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“Monkey Iceland” the Novel by Paula Fox Essay

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Updated: Oct 12th, 2021

Introduction

The novel Monkey Iceland by Paula Fox depicts life grievances and problems caused by the social relations economic structure of modern society. This novel derives considerable energies from a general modern skepticism about the possibility of an ideal society. Fox describes a destiny of a small boy, Clay, and his struggle to find a place in life. The author portrays that modern society resembles the oppressive societies of fiction in numerous ways. In order to analyze and evaluate the text, structuralism will be used.

Main body

Meaning is the main element of structuralism. The novel portrays that the modern economic system and economic relations can easily ruin a life of a middle-class family (Culler 43). The main character of the story is Clay, a middle-class boy whose father lost a job. Fox symbolically portrays: “Clay made up a story about a lost dog following him home, because he wanted to hear a voice, even if it was just his own” (Fox 13). This quote portrays that a feeling of loss is typical for the modern society and perceived as a natural one. The main plot of the book concerns events that ensue when Clay’s mother becomes pregnant and the family has kicked off the house. They have to sleep in a welfare hotel which “from the days when the hotel was a real hotel, not an ants’ nest of ugly rooms where people in trouble waited for something better–or worse–to happen to them” (Fox 5). In terms of structuralism, Fox portrays this state as natural and typical for a modern man.

Fox symbolically portrays two opposite classes upper and low classes as the main structure of the society. The upper classes of this society seem to live well, with a variety of devices providing convenience and pleasure. Most citizens, however, live in abject poverty in rambling urban slums. The park, called “Monkey Ireland” is one such place where homeless people can find a place to sleep and have some rest. ox depicts: “They were not singing carols. They were shouting, “Monkey Island! Monkey Island! Where the monkeys live!” (Fox 77). Fox symbolically portrays that the homeless are perceived as non-humans compared to monkeys and wild animals. Individuals live very much in the power of large impersonal forces that exist beyond their understanding or even perception also shares a great deal with the depictions in many works of dystopian literature of manipulation of individuals by the oppressive economic system. Fox underlines the opposition between individual identity and social demands deal directly with the individual vs. society opposition that is probably the single most important issue dealt with by dystopian literature, though the structuralist approach does tend to suggest that the individual is largely a social phenomenon and that the two poles of this opposition, therefore, cannot be neatly separated (Culler 44).

In terms of structuralism, the world is structured and is based on binary oppositions. The novel is also based on oppositions: past and present, middle-class position, and marginalized position. In short, literary language makes visible ideological orientations within language that might remain hidden in the discourse of the everyday world. Such revelations through the lens of fiction clearly represent a central strategy of literature, for which Fox’s work is thus highly suggestive. “People try to find better ways to sleep on stone, Clay thought. There must be no place in the city where there wouldn’t be those shadows” (Fox 79). This episode shows that social context makes it impossible to identify literature as a special discourse apart from others. This development bridges the fiction and social criticism that occurs in literature. Fox reaches her conclusions about the oppressive nature of modern society through direct confrontation with the ideology of system and reason that formerly had been the inspiration for numerous visions of human relations. As such, the story stands as a fairly straightforward representation of the ongoing economic exploitation of Monkey Ireland by homeless people.

The form of the novel shows that the novel by its very nature challenges its own principles and thereby remains ever new, ever in touch with contemporary reality. In order to maintain this dynamic ability, the novel must continually challenge predefined notions of what it should be. Fox challenges the theme of social transformations (from middle class to total poverty) and the idea of human relations and friendship between the poor. Language itself can be seen as a tool of representation (and criticism) in the novel, and authoritative discourse is stripped of its authority when represented in this way because the inherently dialogic and multi-voiced environment of the novel is by its very nature critical of such authority. Fox portrays: “His face was bone white, and bristles of hair stood up on his scalp like porcupine quills. Clay named him Son of Stump People” (Fox 123). The novel form is oriented toward the creation and depiction of a world, and in the form, this world is endowed with wholeness and perfection. Language reflects cultural discourse and cultural text.

Ambiguity is one of the main structuralist elements found in this text. Fox’s commentary on the devaluation of experience in the modern world provides a poignant evocation of the modern predicament. At the same time, Fox avoids a simple longing for an ideal past by focusing on the historical development of this issue and on the potential for moving beyond it. In contrast to the communal activity of telling and listening to stories, both the reading and the writing of novels are solitary activities: Fox writes: “Clay recalled a scene where a blizzard was roaring around a tiny cabin perched on the edge of a cliff.” (Fox 151). For Fox, the modern devaluation of experience is no sudden development of the twentieth century. Instead, Fox sees the situation he describes as the result of long-term cultural and material processes. Always concerned with the relationship between works of art and the physical technology available to produce and distribute. Fox ends the story: “I found her [mother]. Or Social Services did. I have a new sister. Sophie. My mother has a job, and we live in an apartment” (Fox 148). Using unique settings of slums and poverty, Fox particularly emphasizes the contribution that the rise of the novel makes to the decline in the ability of individuals to relate to others.

Conclusion

As a whole Fox’s work provides a wide variety of insights into the issues treated by structuralism, whether these issues involve concepts of economy and social change, the social constitution of human subjects, the political ramifications of language, or the ideological implications of specific literary forms and genres. Fox’s novel, though sometimes complex and confusing, has been extremely important for a number of other modern cultural settings. For Fox, modern society itself is degraded. Indeed, he suggests that the modern social system is not designed to support people but merely to establish a well-identified population. A person can easily lose everything in his life including social position and family.

Works Cited

Culler, G. Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, USA; New Ed edition, 2000.

Fox, P. Monkey Island. Yearling, 1993.

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