Jim Davis wrote:
Are you sure you meant to write "lapidary"? Other than that, I guess I agree.
Yeah I did. You know, with precision--like a jeweler.
Oh, please. Are you really comparing your disapproval of "Jeffty" to being an abolitionist in 1825 America? A bit much, don't you think?
I'm just using extreme examples of what happens when you let your morality be defined by the time and place. But I don't know that saving children from their murderous mothers (which of course is not what I'm doing as we have this little discussion) is of any less moral import than ending slavery.
I'm not sure what you're getting at, here. First, you say that if you accepted that "Jeffty" is what Harlan says it is, you still wouldn't accept it, which makes no sense.
I'm saying the author's understanding of the factual background is definitive; her understanding of the moral import of a story is all but worthless. Why is that confusing? Facts=yes, morality=no.
Second, you seem to have missed Harlan's main point; namely, that one of Leona's motivations was a desire to save Jeffty from further attacks by the Present. Harlan, as author of the post and the story, never denied that Leona was tired of caring for Jeffty, just that there was more to her act than a simple release from an unwanted burden. Acknowledging that one motivation may be love doesn't mean the others don't exist, as well.
I'm sure lots of killers have love or some deranged version of it in mind. And I don't mean to be flippant but so what? That's a mitigator, for sure, but an excuse? No way.
You also call this acknowledgment "solipsism" (?) designed to make the reader forget that a "despicable thing" has occurred. In other words, Harlan is trying to whitewash an act of brutal murder, and all of this talk of Leona's love is nothing more than a lame attempt to excuse it. It's like you're comparing Harlan to some shifty-eyed suspect on NYPD Blue, who'll break down and admit, yes, he hated the little bastard and everything he's said up until now was a lie. Why don't we concentrate on what the text actually says, which should trump everything else? Let's take your claim that Leona is really nothing more than a "brutal bitch"--how do you explain the line, "So she did love him, still, a little bit, even after all these years"? If Donny, Jeffty's best friend, really thought that Leona was a cold-blooded killer, why would he write that? If she was driven purely by selfishness, wouldn't he say so?
When I say solipsism, I'm referring to the mother, of course. Like I said, I have no doubt there are mixed motives. But if I were to encounter this scenario in the real world, the fact that Leona loved the kid about as surprising as I do relevant. Which is to say not very. Even if concern for herself was not the chief motive, which I suspect it is, her decision is irrational and dangerous and I'd want her off the streets.
Or, are you really suggesting, as I think you are, that Harlan wrote a pro-euthanasia story, and that line had to be put in there to give Leona an alibi? If that's the case, then I think you're ascribing motives to the author--always a dicey proposition--that aren't borne out by his actual words.
You realize those two sentences are wholly incompatible, right?
And no, it didn't occur to me Ellison had written a euthanasia fable. I'm very much in favor of euthanasia. The idea that someone has to go through their life in terrible physical pain and they're denied the dignity to go out on their own terms, well that's bullshit. The idea that someone must live with the knowledgge of a breathing corpse that sorta looks like their wife, despite knowing they would have wanted you to pull the plug, that's bullshit.
But I refuse to accept a definition of euthanasia so broad as to include what the mother does. Most people who murder probably feel like they have some good reason, and some chunk of them probably feel they're doing the other guy a favor. It wasn't the mothers decision.
You speak against a dictatorial position, but by insisting that a reader who has any sympathy for Leona is guilty of a form of moral cowardice, you're doing the exact same thing.
That's not what I'm saying. I'm perfectly open to people reacting differently to the story than me. I'm not
open to the idea that the moral import of the story is, ipso facto, what Ellison says it is.
You think Leona should go to prison--fine. But is it impossible to imagine her perspective, no matter how alien it may be, and understand how love might inform it? Isn't the point of literature to challenge us, and make us see the humanity even in those who we'd otherwise condemn, or is it simply to confirm what we already know? If you insist that every work pass some kind of a moral litmus test, you'll have a very hard time finding anything that doesn't offend your delicate sensibilities
Well-said. Honestly, it is a problem for me. I think I respond a little too viscerally to some stories. When an author's good, as Ellison is (even tho he's a complete
asshole), I feel it strongly. I can't read Flannery O'Connor without wanting to yell at her that all this Jesus stuff is nonsense.
Lots of authors have challenged me and made me rethink things. I think of Ellison's beautiful "Strange Wine" every time I feel like whining about my life's various deficiencies. When I think of slavery I think of Butler's Kindred
, and her characters' implicit take on slavery--that individuals were caught up in this time, and while that may explain what they do it does not excuse it. Authors are smart people with lots to teach the open reader.
But this time, Ellison's just wrong.