How is violence as a theme explored in 'Doctor Brodie's Report' (title story)?
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This story takes the form of a manuscript by a Scottish missionary doctor, Dr Brodie, chronicling the ways and customs of a remote Brazilian tribe whom he designates 'Yahoos', thus recalling the degenerate humans of Swift's famous satire, Gulliver's Travels. Violence is a pervasive feature of life in this tribe, who appear utterly primitive in their outlook and manners. For instance, their king is deliberately mutilated, having his eyes cast out and his hands and feet amputated before he can take up his position of dubious honour. They mete out capital punishment to anyone accused of an offence, without any kind of trial.
However, the violence in this society is presented in a very matter-of-fact way. The members of the tribe themselves accept it as a matter of course, and this feeling is reinforced by the scientifically-detached manner in which the doctor relates his account. It is true that there is the occasional hint of a more emotional reaction on his part, such as when he declines to describe in detail the tortures an accused man has to got through, as it is too horrible, but generally his narrative remains that of the impartially curious observer. The feeling of detachment from the violence is further accentuated by the fact that the overall narrator of the piece is not Dr Brodie, but an unnamed character who presents Brodie's chronicle (which happens to be incomplete) to the reader. This increases the sense of distance from the violent events that are recounted.
It should also be noted that Dr Brodie also talks positively of this tribe at the end of the story - or more accurately, at the point at which the chronicle breaks off. Although their lives may appear exceptionally primitive and nasty. given over to degrading customs and savagely violent spectacles, Brodie points out that they do have institutions, a king, a language of sorts, some sense of beauty (for instance, they appreciate poetry, of a kind), and the notion of life after death. Brodie goes on:
After their fashion, they stand for civilisation much as we ourselves do, with our many transgressions. I do not repent having fought in their ranks against the Apemen.
Dr Brodie, then, regards this tribe as being not so fundamentally different from modern civilisation after all. This is a rather unexpected judgement, which might cause the reader to ponder the true nature of civilisation more closely. Moreover, Dr Brodie appears to have fought alongside this tribe against their enemy, the Apemen, which leaves the reader rather uneasily wondering just how far he may have assimilated himself with this strange, remote tribe.
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