Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Ice People

Foucauldian discourse analysis is a form of discourse analysis, focusing on power relationships in society as expressed through language, and based on the theories of Michel Foucault. Besides focusing on the meaning of a discourse under analysis, the distinguishing characteristic of this approach is its stress on power relationships as expressed through language, and the relationship between language and power.

This can be a key to understand Maggie Gee’s post-apocalyptic science fiction novel The Ice People (1999).

Narration, as used in a novel, and storytelling as an art to negotiate the turmoil of life, are two different things. In the novel, Gee uses both narration, in this context of science fiction fantasy, and the ancient form of storytelling to understand the power relations in the post-modern globalised world. In the novel, Gee, the novelist is narrating the story of the future, the time when at the end of 21st Century Britain is under the grip of Ice Age. In the story, however, the protagonist, Saul, tells a story to a group of survivors about his life before the Ice Age and how the change in the geographical and socio-political scenario affected his personal life.

There are several levels of disruption to the conventional power relationship in society in Gee’s novel, all of which, ironically, is narrated by a male protagonist and is written by a female writer. It is ironic because, in the context of power of structure as depicted in the novel, men and women now live separately. Again, the novel subverts the very notion of narration. Storytelling is traditionally an activity associated with pleasantness, where community gather and share experience. Here, the entire narration hinges on Saul’s ability to tell an interesting story, but not to amuse, but to survive. If his story doesn’t amuse his ragtag band of outlaw, they would surely kill him because he is a burden on them.

There are several other important disruptions to the existing power relationships in The Ice People, which makes it an interesting study, especially in the context of its post-modern counterparts.

First, the rising ice makes physical and emotional need between men and women, which from the epistemological point of view is the basis of civilization itself, redundant. Now, men and women live in separate communities, away from each other. In this context, Saul’s obsession for his family, his wife Sarah and especially his son, Luke, makes him an outsider, who is at the loggerheads with the existing structure.

Second, while the humanity is in the brink of existence, it again goes back to the basics of civilization, the communal living. But, this communal living is also defined by power. But, now, power is no longer physical. It can be of anything, like, Saul’s ability to tell stories.

Third, there are issues in environment conservation that somehow raises the issues of our time, yet makes it more complicated.

Fourth, there are issues of politics, which is presented as opposed to family life. Sarah leaves Saul and becomes a political activist.

Fifth, in the universe of The Ice People, the geography is skewed. Here, the First World is in danger while Africa, with its hotter climate, is the Promised Land. But, this remains unfulfilled. Saul wants to migrate to Africa with his son, but fails to do so.

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