I was lucky enough to read Beth's book just this week and one of the things that struck me about it was her skillful use of the ship as a microcosm. Here, nestled into one (admittedly HUGE) ship, The Godspeed, we find a mirror image of a larger society--workers, scholars, artists and scientists, and sitting above them all a leadership structure. By Beth distilling all of society down into a more manageable size, it's easier for us to see its structure and also track the movements in the culture as it starts to change.
This got me thinking about how often we see microcosms in YA literature used as a way to comment on the larger society. The most famous example is probably The Lord of the Flies, where William Golding gives us a snapshot of humanity in the lives of a group of British schoolchildren left to fend for themselves on a deserted island. Golding uses his situation to look at the clash between civilization and anarchy, good and evil. In The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier mirrors society with his look at non conformity and the corrupting nature of authority in the power structure of a small boy's prep school.
What Beth seems most concerned with in the microcosm of Godspeed is how lies effect a civilization. I don't want to go into spoilers obviously, but in Across the Universe we see an isolated and deeply interconnected society that must come to terms with the possibility that it may all be built on lies. What does a community do when it discovers this? What if the effect of the lies has, in some ways, been good? What do you do then? Where do you draw the line?
Beth's decision to place her story on a spaceship completely left to its own devices, with death for all just on the other side of a few feet of metal, complicates all of these questions wonderfully. There are no easy answers on Godspeed, Beth seems to suggest, and maybe there aren't for us either.
Have you all noticed any other YA novels using a microcosm to look at society in general? Were they effective? What did they examine? Do you like this technique?
The Eleventh Plague
Coming from Scholastic, Fall 2011