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2013 DISCUSSIONS > THE UNIT: Responsibility of Society

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message 1: by Elena (new)

Elena When people enter the unit they are effectively forgotten by outside society. Is this realistic?
Where are the investigative journalists checking up on conditions in these units?


message 2: by Susan (new)

Susan I suppose the view that these people are not productive or useful means they are easily forgotten. Those who are old who have a skilled job, have won an olympic medal or had some other achievement survive, even if childless. It is those who are in low paid work (I think Dorrit's friend had worked in a shoe shop all her working life for example) and had retired were the ones who disappeared. If you lived in that society, where not having a child was such a stigma, you might find yourself retreating from them. If journalists did visit, they would see a lovely facility, with restaurants, workshops, gyms, etc. If you are in an unquestioning society, which has a lot of control over the press and people, it would probably be amazing what they could get away with.


message 3: by Val (last edited Jun 25, 2012 11:26PM) (new)

Val This does show an unquestioning society which is happy to forget these 'unproductive' citizens (or at least is comfortable with doing so). Even the childless retirees mostly accept society's low valuation of them.
It does not seem as if there is a repressive government forcing this on people against their will.
This is a problem for me, as I find it difficult to accept that a free, democratic society would be able to do this without question and with the compliance of all of its citizens. Like Susan I am left hoping that it can't really be a free society. It is too uncomfortable to think otherwise.


message 4: by Susan (new)

Susan The society in the novel seems pretty clever at pointing out those who have not contributed by either a great career or family, stigmatising them from an early age and probably giving them low self esteem. Oddly though, homosexuality was not looked upon as negative, yet the whole society seems geared towards procreating. In this sense, the Scandinavian view of a fairly permissive society permeates the book in a way which makes less sense to the plot.


message 5: by Val (new)

Val It is a permissive society, in that very little is forbidden, but not a fair and equal society. People can choose to create art rather than 'contribute to society', homosexuality is accepted, however Dorrit knows that her lesbian artist sister will have been sent to the unit and is probably dead.


message 6: by Susan (new)

Susan Yes, you wonder how successful you would have to be - Dorrit was herself a writer and I wonder whether the author was making a point about her 'art' being under valued. Or perhaps I am reading too much into it.


message 7: by Val (new)

Val I don't think you are reading too much into that Susan. I got the impression that the author considered art and creativity to be under valued as well, so included that in the novel. She could just have had the unit filled with childless, low paid, unskilled workers.


message 8: by Susan (new)

Susan Well, for someone who rates literature so highly (as I do) I think I can sometimes be overly touchy about it. However, you are right, she was also making a point about her character - that she did not want to be, perhaps, burdened with others and that she left it too late to have children. The society she lived in viewed this as selfish.


message 9: by Val (new)

Val It is a bit selfish I suppose, but she is not doing anyone any harm and it ought to be her choice if she wants to devote herself to her writing and forego wealth and status. It would have been more selfish to have the child and bring them up in (relative) poverty.


message 10: by Susan (new)

Susan I don't see it as selfish, but it is viewed as selfish in the book - the same way that the press attacks women in their forties (as I am, ahem!) who have left it late to have children and then want IVF. Women can be harshest in their judgements - as they were in the book indeed when Dorrit became pregnant.


message 11: by Val (new)

Val I would be in the unit, unless my family proved they still needed me!
Her friend is very hard on Dorrit and the others avoid her. I can see why they might resent her pregnancy, they think she has 'escaped' their shared circumstances and is no longer one of them. Women can be judgemental though, I agree, and perhaps women are on average more easily pressurised by society's judgements into doing what is expedient for that society. The women in the book are judged 'unproductive' ten years younger than the men, even though some of the women are obviously still fertile and the men have few working years left. (Retirement age is 65 in Sweden for men and women, although some retire younger.)

One of the results of austerity measures in Greece is that most of the state funded nurseries have closed. Instead of an apology for the necessity of the cuts, women are being told that they shouldn't have been going to work and putting their children in the nurseries in the first place.
UK response to austerity seems to be to demonise the unemployed for daring to want somewhere to live and not all being poorer than the lowest paid workers. This at least doesn't target only women, though of course we all know that single mothers are to blame for absolutely everything! (if we read certain newspapers).


message 12: by Susan (new)

Susan It is interesting how it is always women who are demonized, isn't it? According to Cherie Blair I am a bad role model, as I gave up work when my children were born (actually I did a few part time jobs, but basically worked around their school hours). Women can never win - we work and our children are in daycare too long, we don't work and we give them a bad view of unambitious women (I think it is fair to say that nobody can be less ambitious than I am to be honest), we work part time or job share and it is selfish to other employees...

As far as men were concerned, I couldn't see why they should have been seen as unproductive - men are capable of making babies until they are in very old age surely.


message 13: by Val (last edited Jun 27, 2012 04:08PM) (new)

Val Women are blamed far too often. In this book they seem to be more disadvantaged than the disadvantaged men, in spite of all the anti-discrimination legislation which seems to be in place.

I got the impression that people had to be productive in producing both babies and wealth, so the men would be at the 'unproductive' stage, unless they had a young wife and some children.

(I am a bad role model too.)


message 14: by Susan (new)

Susan My husband always says men can never get it wrong and women can never get it right! If men stay home and care for the kids they are a superman, if they go to work and provide materially they are good fathers. If women do either they are criticised. You can only do what seems right.

I was under the impression in the book that having a child was enough. However, if you did something brilliant, such as being an important scientist or famous sportsperson, that could save you if you failed to have the all important offspring. Presumably, even if your children grew up, you became a carer for grandchildren so your children could work.


message 15: by Val (new)

Val What's the emoticon for wry smile?

I got the impression they had to do both, although it isn't really clear, so perhaps it is just about the offspring. The book doesn't give all that much information about the people who aren't sent to the unit, but none of the ones we meet in it seem to have been well off on the outside.
That is a good point about grandparents. They would have done their productive duty for society by having the children, but most of those children would have grown up and left home. The older generation might not have an active part in the family any more.


message 16: by Susan (new)

Susan Donations (ie medical ones) were made to grandparents, so presumably it was enough to produce an offspring. However, I agree with you that there was certainly an emphasis on material success.


message 17: by Elena (new)

Elena Susan and Val, I want to thank you guys for being so involved in discussing this book. It has been really nice to read your thoughts on it.


Beth (bibliobeth) Agree with all your points guys. Can't help feeling if the unit actually existed, my faith in mankind is over!


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