The beauty of Margaret Peterson Haddix' AMONG THE HIDDEN is that it’s a simply told tale about some very heavy, thought- provoking subjects. Today, I want focus on the class system she's built in this unnamed country some time in the near future.
Jen’s father tells Luke that after the famines and the riots that followed, the government—one that believed in democracy—was overthrown, and the despot who came to power offered the two things people wanted: food and order. The class system—the Barons and everyone else—was a conscious decision to control the populace. The Barons—who run the government—want to protect their privileges. And the poor are kept too busy working and surviving on less and less. So neither class openly questions or dissents. All in the name of productivity.
It works in the context of the story. The government takes Luke’s family’s land for a subdivision of Barons. The Garners lose their ability to support themselves, and Luke’s father gets fined for trying to raise food indoors. Luke’s family is constantly made to work harder for less and less.
Far fetched? Not so much.
In the very early years of the industrial age, factory workers, mostly fresh off the farm, didn’t quite have the 9-5 (or in their case, 9-9 or later) grind beat into their souls yet. They got paid by the piece, and when they had enough money to pay for the necessities, they simply didn’t work. They even invented a new holiday, Saint Monday, which was usually observed after a late Sunday night at the tavern.
As you can imagine, this piecework arrangement didn’t last too long. Employers wanted factories running full tilt all the time. So manufacturers had to figure out how to get workers to actually work full days and full weeks. Incentives and increased pay didn’t entice people. Given the choice of earning more or working less—provided that the base pay was enough to cover expenses—most people then chose time over money. They chose to honor Saint Monday. So employers started paying less, as little as possible even, in order to force workers to put in more hours just to make ends meet.
So Haddix is right on the money, so to speak, about how the powers that be (whether governments or corporations) try to control the workforce.
How else did the government of Luke’s world control its people? Fear? Privilege? Food? Discuss. (And for your book club listening pleasure, check out Billy Bragg's "Saint Monday" below.)