I have to say, I really liked this book, and I wasn't sure if I would. However, the story sucked me in, and I finished about half the book in one sitting. So, I hope that my answers to some of these questions will get a good discussion going......
Though there are interesting female characters in the forefront of the novel, the cast of thousands of infertile women in the background are portrayed as crazy, desperate, and delusional. Did you feel P.D. James captured the emotions of infertility or do you think she merely repeated the image presented in the general media--infertile women are desperate and single-minded and obsessed with babies and pregnancy?
I think that she really did both-captured the fragility of the mind of an infertile woman, but by using those stereotypical images we see in today's media. In the novel, it's the men who are infertile, not the women (as opposed to the film version, where it's the women who can't conceive), and I think that is the motivation behind the behavior-that the women know that they are perfectly fertile, but that the men can't get them pregnant (which is relayed in Chapter 16, when Theo talks about how women became more and more intolerant and resentful of men throughout the 80's and 90's (when the fertility started to decline worldwide). I think that the desperation stems from the fact that NOBODY in the world can have children. For us infertiles (or, at least for me), if we can't bear our own children, there are options available-IVF, donor egg, adoption. We know that, should our current treatments don't work, we could still be parents. In the novel, there are no options-this is your life. We, as human beings, always desperately want what we can't have, and I think that was the author's intention, not to portray the stereotypes.
What do you think is the significance of the fact that the two people who are finally able to conceive are both considered "flawed?" (Luke had epilepsy and Julian had a deformed hand)
I think it's great, actually. It is such poetic justice, which I'm sure the author intended. The author reveals a society that is obsessed with "perfection" and bodily well-being, and that people who are less than genetically perfect are disregarded and are exempt from reproductive testing. It showed that humanity is only intent in passing along the "right" genes" (although, it's the state that decided what was an "appropriate" gene pool). Since they didn't screen people with either physical deformities or medical conditions (that may or may not be hereditary), they couldn't realize that perhaps there was a minority population that is more fertile than everyone else. It reminds me of Nazi Germany's process of weeding out all those who were not "examples" of Aryan genetics. I think that P.D. James was trying to show that perhaps the people who were flawed in her novel weren't the ones that had the obvious physical deformities, but those who were flawed morally and ethically.
Once Rolf discovers the truth about his child, in his anguish, he rubs his skin raw against the bark of a tree. Do you think he is mourning his wife's adulturous affair or his new-found knowledge of his own infertility (since he thought he had impregnanted his wife)?
I think that he's mourning the knowledge of his infertility. Throughout the book, there is no obvious "chemistry" that links Julian with Rolf as lovers or husband and wife. I felt that he was more proud that he got Julian pregnant and she was the vessel carrying his biological child rather than of Julian as his wife and the mother of his child. He's pretty much an arrogant ass, and his intent is to replace Xan as Warden by the sheer fact that he's the father of the new "alpha" generation, and not by ability as a ruler. He feels that he's entitled to the adulation and praise because he's got fertile sperm, and it's a slap in the face for him to realize that not only was his wife unfaithful to him with a member of the group, but with someone who inadvertanly ended up being the father of the new generation of mankind. Rolf could no longer lay claim to being the new "Adam", and that's why he ended up betraying the entire group-as revenge. He didn't care about Julian's well being, and he no longer cared about the child that wasn't "his"-all he cared about was that his moment in the sun was yanked from him.
In describing the world's "universal bereavement" over it's lack of children, the narrator tells us, "Only on tape and records to we now hear the voices of children, only on film or on television programmes do we see the bright, moving images of the young. Some find them unbearable to watch but most feed on them as they might a drug." How is this like your life dealing with infertility? How do you cope when you are confronted with images or reminders that are painful to you?
In my job (being a teacher of young children, from grades K-5), I'm around children all. day. long. I can't escape them-and it's what I've chosen to do with my life. I have kids who ask me if I have any children; and, when I answer no, they ask me if I want to have any. They have no idea that their innocent question might, some days, be like a knife in my heart. Or, how it angers me when I hear stories about some of the home lives of some of these students, and it's astounding to me that a parent would allow the shattering of such innocence by exposing them to drug taking, abuse, and neglecting their basic needs. And yet, at other times, I see children as a beacon of hope. How do I cope? Of course, it depends on my mental state of the day (or where I am in a cycle). I try to tell myself that, one way or another, I will be a mother. Like I said earlier, some days are easier than others-some days I just can't cope with news of another pregnancy, shower invitation, baby announcement or cute toddler in the store. Sometimes I have to figuratively bury my head in the sand and not deal with it, for my own mental state. Other times I can be perfectly okay in a room full of kids, and not carry my infertility on my back. And I think that it's okay to not be able to cope all of the time-there are times that you need the emotional release of crying or cursing the world-it makes you stronger, in the end.
If you were living in this time period and were given the ability to become pregnant but knew you would be the only person to do so, would you have that child knowing that they would be completely alone in an empty world for the last twenty-odd years of their life?
No, I wouldn't be able to do that. Not because I don't want a child, but because you have to want a child for the right reasons. What kind of life would you condemn that child to? I think that, for me, it would be a selfish thing to do, because it would be satisfying my own need to bear a child, rather than to produce a human being that is supposed to be a productive member of society (which, in this case, there would be no society to become a member of). I'd hate to have that child, only for it to later curse it's own lonely existence and, possibly, end it's own life rather than be alone.
Well, that's it-I hope they open a lot of discussions!!
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