Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Joanne Greenberg’s main concern in “The Supremacy of the Hunza” is with the encroachment of civilization and technology on human society. The central question raised by the events of the story is: What role can, or should, an individual take to preserve a way of life about which he or she feels strongly? The simplicity of the question belies the complexity of the answers suggested by this story. The central characters, Margolin and Westercamp, present two contrasting attitudes toward the question.

Westercamp is an idealist, but his idealism appears at first to be founded in a kind of blind naïveté. He has only a superficial knowledge of more primitive civilizations. They exist for him not as real communities but as symbols of a pristine form of human society that has become overwhelmed by the march of progress. He comes alive when he is working for a cause; he wastes away when he cannot generate enthusiasm for his ideals. His vision is Utopian, and he is willing to work to bring about his ideal society in the real world.

Margolin perceives Westercamp’s activism as folly. Unlike his neighbor, Margolin takes only those steps that he believes will not interfere with his own routines: He calls his lawyer and he calls the power company. These are clearly civilized responses. On the other hand, Margolin has what he believes is a firmer understanding of societies such as the Chontal and the Hunza. His anthropological studies have provided...

(The entire section is 410 words.)