colour code of conduct
So imagine that you are walking down a busy street, Saturday shopping as per usual. Suddenly there is someone walking towards you and you notice that everyone else is giving them a wide berth. Their bright, red face is turned down, covered with a hood, never truly able to be hidden. You know this person is different and you even know a category if not the specifics. This person committed murder.
In this week’s novel, visibility serves as the punishment. Instead of simply giving away pictures and details of all criminals, they are actually made visible signs of their wrongdoings; Red means murder, Yellow a misdemeanour, Blue a child molester. There are also Oranges, Purples and Greens, although those are not discussed fully. In the book, this method is justified by the expensive nature of prisons, chroming revealing itself as the cheaper, easier option. The scary thing is, it sounds very plausible. This method also has the benefit of everyone being able to play the role of judge and jury. There isn’t a place where a criminal can escape their sentence as they are monitored in every way possible. Releasing the criminals to walk among “normal” people is safer, I suppose, since everyone knows what is going on.
It is also clearly an effective form of punishment. Seclusion from the society may work in preventing criminals from repeating their offences but it also somewhat frees them from the outside reaction to their crimes. In the context of this novel’s system, the punishment is isolation within the society. Especially since it is a novel and therefore less blatantly visible, one can forget Hannah’s skin colour. However, there is always a situation or a person around her to remind us of the fact. I wonder which one feels worse, being in prison among other convicts, enclosed and trapped or being out and having to relive what happened through other people every day of your sentence.
One assessment the reader has to deal with is whether they are against Hannah or with her. This is made rather easy, at least for Western, pro-choice readers. In the society Hannah lives in, abortion is illegal and therefore the reason she is chromed. Personally, since I come from an education and judicial system that teaches me that abortion is allowed within certain limits and being void of any religious view that would restrict me, I immediately side with Hannah. This may prove harder for a person with a stricter view on abortion.
Again, I find a novel where women are defined by their reproductive abilities. Hannah’s society has endure a Great Scourge, forcing women to turn into breeding machines. Okay, that might have been a bit harsly worded, but is does remind me of the world of The Handmaid’s Tale (rather than the original inspiration The Scarlet Letter, that connection was completely lost on me…). In both novels, women are categorised according to their ability to bear children, however, in this novel is it not so clear. But who can read these two novels and not make Alyssa a Wife in blue and Hannah a Handmaid in Red?! I’m hoping what I’m reading is a form of criticism towards the nature of things now and not a all-too-good premonition… Anyway, at least the story is well written.
– Jatta –