Thursday, May 29, 2014

Book review of Solar Storms by Linda Hogan

I've been doing a lot of reading. I have a lot of reviews planned for this site and will start off with one on Linda Hogan’s book, Solar Storms (SS).

SS is a traditionally structured novel. That is, the novel follows the pattern of very old stories. This pattern is what mythographers call the monomyth.

The monomyth can be simplified into a pattern: an individual’s separation from society, initiation into a new way of life, and return to society.

When an individual separates from society, he/she embarks on a journey to support and affirm the status quo.  Before this can take place, he/she must confront physical and mental tests. From these tests, the individual moves from ignorance of the self to consciousness of the self and its place in the universe.  After the individual develops from the tests, he/she returns to society and affirms the status quo. If we take this brief description and look at Hogan’s novel, we will find that Hogan uses this pattern and introduces variations that fit within a contemporary context.

Before discussing any ideas/patterns in Hogan’s novel, I want to divide the novel in four general categories. After this division, I will discuss each section and its sub-sections.

The Divisions:

1. Angel’s departure from the city, which is exposition, and arrival at Adam’s Rib and surrounding areas until the canoe/ hiking journey begins.

2. From the canoe/ hiking journey to Two-Town and the surrounding areas.

3. From Two-Town and the surrounding areas to Angel/Bush/Aurora’s plane and automobile journey back to Adam’s Rib.

4. Angel’s trip from Adam’s Rib back to the Fat-Eaters.   
Although this list is crude, the list contains basic elements of the monomyth, particularly the quest adventure which is based on separation, initiation, return. This pattern is one that recurs in Solar Storms.

In the first section, Angel left the society of mass-consumer-capitalism because she wanted to find her mother. To find her mother, she went to a society with different values. In this new society, she became initiated into a new lifestyle. This new lifestyle taught her ethics and about herself. She also became attached to the security of not roaming. An example of this is her reluctance to move out to Bush’s place at Fur Island. Once Angel moved to Fur Island, she adapted. The adaptation process is illustrated by her  reluctance to leave the window open and let the vines come in the house when she first arrived; however, as she adapts, she leaves the window open and allows the vines to grow in the house. This suggests that she is becoming integrated with nature. Angel’s integration with nature is apparent when she learns how to swim; this is an affirmation, perhaps a baptism. Also while she is at Fur Island, she begins to doubt rationality and assume causal relationships that are fallacious. Nevertheless, Angel begins to change, and she becomes initiated into another society.

Society in Hogan’s novel is not absolute, and when Angel, Agnes, Bush, and Dora Rouge embark on  a canoe/hiking journey, society is composed of these four members. On this journey, the characters escape from the collective society and become initiated in a new way of life. This new way of life is primitive, but it offers the characters many challenges and rewards. During these challenges, we find that no single hero exists. The hero is society, and society is decentralized; thus, for example, Dora Rouge navigates; Bush hunts; Agnes cooks; Angel cleans. We do get a glimpse of an individual who tries to assume the traditional heroic position. Angel tries to assume this position when she goes on a solo journey to find “wolfbane” and “redroot.” These plants will save Agnes from death. To prevent this death, Angel embarks alone on a quest within a quest adventure. If Angel were to complete this task she would have fulfilled a traditional heroic function: leave society, bring back an elixir, support and affirm the status quo. Although Angel finds both plants, she, falling asleep in the canoe, fails to make good time, and Agnes is dead before she can get back. Angel’s failing suggests that she is not ready to assume the traditional heroic stature, but at the same time, her failing is more realistic.  By writing realistic, I mean that Hogan is not following the cliched adventure story that every trial an individual/hero tackles he/she will always successfully complete, particularly in a time of need; Hogan rejects this notion and provides insight about the contemporary world.

This rejection surfaces again when the four return to the collective society. From this society, no one greets the travelers, and Angel remarks on this:

our landing should have been a momentous event. We’d crossed time and space to be there, had lost Agnes...had seen the order of the world reversed. Now we were nothing more than survivors no one knew or cared about...For what had we done this? For two women to die? For me to find a mother who had only injured me in the past? For Bush’s ideas about justice...Now the absence of Agnes was a felt thing and we’d endured hardship to be in that place where mud and silt wanted nothing more than a misplaced foot so it could swallow us the way it had swallowed the moose. We’d been beguiled. (Hogan 212).

This passage provides a comment on the traditional hero’s quest motif: All the romantic notions of an individual who crosses the threshold of danger, all the romantic notions of an individual who endures trials and tribulations, all the romantic notions of an individual who confronts death, all the romantic notions of an individual who must have the gods on their side, all the idealistic notions of an individual who sets out to change a facet of the world, all these notions Angel sums up in one line: “We’d been beguiled” (Hogan 212).
 
After being deceived, the travelers return to society. In society, the travelers meet with other fellow Native Americans and lodge with them. During their stay, they and the other Native Americans unite and form a group that has to endure modern trials. That is, they have to fight against the government, against machines, against those who oppress minorities. This fight is another variation of a trial or tribulation, and Hogan is suggesting that in contemporary society an individual does not need to go on a long journey away from society and confront death; these trials are in society, and those individuals who confront these obstacles and work together may have a chance at overcoming the obstacles. To overcome these obstacles, however, may require more than a group of minorities working together, and Hogan illustrates this too when she gives the Native American’s the victory in court, which does little for their homes and land that was destroyed.

The trials the Fat-Eaters encounter are not as traditional as Angel’s. From her trials, Angel becomes conscious that she “shaped” her “own life”; this remark opposes her statements at the start of the novel because she thought that her mother conditioned her. Angel becomes conscious of her self and the world around her. This consciousness is best illustrated by her integration with nature and her understanding of human nature, particularly when she embarks on another quest journey to the Fat-Eaters to attend Dora Rouge’s death.

***

Hogan’s novel raises many questions and concerns, including the chasm between humans and nature in contemporary society, the oppression of women, the oppression of minorities, the search for an origin.  The chasm between humans and nature is illustrated by the Native Americans and their use of contemporary amenities, including electricity and telephones and walkie-talkies. These are the people fighting for the land, fighting for an older way of life, fighting for their future, but they are supporting technological advancements which distance humans from nature. This can be a bit problematic; however, one could say that the Native Americans have a modicum between nature, technology, and humanity, but the question still remains: to what extent and why are all humans blinded/ bound to the modern/ postmodern world?  This question is difficult, perhaps impossible, to answer because many reasons exist, and another question that Hogan raises is just as impossible, yet just as fascinating: what is the story of our origin?

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