Friday, June 21, 2013

Writings from 2011: Passing Judgment

It seems easy for people to pass quick judgment upon things they don't understand. I have just read two books recently which hit upon this concept. The first book described the situation in black and white. The second gave an example of something which I've seen from experience that few understand unless they've been there themselves.

In The Will of the Empress, by Tamora Pierce, a noblewoman finally returns to her mother's native land where she is cousin to the Empress. There, she finds the land has an old tradition where men are allowed to kidnap a woman to force her hand in marriage. You would think a female on the throne would stop this horrible custom but as the Empress had managed to escape two kidnappings, she had no sympathy.

I have read elsewhere that the strong do not understand the weak. In this story, I was pleased to find the author showed the foolishness of the Empress. It showed the same initial story of being kidnapped, but to women of different resources and abilities. While one woman had friends with power to find and rescue her, another one was left without help. That one was hidden away and starved and hurt until she finally gave in to make it end.

The sad part is that the Empress thought she knew what it was like. She was too proud to see that her position meant her captors would ensure comforts and safety to her person that others wouldn't receive. She wouldn't be tied up and stuck in a box. She couldn't see that it was only because her captors had to be careful not to offend their ruler that she was even able to escape.

And so she judged all other women who had no such protection as weak or secretly happy at the occurrence, as though it were flattering, of marriage by kidnapping.

Oddly, the applicable character in the other story is also royalty. In Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker, two nations have been on the verge of war since the smaller one first claimed independence. To try to hold it off, one king promises his daughter to the other. When the time comes, however, he cannot part with the oldest so he sends the youngest in her stead.

The older princess, fearful for her sister and resenting her lost importance, follows to the threatening capital. There, she is taken in by those she believes are helping her. Months later she discovers that they had actually been using her, manipulating her, to their own ends and even holding her hostage without her even recognizing it.

Even after she knew the truth, her mind wanted to deny it and return to those she had thought were caring for her interests. She wanted to believe things were as they should have been rather than as they were. The moment she saw the truth and the events that came because of it changed who she was. And that changed what she wanted.

The story ends without expressing what effects her choice to leave her princess life behind would have on her or her small nation. I cannot help but imagine, though, that her father and many of her people would have trouble accepting her choice. They would not understand.

Perhaps she would prove a guide in helping them understand those they had judged so arrogantly. Perhaps she could moderate the disdain felt for those who could only find work in the enemy city. One thing is sure: she can no longer see herself as better than those who live in the slums because she understood, in part, their desperate survival.

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