic and are strongly against inflicting or causing discomfort and pain on other blameless human beings. In the end of the narration, the reader ends up feeling sad for the first-person narrator, Jeff, but simultaneously relieved that the sort of blind sympathy and empathy is prevalent and thriving. Outstandingly, George Saunders’s work clearly shows how something artificial can contribute to something real; and that is particularly made blatant by Jeff who makes great moral difference by altering his mood artificially.
Escape from Spiderhead is a first-person story told by Jeff, a man convicted in an unconventional prison system where a number of scientific and empirical experiments are usually carried out in attempts to determine the impacts of different serums with mind-altering capabilities. Jeff and other convicts in the lab are usually intravenously connected to these serums through “MobiPacks” (Saunders 33). The test administrator in this prison system is known is Abnesti and he frequently puts Jeff and other narrators through a number of tests with the aim of confirming the accuracy and reliability of a certain drug capable of controlling the love emotion that human beings inherently possess. Nonetheless, behind Abnesti’s friendly façade, he is toying with Jeff’s and other subject’s emotions (Saunders 42). To the subjects, the ordeal feels intense and as real as anything else that they have ever experienced before, but the bitter truth is that their minds and bodies have been severely scammed. None of the experiences and sensations that the subjects go through is real and that is somewhat depressing to the reader as well as the test subjects. During the initial moments, Jeff perceived the experience as merely exhilarating, but he later came to discover how uncomfortable the entire test was. The test administrator takes away all those definitive human traits and emotions making the audience wonder whether there is anything more in defining humanity rather than the composition of cells and hormones that have no metaphysical capacities. However, the simulated sacrifice made by Jeff, and probably the redeeming actions witnessed at the conclusive part of the story create real moral difference. Jeff and other convicts, through their artificial actions, prove that metaphysical capacity do exist and that the authentic motives as well emotions of human beings are usually determined by other factors rather than chemicals solely.
More importantly, Saunders’s narrative is a clash between two distinct parties, which are; the bad and the good. However, this fact is not made apparent up to the point when the nature of the scientific tests is revealed as well as the means of confirming the findings of those test are compelled upon the subjects. However, the definitive line between bad and good is best kept gray in most part of the narration. By creating the clash between good and bad, the author was able to sufficiently show the audience who the winner was. In this light, it was arguably the “good” who were able to prevail. However, what was important was recognizing who or what was exactly “good” in the narrative. Jeff, the first person narrator is a sentenced killer while Abnesti is an open-minded scientist at the verge of an unbelievable breakthrough. These basic character definitions do not reflect any good in these men but instead in those actions as well as qualities that relate readers with their humanity. Jeff’s character draws a lot of sympathy from the audience, while Abnesti is largely portrayed as a pawn in an army that is ruthlessly challenging Jeff’s humanity. Ultimately, Jeff’s artificial character makes him appear as the “good” regardless of his past and current life and his identity as a killer is only viewed as transient.
In conclusion, George Saunders makes the essence of humanity the great driving force throughout the entire plot. The first person narrator is literary put under a number of trials throughout the course of the narrative whereby his essence as human is put under scrutiny. Jeff is utterly stripped down and all he is left with is his empathy. Jeff is human and his artificial mood creates great moral difference as witnessed even by the audience.
Saunders, George. "Escape from Spiderhead." NEW YORKER (2010): 111.
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