15 June 2012

+JMJ+

Character Connection 36


Have you joined my June Giveaway yet? I think I've got some really great books to choose from! =)

The latest one has inspired this week's Character Connection post. If you'd like a chance to win it, please enter the giveaway using the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post. (You probably didn't notice, but I just wrote that in my new "English trainer" voice. My boss would be so gratified. LOL!)

Farmer Ben
Elmer: A Comic Book
by Gerry Alanguilan

I rushed towards the window. I saw the poultry start to burn. In the distance I saw the chickens . . . and they were all on fire.

I stood there and I did NOTHING. Part of me was horrified. But a part of me was glad the bastards were burning . . .

I wished I had a gun. I had a crowbar in one of the back rooms, so I ran to get it. As soon as I got there, one of them was waiting for me.

Seeing it stare at me . . . nearly killed me right there. It was either him or me. I was just about to pound the ungodly thing into the ground when it said something. Something I didn't expect.

"Help."

In my first look at Gerry Alanguilan's Elmer, I asked what you would do if all the chickens in the world suddenly became intelligent and self-aware moral agents. The novel gives its characters--and therefore, also its readers--two choices. And both are laid before the character of Farmer Ben, who, at two different times in his life, gets to pick both.

The first time a talking chicken approaches Ben, the latter panics. I can't blame him any more than I can blame the chicken for attacking him in a fit of rage. At this early point in his life, Ben still works in a poultry, fattening and butchering chickens for a living. And that first rooster, newly awake to the barbarity of it all, actually attempts to kill him. If an angry bird called you by name, flew at you in anger, and tried to peck your eyes out, wouldn't you try to defend yourself? (Of course you would.)

You might have noticed that I use the second person a lot when I blog about Elmer. It's just that kind of novel. But although Alanguilan's moral dilemma is inevitably one-sided, and most readers will say that they'd do right by the confused, maltreated chickens, that doesn't make it any easier for someone inside the novel to do the right thing. Indeed, the second time Ben meets a talking chicken and decides he will spare its life, he performs not just an act of mercy, but also an act of faith.

So I shouldn't have been too surprised to read a scene in which Ben, caught in the act of praying before a crucifix, tries to explain his belief in God to one of the chickens he has saved. Edgy satires usually stay away from religion or find a way to poke fun at it. But here Ben (and Alanguilan) are completely sincere (if theologically imprecise)--and the latter's point is that the former's faith in a self-sacrificial God he doesn't always understand is the crucial factor in his final choice.

And it is this which makes Ben more than some generic stand-in for the reader, doing what we hope we would do in the same situation. He has motivations that may be very different from our own--motivations that some of us might even mock. But these should not take away from his kindness or courage. Values are never incidental to a character, whether he is fictional or real. You don't have to believe what Ben does to make the same choice--but the fact is that if he had not been a simple, devout Catholic, the chickens who begged him for help wouldn't have had a chance. 

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Image Source: Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan

5 comments:

Introverted Jen said...

That knee-jerk, "Well, I know I'd do the right thing" is so easy when it's just a philosophical question isn't it? I don't even know what I would do if I were confronted with a talking anything. I'm eying the chicken casserole on the stove as we speak, hoping that discussion stays firmly in the philosophical realm... :-)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

After I read Elmer, I made myself a big chicken sandwich, just so I knew I wasn't taking the message too literally. ;-)

It's also easy to read history and believe we wouldn't make the mistakes of the past will safely ensconced in the present. I think that's why books like Elmer which add a surreal element to the mix are doubly challenging. They don't give us an easy way out.

Thanks again for hosting and commenting! =)

amy said...

"I asked what you would do if all the chickens in the world suddenly became intelligent and self-aware moral agents."

I'd be convicted of murder, involuntary manslaughter, slavery, kidnapping... who knows what else. I'd probably have to spend lots of money making the survivors safe and comfortable. I'd have to re-consider eating chicken for dinner tonight (it's already cooked). We have 30 hens and several roosters. (shudder)

amy said...

"I asked what you would do if all the chickens in the world suddenly became intelligent and self-aware moral agents."

On further consideration (and on a more positive note), I am sure that my husband and I would be the first to know.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

It's a question that can really hit home, isn't it? LOL!

I don't have my copy of Elmer with me, but if I remember correctly, international human rights laws were applied retroactively only to the year the chickens became demonstrably "human." So any killings (and eatings!) of non-intelligent chickens do not count as crimes. We're off the hook! Phew! ;-)