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SERIES—List & Discussions > Miles Vorkosigan--BARRAYAR - major themes *spoilers*

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message 1: by Stefan, Group Founder + Moderator (Retired) (new)

Stefan (sraets) | 1667 comments Mod
What do you see as the major theme or themes of the novel?

(I'm asking this because, during my re-read, I realized there is a LOT more going on in this book than I remembered... and I think it provides a lot more fodder for discussion than Shards of Honor.)


message 2: by Kathi, Moderator & Book Lover (new)

Kathi | 3315 comments Mod
I don't know if this is what you meant, but there is a lot of "understory" about the development of a society or culture--how and why the Barrayarans are the way they are. Also the attitudes toward those with disabilities (Kou and the unborn Miles).

I didn't know before starting this series that Miles had physical handicaps, and I will be very interested to follow the development of that theme throughout the series.


message 3: by Stefan, Group Founder + Moderator (Retired) (new)

Stefan (sraets) | 1667 comments Mod
I think one of the novel's main themes is weakness, or more accurately what is considered weakness by various peoples/cultures/groups, and how to use weakness as a strength. This is obviously a continuation of something started in Shards of Honor, and will continue all through the series with Miles.

E.g. Droushnakovi --- unable to enter the military because of her gender, but very strong, very talented, and throughout the novel she's in key positions to affect the story... even though she's perceived as a "weak woman".

Or Bothari --- weak in the sense of being very susceptible to influence, but that influence can lead him to good or evil, depending on the person.

Or Koudelka --- disabled in the last book, and unable to get over the shame of being disabled for much of this novel, to the point where it affects his relationship with Droushnakovi.

My favorite part of this book is how Bujold uses Koudelka's swordstick throughout the book. I don't want to get too lit-crit about this, but I think the swordstick is the perfect symbol for the book: a cane, used to support a "weak" person, but hiding a sword. It encapsulates everything this book is about... and it is used meaningfully in a number of key scenes, including of course the climactic scene in which Vordarian is killed, but also used to cut Ivan Vorpatril's umbilical cord. I also loved how Aral gets around the law that only Vor can carry swords but "ordering" Koudelka to carry it.

The other major theme (obviously connected to the one above) is motherhood or parenthood, as Bujold points out in the afterword of the omnibus edition. Aral and Piotr, Kareen/Serg/Gregor (and of course Serg/Ezar), Cordelia/Miles, and then there's Bothari/Elena. All very complex and different versions of the relationship between parent and child.


message 4: by Christine (new)

Christine (chrisarrow) It wasn't a major theme, but it seemed that with Bothari, Bujold was playing with the idea of good and evil in terms of people and how war makes or breaks them. Look at Drou's (even Cordelia's) reaction to Bothari. Look at what he did during the war, but then look at the conversation he had with Cordelia. For me, that was the most affecting part of the novel.


message 5: by Renee (new)

Renee (elenarenee) | 82 comments Nicely said Stephan. I read this ages ago but I do remeber much of it. I think strength and how people deal with having strength they cannot use drives much of this book




message 6: by Kathi, Moderator & Book Lover (new)

Kathi | 3315 comments Mod
Bothari was a scary character to me--I never could quite figure out his allegiances, and he always seemed to be on the edge of losing control. His "conversation" with Cordelia... more like therapy... was very affecting, I agree. And his relationship with his daughter--I can't help but wonder about that and wonder what may happen in the future.


message 7: by Random (new)

Random (rand0m1s) | 866 comments Stefan wrote: "Droushnakovi --- unable to enter the military because of her gender, but very strong, very talented, and throughout the novel she's in key positions to affect the story... even though she's perceived as a "weak woman"."

It is interesting, but while Barrayar culture considers women weak, none of them, at least that we see, are actually weak. In many ways, they are stronger, since they must survive without the social advantages of their male counterparts.

I agree, there is a strong theme of those perceived as weak being quite strong on their own ways. I've often wondered how this shapes Miles' personality, though I suspect this is a conversation best held off to later books.




message 8: by DivaDiane (new)

DivaDiane | 177 comments Bujold says in her afterward to Cordelia's Honor, that for her the major theme is parenthood/motherhood and all the various permutations it can take. And the all the forms of relationship between Parent and child.

It's interesting to go back and consider the book with this idea in mind. Nearly every character is somehow defined through their relationship with a parent and/or child (and not necessarily their own flesh and blood).


message 9: by Kathi, Moderator & Book Lover (new)

Kathi | 3315 comments Mod
It's interesting to hear you share the comments by Bujold from omnibus edition (Cordelia's Honor) since that Afterward is not in the individual books (which I bought used....)


message 10: by DivaDiane (new)

DivaDiane | 177 comments Kathi wrote: "It's interesting to hear you share the comments by Bujold from omnibus edition (Cordelia's Honor) since that Afterward is not in the individual books (which I bought used....)"

I ended up buying Cordelia's Honor because I couldn't find hardly any Vorkosigan books at (used book) stores, let alone Barrayar. When my last opportunity had C's H, I decided to get it and mooch away my copy Shards of Honor. The afterward is interesting, but I think she says a lot of what pertains to the order and history of her writing of the series in the articles on Tor.com that others have pointed us to.

I haven't read these thoughts on the theme of motherhood in C's H anywhere else though.


message 11: by Stefan, Group Founder + Moderator (Retired) (new)

Stefan (sraets) | 1667 comments Mod
I just remembered something I wanted to bring up here, but forgot earlier. I thought it was really interesting to see the "mirror dance" pop up in this book. Somehow I hadn't noticed that the first time around. It's another great symbol --- each partner can "lead" the dance, and the lead can be passed back and forth between the partners. Very meaningful (and of course there's a later book in the series called Mirror Dance).


message 12: by Janny (new)

Janny (jannywurts) | 1003 comments This book was just jammed with themes, but then, this is typical of Bujold's work.

First, there's the theme of rulership - mercy or force, military or humanitarian.

Then, the theme of how far a mother will go to protect her child, and what role a father may take, when trapped between family choices, politics, and social obligations.

The theme of war damage - mental and physical.

The theme of social stigmas and taboos - how much or how little they mold choices.

The age old theme of boy gets girl.

The demonstrable theme of men waging war, and what happens when women are forced to become combatants - it has been said with some authority that women can be the more cruel, as fighters ...

Also the theme of science vs primitive survival of the fittest.

What happens, too, when people are used as tools, and who should be responsible.

I had forgotten how powerful this story was, in many ways, and how packed with ideas and conflicts blown into larger than life proportions. When I measure how the actual writing handled this complexity of themes, it's amazing that a novel of this strength came so early in a new career.

The early set up did not indicate how far and fast this book was going to develop, or, give a clue as to the breathtaking pace.

The only scene that gave me fidgets was the wedding at the end...but I am sure that many female readers would slap me for saying I felt it could have been shortened...there was no wasted space, in this book. From a technical standpoint, it was pretty astonishing.


message 13: by Random (new)

Random (rand0m1s) | 866 comments I was thinking of the discussion of Piotr and what others had said and something kind of solidified for me and I'm wondering if I can say this in a way that makes sense. :)

Each generation fights the hard battles to make things easier for their children. Piotr helped dragged Barrayar out of isolation and into the modern world. When he could go no further, the task was taken up by Aral. In the later books I believe we see this being taken up by Miles.

In the part with Vorhalas's son when he had dueled and killed his opponent, he only saw two options. There was the option of being lenient, giving the boy some mercy trying it as a murder case. Or, he had to stand with the laws designed to help drag Barrayar out of the bad old days and sentence the boy to death. I kept wishing he could find a different way.

"Don't you know?" he said gently, resigned. "Ezar's way is the only way that can work, here. It's true after all. He does rule from his grave." He headed for their bathroom, to wash and change clothes.

"But you're not him," she whispered to the empty room. "Can't you find a way of your own?"


And I realize, I think Miles could have found a way. Specifically I think he could have found a way forward, a way further than what his father was able to do, just as Aral was able to go beyond his father.

None of this is coming out very well, but I think a theme we see starting here and that continues into the rest of the series is that of going beyond the previous generation.



message 14: by Christine (new)

Christine (chrisarrow) It came out fine. I think you're right.


message 15: by DivaDiane (new)

DivaDiane | 177 comments I think you explained yourself just right, Random. Thanks for that.

Janny, I'm afraid we seem to be ignoring your posts, for the most part, but I think it's just because they are coming toward the end of the discussion month. I hope you'll join us for the Warrior's Apprentice too, I'm finding your thoughts very interesting.



message 16: by Random (new)

Random (rand0m1s) | 866 comments Diane wrote: "Janny, I'm afraid we seem to be ignoring your posts, for the most part, but I think it's just because they are coming toward the end of the discussion month. I hope you'll join us for the Warrior's Apprentice too, I'm finding your thoughts very interesting."

That and they're well enough said that we (well at least I) don't really have anything to add to them. :)


message 17: by Janny (new)

Janny (jannywurts) | 1003 comments Diane wrote: "I think you explained yourself just right, Random. Thanks for that.

Janny, I'm afraid we seem to be ignoring your posts, for the most part, but I think it's just because they are coming toward the..."


Diane - I don't feel ignored. I was late, the library didn't have the book in till the ninth hour. I've got Warrior's Apprentice as one of mine, on the shelf, and burned through it already. Still a good book, after all these years. I recall starting the series here, and that definitely colored my experience with Barrayar and Shards of Honor.


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