Society and The Godspeed

Wow! League of Extraordinary Writers Release Week II! Congratulations Beth! ATU is getting huge buzz out there in the world. What an exciting week this must be!

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?

Jeff Hirsch
The Eleventh Plague
Coming from Scholastic, Fall 2011

Find me at and @jeff_hirsch


Beth Morey said...

I'm not sure if this counts as a microcosm, but I definitely saw a lot of social commentary in Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy. Topics I distinguished included:
- excess, body image, and eating disorders
- corrupt government
- manipulation of the media
I love when authors deal with very real issues. I mean, isn't that why we read, at least in part -- to grapple with reality in a different way?

Mrs. DeRaps said...

I love Pam Bachorz's use of microcosm in Candor. It's a town that is controlled and regulated by an evil gatekeeper of sorts...Dystopias are best when dictators have their own space to control and go crazy.

I am loving Across the Universe. I started it yesterday and only have 75 pages to go!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Interesting thoughts in this post. First, I love what Beth did with the development of society aboard that ship. I was fascinated by the way genetics and information were manipulated.
Second, I just finished reading Brenna Yovanoff's The Replacement. That is a great example of microcosm mirroring larger society. The people of a small town turn a blind eye to the horror that takes place within their community, because they believe life is better if they don't challenge the evil that lives among them. I don't want to give spoilers so I'll leave it at that.

Matthew MacNish said...

I'm not sure it counts exactly as a microcosm, but I saw a lot of underlying themes about socio-economic status, and the environment in Paolo Bacigaluipi's Ship Breaker.