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Erewhon (an anagram for "nowhere") is a faraway land where sickness is a punishable crime, criminals receive compassionate medical treatment, and machines are banned (for fear they'll evolve and become the masters of man). Butler's entertaining and thought-provoking Utopian novel takes aim at such hallowed institutions as family, church, and mechanical progress; its remarkable prescience in anticipating future sociological trends adds a special relevance for today's readers....
Erewhon (an anagram for "nowhere") is a faraway land where sickness is a punishable crime, criminals receive compassionate medical treatment, and machines are banned (for fear they'll evolve and become the masters of man). Butler's entertaining and thought-provoking Utopian novel takes aim at such hallowed institutions as family, church, and mechanical progress; its remarkable prescience in anticipating future sociological trends adds a special relevance for today's readers.
Posted June 15, 2009
Erewhon, as a satire and/or essay, is interesting and has some thought provoking ideas. Erewhon as a novel has a fairly thin but still interesting plot line in an intriguing environment. Unfortunately, meshing the two of these together makes for a difficult book to swallow at times.
I enjoyed the thought provoking elements of the satire that Butler presents. He turns the world upside down in order to have us explore just how "civilized" we truly are. He maintains the same basic structure...that a society should have a government with laws that people can be punished for, education to help them in society, religion to help with their conscience. However, he turns all of these "normal" conventions on their heads to get us to think not about the conventions themselves, but about the way we approach them.
For example, instead of being punished for what we crimes (theft, murder, etc.), the people of Erewhon are punished if they fall physically ill...sometimes being imprisoned or even sentenced to death. And conversely, if a person finds himself in the throes of robbery or some other 'crime', he is instead consoled and properly treated for the recovery of this behavior and looked on with sympathy from friends and family. In this satirical move, Butler asks us to examine our treatment of criminals. The Erewhonians provide rehabilitation for liars, thieves and murderers while simply shutting away those who commit "crimes" of physical illness. While we profess to offer rehabilitation for our criminals, what good does it do to stick them in an 8x8 box for years and then throw them out on the street with a black mark on their "permanent record?" Which system is better for helping with crime? As to illness, the Erewhonian treatment of illness is definitely ludicrous, but to a small degree it has logic in that it quarantines the truly ill and it also cuts down on people feigning illness or complaining over small headaches. In Erewhon, there is truly very little illness and no 'calling in sick', or making an excuse of "I've got a headache."
Butler also satirizes religious devotion (he alludes to religion in terms of the different types of money in the kingdom...the "religious" type having no earthly value yet being esteemed as of great personal worth...and yet citizens of Erewhon barely go through the motions with the 'religious' currency and have a completely different value system for each type of currency).
So in terms of the satire, Butler brings forth some interesting ideas.
In terms of the plot, it's a fairly basic adventure novel of the nineteenth century...a man in a distant British colony seeks fame and fortune through exploration and hopefully finding either a place to gain more wealth or to find savages to convert to Christianity or both. The first 50-100 pages contain standard Victorian descriptions of the landscapes and the travels. While poetic and pretty, they did drag on and I wanted to skip beyond them. As our narrator finally gets closer to Erewhon, his travels actually have some drama unfold. Once he finally arrives at the city, he's initially thrown into prison and has some moderate adventure.
All in all, this was an interesting and thought provoking book...but I would've preferred the abridged version and/or simply reading the "essays" as essays rather than having them interjected into an adventure novel.
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Posted January 7, 2011
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Posted January 3, 2010
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