What is a collective voice in literature? How is it in The Wives of Los Alamos?

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andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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A collective voice is the voice of a group which could either be a community, a particular racial group, gender, sexuality etcetera. What makes it a collective is that the members in the group speak with one voice, as in the novel. Experiences are not individualised, it is a joint experience. The collective speaks in unity and in unison, because the desires, hopes, dreams, challenges, frustrations, joys and sadness are the same or at least, similar. The group speaks and acts on behalf of the individual. The voice of the group is also the voice of the individual and vice-versa. This becomes possible because the experience is a shared one.

TaraShea Nesbit's beautifully constructed novel uses a first person plural narrator to convey and reinforce the idea of the collective voice of all of the women. Women who were essentially dragged to a desert where their husbands were working on a top-secret government project: the development and eventual construction of the atom bomb.

The novel's focus is how these wives managed to cope in these difficult circumstances, their responses to being uprooted and placed in a harsh and foreign environment. The men, though important figures, become secondary in the narrative. Their importance and function is recognized, but what is most essential is the collective voice of the women caught in this situation.

Although the author does, in many instances, relate individual experiences, the primary purpose of the novel is to indicate how these women were caught in circumstances and  conditions which had become a shared experience. The overwhelming effect is that the reader empathizes with the women on a collective level instead of on an individual one, because each individual woman's experience is also the shared experience of all the other women in this harsh environment 

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