The Great Chain of Being

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation: Volume 1: The Pox Party.

Fourth part: The Great Chain of Being.

What did you think of this last section? Was it ‘astonishing’ or ‘shocking’ or ‘revolting’? Did anything surprise you about how Octavian was being treated?

I thought it started off powerfully:

“They bound me hand and foot; they placed me in a solitary darkness. They put a mask upon my face, with a metal bit between my lips to silence me. They gave me a tongue; and then stopped it up, so they would not have to hear it crying.” (311)

It is sentences like these that pack a lot of punch:

“At long last, you may no longer distinguish what binds you from what is you.” (314)

“And then they imprisoned me in darkness; and though there was no color there, I still was black, and they still were white; and for that, they bound and gagged me.” (316)

“The Latin for ‘slave’–servus–as rendered in English literally is “the spared one”; slaves being those taken prisoner in battle, who should, therefore, by all the rules of engagement, have been slain. In antiquity, slaves possessed no rights as citizens because, though spared, they were accounted dead, and as the dead, could not be admitted as living men; and so, for generations, the dead toiled and bred in Rome; the dead taught Rome’s children the secrets of philosophy; the dead built Rome’s great monuments and tombs; until the Romans themselves joined the dead, and all that remained were tombs, and monuments, and half-remembered terms. So were too these men I worked beside: transformed against their will into the dead; and asked to die again so that they might be free.” (332)

Which sentences struck you as being great or powerful or resonating?

The scene that left me speechless however. The one that I think may just be the most powerful (or one of the most powerful) in the book is the confrontation at the end between Mr. Sharpe and Octavian. The scene where Dr. Trefusis is trying to get Sharpe and Gitney more interested in having tea than in punishing their prisoner. The scene where you really really really come to hate Mr. Sharpe.

“You must understand, God has determined…that some creatures are less, and some more, potent on this earth, and has given to us the stewardship of all, according to our place in the Great Chain of Being.” (says Sharpe)

“I need not be informed,” I said, “about chains.” (says Octavian)

The exchange continues but I was really appalled at the arguments of Sharpe and his cruelty and his whole manner of being.

Were you surprised by the ending? Did Dr. Trefusis’ actions surprise you? I had never paid him much attention earlier in the novel. Just written him off with the others in Octavian’s life that had disappointed him. What do you think the difference was between Trefusis and Gitney or Trefusis and Sharpe? I think it took great courage.

What do you think the book has to say about humanity?

Do you think the use of Psalms throughout the book has been effective? Do you think they have added a richness to the text? Why or why not?

What did you think of the literary style? Was it difficult to follow? Worth the effort? Did you find it tricky or beautiful or both?

Is this a book you’d recommend to others?


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