Themes in Children of Abeona: Power

This post is the first of a new series I'm planning, which I'm tentatively calling "Themes in Children of Abeona." As each post comes out, it'll be available under the tag "themes-in-coa" in the sidebar, and I'll go back through when it's complete and create a table of contents to add to each post for easier navigation.

The raison d'etre for this series is fourfold: first, I want to make this blog less esoteric, which means that I need to start writing about what I'm writing instead of just how that writing is going. Second, I want to make this blog of more general interest — meaning that instead of just talking about details specific to my book, I need to cover things both related to my book and of more nonspecific interest: if I only cover details about the plot or setting, it might make some readers interested, or entertain those already interested, but it won't draw anyone in from search results. Third, I'm going to attempt to keep a more regular posting schedule, since the slapdash application of some half-hearted effort here and there to this blog will never garner enough interest by itself to make anything like the platform I need for support or (fingers crossed!) marketing. Fourth, I'd just like to entertain myself a little more.

Alright, without further postponement, let us proceed to the topic of this post: power.

Power and Coercion

Children of Abeona discusses power in multifarious ways throughout the narrative, and even through the story structure itself: what it is, how to get it, how to keep it, and the effect it has on people — both the people that have it and the people on the receiving end of it. One important thing to note, though, is that it does not cover every meaning of the word power. That would be too much meaning for one humble book to cover. Instead, it focuses on coercive power.

Coercive power is power not wielded by virtue of what one can do for another (for instance, I might be paying your salary), but by virtue of what one can do to another (for instance, if I can steal from you).

This is a pithy definition, and it has good structure and sound, but unfortunately, it leaves a gray area: I can also, to use our foregoing examples, blackmail your boss into withdrawing your salary; this is something I do to you, not for you, but yet I think it is not an instance of coercion as I choose to define it here. This is because the danger that my choice of blackmail has for your boss is based on my withdrawing a benefit I am giving him, instead of taking away a benefit he already had. Likewise, the danger that my choice of blackmail presents to you is derived ultimately from the withdrawal of the poor boss's benefits to you, not his taking away benefits that you had of yourself.

Thus, a clearer definition of coercion might be the application of disutility (damage to a person) through the means of force or fraud — i.e. through the means of taking away a benefit from someone, which they did not have through you, by means that they did not consent to.

Power as Theme in Children of Abeona

This exploration of power in my novel is carried out through the eyes of two primary points-of-view, Aedus's and Cassandra's. There are other recurring points of view, such as Patricius's and Appius's, but they hardly stand up to a comparison with the book's two protagonists, important as they may be as side characters. Aedus's story answers all four of the questions: what is power, how do you get it, how do you keep it, and how does it affect you. Cassandra's point of view explores the first and the last: what is power, and how does it affect you, this time from the point of a recipient of the vices and excesses of coercive power.

The reason for this imbalance is simple: for someone who is in a position of power, all four questions are tightly intertwined: how you gained power influences how you keep it, which influences how it affects you. Meanwhile, for someone on the receiving end of coercive power, all that is really important, unless they are truly paragons of rebellion and resistance, is how it affects you — and how you can survive it. Furthermore, to give Cassandra's experiences the real emotional weight and sympathetic narrative focus they require, I can't attempt to pack anything more into her story lest it be overwhelmed by theme.
One of the things I'm most interested in with Aedus is, why does power corrupt even seemingly well-meaning people? What is it about the power that does this to people, or perhaps more importantly, what is it about these people who seem so good and well-meaning that causes them to stray so far from the path of Right? In this novel, part of my answer is this: the things that you must believe about yourself and others in order to seek or willingly take the reins of the demon-horse that is coercive power are the cracks in your moral foundation, already preparing to destroy you from within. On top of that, the things you must do to secure that power, once you have it, only widen those cracks, prying them apart inch by inch so finally, at last, just as your power is most secure, the foundation crumbles underneath you, and everything else in your worldview that you've built on top of it crumbles as well.

This is how I explain the phenomenon of the unwilling leader and the fact that those in power always seek to retain it, and cannot seem to keep their hands clean. This is why, as I see it, the people best fit to lead, are just those that do not desire too.

As for Cassandra, I'm most interested in this: what changes does a person undergo, in order to survive the tyrannical use of coercive power? What do they have to do to survive, if they are faced with it every day — instead of confronted with it once in a blue moon, and only then well-hidden, as we are in everyday life — and how do they push back against it?

Of course, in light of the fact that I am in the first draft of this narrative, most of these themes for Aedus and Cassandra are not as well-developed and well-realized as they could be and need to be for the final draft. All of this is a work in progress.

Power and Character in Children of Abeona

My whole goal with the characters in this book is to portray, as vibrantly as I can manage, the questions in this book, and perhaps provide answers to them in the form of a convincing narrative. Importantly, I don't intend for the reader to draw the same conclusions I have mentioned above — I seek to represent a certain set of situations and people, and how they develop convincingly in those situations; if the narrative that results resembles the answers I have in mind, as it is already beginning to, that is only partly because I am trying to illustrate those answers, and predominantly because those answers are correct. Hopefully, someone looking at the narrative from the outside will assess it themselves and come to a similar, but not entirely identical, conclusion about what was happening.

In short, I am simulating a human psyche, to watch it develop, where I don't have clear answers about how it might, although I have guesses, conjectures, and perhaps a final picture of what the result should be, and I want the reader to ponder the biography that results, and come up with their own conclusions. Perhaps a character offers one justification for their actions, yet enacts another. I will be unsure why he did that, except that it makes sense, and I will conjecture that it was because he did not really believe what he said; meanwhile the reader will conjecture that it was because his circumstances forced him to change or compromise. This is the beauty of narrative as a method of philosophical investigation: I don't know, for myself, exactly why power corrupts. I know that it does, and I know the situation that must exist for it to do its work, so the best I can do is present a convincing biography of a character, from that situation to the final corruption, offer my thoughts, and then ask the reader:

What do you think?

Comments

  1. That is a very compelling structure. I believe these design goals would, as your own thoughts are placed into it, would garner a wider, or should I say, confluent interest. It also allows for a greater sense of interaction in the development process.

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    1. That's good to hear! Thanks for leaving a comment

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  2. Oh man I don't know if you remember me, it's been a while! (Swimming, early high school) I just stumbled across your blog and I'm finding it all really interesting -- I'd love to take a look at what you've written so far if you care to send it to me! We could catch up on things too!,

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    1. Hi! I do indeed remember you. I actually keep getting alerts about a message you sent me on Facebook, but you sent it to the Facebook account I don't know how to sign in to, lol.

      Yeah I could defiantly send you a manuscript. I'm glad you're enjoying checking out my blog. (:

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