Student Question

How is symbolism or setting used to develop a theme in "The Wretched and the Beautiful?" Answer with a complete paragraph. Explain a specific symbol or setting, a specific theme, and how the symbol or setting develops the theme.

Quick answer:

In "The Wretched and the Beautiful," setting is used to develop several themes. Most importantly, the vacation beach setting of the story helps to convey the theme that we are good at waiting for someone else to help out or take charge in a crisis, even when we are able to help. People in the story have money to spend on hotel rooms and margaritas, yet they refuse to spend money to help the refugee aliens.

Expert Answers

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The setting of the alien landing is described as having "white sands" and being one of the "last pristine beaches on Earth." The narrator also describes the "lurid glow of marquees and brothels." It refers to the numerous hotels in this, apparent, vacation town.

The narrator specifically says that "We were here on holiday, and holidays were expensive." The setting is clearly a place designed for entertainment, a place where people who can afford it go to have fun and relax. Yet the aliens land, trapped in a ship they need help to leave. They are obviously in bad health and have a story about having escaped a process akin to ethnic "cleansing," but no one wants to help them: people are glad to think that someone with more money will assist the aliens. The narrator says,

Most of us averted our eyes from that picture of unmitigated misery and admired instead the gemlike sky, the seabirds squalling over the creamy surf, the parasols propped like mushrooms along the shore. One or two of us edged close to the wreck and dropped small somethings [...] -- then scuttled away.

The beautiful white sand and creamy surf and half-drunk margaritas of the setting contrast sharply with the pitiful picture of the "wretched creatures" huddled together beneath their ship. There are hotel rooms to be had and money that could be spent to help these poor galactic refugees, but all of the people continue to insist that the aliens are not

[their] problem; it belonged to [their] governors, [their] senator, [their] heads of state.

Thus, this setting helps to convey the theme that humans have a tendency to assume that others are going to take care of a problem. It is easy to think that someone who makes more money or has more power will take responsibility for an issue rather than to offer real help themselves. In other words, we pass the buck, waiting for someone else to handle problems instead of trying to handle them ourselves. Moreover, the juxtaposition between the "dazzling beach" and the discomfiting appearance and "crablike" movement of the aliens helps to show that we tend to judge or to see others as totally "other" beings that do not look or act like ourselves despite our other similarities.

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