What themes and what critical theories can be applied to "In Persuasion Nation" by George Saunders?

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Saunder's story can be understood in a number of ways. First, it can be understood as a kind of allegory, or symbolic story, in which the "characters"—the elements of television commercials—represent certain forces in society. In this analysis, the "Slap-of-Wack" character can be understood as a kind of ultra dogmatic cultural conservative who lacks belief is in the empty forms of the "vignettes" or commercials that everyone is doomed to repeat endlessly. It can be understood as a satire of modern consumerism, in which the irrationality of the vignettes pervades reality while the real ideological forces behind existence (buying and selling) remain unexamined and are in fact forbidden topics.

It can also be thought of in existential terms, in that the all the characters are caught in a meaningless, repetitive cycle of events, of which they are conscious yet they are powerless to escape—except in the case of the Polar Bear, by suicide. The end of the story calls even that solution into question, however, in that it suggests that new vignettes are not created by the outside forces of capitalism but by the characters themselves.

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