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Monday, May 17, 2010

Shade’s Children and the Subversion of Domination

I don’t know if Garth Nix is a vegan. I don’t know if he intended Shade’s Children to have subversive threads throughout the story. But still, while reading Shade’s Children one can feel the parallel between the Overlords’ domination of humans and humans’ domination of animals in real life. The Overlords use humans in exactly the same ways humans use animals and even go so far as to refer to humans using the word ‘animals’. Their justification of human use is pretty much the justification the average human gives for enslaving animals; animals are stupider than us, they are meant for our use, it’s just the way things are supposed to be. This is what if a calf could speak, ze would ask humans, and this is probably what humans would answer:

“Why do you kill us? Why do you… do any of it?”
“That’s what you’re there for. It’s the way things are meant to be. You animals really are so stupid.”

The above question is asked by Ninde to an Overlord when she is being interrogated about her powers. The Overlords keep human children in ‘Dormitories,’ where all their mental and physical faculties are exercised to develop the utmost brain and muscle mass, after puberty girls are taken away for breeding, and when any child reaches the age of fourteen ze is taken to the ‘Meat Factory’ where hir brain and muscles are harvested to generate ‘Creatures’ that are basically soldiers who do the Overlords’ bidding. Any children that manage to escape are hunted down and taken to the Meat Factory. Shade leads a secret resistance group made of escaped children and works to overthrow the Overlords. The dread human children feel while trying to survive in an Overlord-dominated world, the anguish of your life being completely dominated and controlled by somebody else, living at the whim and mercy of sadists, the knowledge of death being a certainty of your near future, having no family, being treated as resources are all analogous to our domestication of animals. And no, it’s not just dying that is cruel; Nix makes it clear that when the four children (Ella, Drum, Ninde, Gold-Eye) might have a chance to live but as slaves to the Overlords for their Change Talents, it would be just as bad as going to the Meat Factory. Through putting humans in the position humans have kept nonhumans in for thousands of years, a world has been created in which the injustice of treating sentient beings as means to ends can be seen so clearly that I wonder how anyone can not see the horrors involving our own daily life.

Having said that, at the risk of contradicting myself, I think one other interpretation that can be made of Shade’s Children is that the narrative could imply that domination matters only when it’s being done to humans. The world is so terrible because everything is not hunky-dory for humans; we are supposed to feel sad and sympathise with the children because they are humans; the same thing that is done daily in real life does not matter because it is done to nonhumans. How could *gasp!* the sceptre of power have been snatched from us mighty humans?! Humans are *gasp!* being equated with animals! The world must be put to rights at once!

Whichever way you interpret it, I heartily recommend this book to anyone who wants to see the world from the point of view of the dominated species for a change.

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