What is the author trying to convey through the persistent violence in The Clearing? Is it gratuitous?

Through the persistent violence in The Clearing, the author is trying to convey the fraught class relations between the working class and the owners of production in industrialized America. This is not particularly gratuitous due to the historical context that this story was based on, which includes examples of bloody situations similar to this one.

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One could argue that the violence in The Clearing isn't gratuitous as it represents an accurate historical portrayal of a very violent period in American history.

The mill workers depicted in the story lead lives of unimaginable hardship. Throughout their whole lives they have been brutalized by their environment, and so it's no surprise that they should resort to violence so readily as a means of expressing themselves. This isn't to say that these men are somehow not responsible for their actions, but Gautreaux clearly wants to emphasize the social roots of violence and how violence, of one sort or another, forms the basis of antagonistic class relations between the owners of the means of production and the working-classes.

One should also bear in mind that the kind of bloody feud depicted in The Clearing was a common occurrence in those days, and a bloody feud is precisely what the labor dispute between Randolph and the laid-off mill workers has become. During such feuds, no act of violence was considered too extreme or too excessive. All was considered fair in love and war. So the appalling depths of violence depicted in the novel are both historically accurate as well as essential from a dramatic standpoint.

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There is indeed a lot of violence throughout the novel, but I would argue that it is far from gratuitous. In answering this question, one needs to look at the historical time period in which the story is set. This was a time of labor unrest, in which an increasingly restless workforce ranged itself against bosses who'd previously had things their own way. Inevitably, such conflict rapidly degenerated into violence, and large-scale disturbances frequently broke out across industrialized America.

An example of one such disturbance, albeit fictionalized, is given to us in The Clearing. After Randolph makes the fateful decision to shut down the local mill, the workers don't take it lying down. They embark upon a campaign of vengeful violence, which has an intensely personal aspect to it. Though extreme, such violence isn't in any way gratuitous as it's perfectly in keeping with how feuds—and a feud is precisely what this labor dispute has become—were conducted.

In depicting violence in such graphic terms, Gautreaux is attempting to illustrate the fraught relations between the classes at that point in American history. Even today, many people still hold to the comforting myth of America as a classless society. In showing us the true nature of class relations in a capitalist society, red in tooth and claw, Gautreaux is challenging that myth in the most empathic way imaginable.

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