Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 409

Pastoralia, by George Saunders, analyzes the utter monotony and tedious reality of working meaningless jobs under a capitalist system. In Pastoralia, the unnamed protagonist works as a caveman at an amusement park. His coworker, Janet, is the cavewoman who accompanies him in their cave setting. The two must constantly be in character, even though there are often no visitors to their exhibit. Their day is filled with boring tasks as they fulfill the spectacle of their roles with little-to-no audience. Their meaningless and unfulfilling work can be compared to any number of tedious jobs that people must take in order to survive under this system. In this novella, the protagonist experiences an internal conflict over whether he should report the unsatisfactory performance of his coworker, Janet, as she continuously breaks her character throughout the day. Janet represents the understanding that most jobs under capitalism are unfulfilling, meaningless, and that we should not be dehumanized through the expectation that we enthusiastically throw ourselves into working jobs that provide no fulfillment in our lives. Additionally, Janet and the protagonist are not receiving their daily meal of a goat, and Janet breaks character to speak of her anger with not receiving their meal. Janet refuses to simply play the part and go along with the expectation that she perform perfectly no matter the oppression she faces at her work. However, the protagonist represents a worker who simply accepts his oppression and chooses to work diligently regardless of the unfair circumstances that he is put in. While he shows solidarity with Janet throughout most of the novel by not reporting her, he eventually succumbs to the pressure of his boss to report Janet, and the result is that she is fired from her job in the midst of her struggling to care for her elderly, sick mother and her son being sentenced to ten years in prison. The protagonist chooses to side with the company that routinely shows no care for its employees. The actress that replaces Janet is an enthusiastic worker who readily accepts the oppression of capitalism, and the new actress and the protagonist continue to work in the artificial cave. The ending of the novel displays how bosses can simply and easily dispose of workers without having to change any of their practices. As long as workers sell one another out, the system will have a steady supply of labor, and those who express their dissatisfaction will be easily replaced.

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Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 443

Saunders adopts an informal, chatty, and sometimes slangy tone throughout the twenty-six short chapters of “Pastoralia.” By this means, he creates an atmosphere close to that of the office place of the 1990’s or later, even while the characters are busily roasting goats or banging stones together. He adds to this evocation of the business world in other ways, the most prominent of them being the repeated use of fax machines, memos, and notes. These appear regularly, unlike supervisors or family members, each of whom are represented by only a single physical appearance.

Despite its mechanical nature, the fax machine carries the messages in the story having the most emotional weight because almost all the interactions between the narrator’s and Janet’s family members take place by means of this device. In this way, the organization effectively stands between the main characters and their families. The only family member to visit, Janet’s son, does so by slipping around corporate barriers without paying the entrance fee. In other words, criminal conduct enables personal contact.

Saunders also uses faxes and memos to underline the hypocrisy of the organization, in part through the use...

(The entire section contains 2770 words.)

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