historian from a future in which the Revolution (i.e., the Socialist Revolution) has succeeded, resulting in an apparent utopia -- though we are never given much information about this future world. Meredith introduces and annotates the "journals" of Avis Everhard, herself attempting to relay her past life with Ernest Everhard and the first revolts -- all of which fail. We know from the start that both Avis and Ernest are dead, the latter due to some form of execution, but that their desires to see some form of change will find their realization some 700 years later. The confusing narrative structure is probably best understood in terms of time:
- Anthony Meredith is writing from 700 years into the future
- Avis Everhard is writing in the 1930s about events that took place roughly between 1912-1917
- Ernest Everhard's speeches occur in Avis' recent past
What is important about these shifts is how they relate to the political climate of London's 1908 present, and to the same climate that drove the early Dystopians to begin the literary tradition of critiquing utopian social concepts (more prevalent in Europe and the surrounding territories than in the U.S. in the last 1800s to the early 1900s).** The Iron Heel directs much of its attention on the same issues that were a concern of the Progressives (see these sites on The Progressive Era for historical details): rapid industrialization, commodification (the early stages, that is -- not what Fredric Jameson would identify with the cultural commodities of the Postmodern Era), social strife (women's rights, early African American rights movements, etc.), and so on were all important issues of the time. In particular, London's "hero," Ernest Everhard, takes the form of the revolutionary who wants to set right a world of economic inequality/monetary totalitarianism and to prevent or destroy the Oligarchy (The Iron Heel itself), which, by the end of the book, manages to reduce most of society to absolute poverty (in a nutshell).***The Machine Stops"), like many writers that followed in the wake of the First World War, was one of the first to do just what I am describing, and his work, whether directly or otherwise, influenced dystopian literature through the pre- and post-Second World War periods, from Sinclair Lewis' fascist dystopia in It Can't Happen Here (1935) to Yevgeny Zamyatin's satire of the Soviet Union in We (1921)(not in chronological order, obviously). The trend continued through George Orwell in his most famous works, 1984 (1949; apparently influenced directly by The Iron Heel and We, if Michael Shelden is to be believed in Orwell: The Authorized Biography (1991)) and Animal Farm (1945) -- both works deeply concerned with totalitarian forms of government (a common trend); to Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" (1961) -- a dystopian look at radical equality; Alan Moore's V for Vendetta -- totalitarianism again; and P. D. James' Children of Men -- an allegory of reproductive rights.
What do you think about all of this? Feel free to leave a comment.
*I am not properly representing Andrew's argument here. I recommend checking out the discussion on The Skiffy and Fanty Show.
**This is not to suggest that the U.S. dystopian movement was not significant. It was, but you'll find a much more concentrated mass of dystopian works in Europe during the aforementioned time period, while the more contemporary moments are dominated by American texts. I could be wrong on this front, though.
***While London imagines the Oligarchy as the end result of monopoly or market capitalism (or boom-and-bust capitalism), the true brunt of the novel, as I see it, is fascism through an incredibly affluent class. The Oligarchy, after all, ceases to be a capitalist government after a while, dominated by what Ernest identifies as the compulsion to expel excess capital (which it refuses to spend on making the lives of individuals better). Thus, the Oligarchy uses its political weight, derived from its original wealth, to create a virtual slave class of laborers and homeless citizens, which it lords over through coercion and violence (if you join the socialist revolution, you will likely die within five years).
****I couldn't find any reviews from around the publication date of The Iron Heel. I'm sure they exist, but my initial academic searches came up empty.
*****I recommend reading The Iron Heel, though, if only to explore the political depth of London's work, which are not discussed as often in relation to his more popular novels, White Fang and The Call of the Wild.
******If you have any suggestions for political dystopias originally written in a foreign tongue, feel free to let me know in the comments.