Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 403
Ted Margolin, an anthropologist and university professor, commutes to work from his home in the mountains because he enjoys the unspoiled surroundings. His serenity is suddenly broken by the installation of ninety-foot power lines across the countryside. He protests through his lawyer, to no avail. Then he is invited to a citizens’ protest meeting, where Larry Westercamp, an avid campaigner for citizens’ rights, tries to enlist his active support in helping to fight the installation of the lines. On the way home, Westercamp fumes to Margolin about how he is especially angry at having been made the butt of a humorous television news clip in which he was seeding a stream with trout while the state’s governor was fishing downstream.
During the next weeks, Margolin is besieged with telephone calls and mail seeking his support for various causes. He becomes irritated with what he sees as an infringement on his personal life. When he speaks to Westercamp again, he is curt and evasive about his unwillingness to become personally involved in the protest over the power lines. In the course of the conversation, Westercamp explains to Margolin how civilization has ruined the harmony enjoyed by primitive societies such as the Chontal Indians. Margolin, with superior knowledge of ancient settlements, counters Westercamp’s Utopian vision with hard facts about the primitive lifestyle that Westercamp idealizes.
The power lines continue to disturb Margolin, but he goes on with life during the fall; he learns later from Westercamp that the protest movement is almost dead. In December, Margolin goes to the state hospital to help therapists there on three cases involving Indians. He leaves home believing that his knowledge of ancient cultures may be of some help; he returns sobered, realizing that the Indians he sees are far removed from their culture and have become victims of “civilization” in its worst form. Almost immediately on returning, he calls Westercamp, who is now trying to solicit support to stop water pollution. On this occasion, Westercamp laments modern society by comparing it to the civilization of the Hunza, a Tibetan group. Though Margolin knows that this vision is flawed, he says nothing to change Westercamp’s opinion. The conversation disturbs him so that, unable to sleep all night, he rises early in the morning and begins hurling a primitive spear, which he keeps to show his classes, to release the tension he has built up inside himself.
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