The short story “The Red Bow” by George Saunders superficially is a story about a group of men attempting to find and slay the dogs that kill Emily, the narrator’s daughter. Gradually, the dog hunting becomes more extreme; the hunting group finally launches the policy to kill all animals in the town. In George Saunders’s “The Red Bow”, the story contains the traits of totalitarianism in which the leader uses the propagandas to convince people in the community to totally agree and vote to kill animals to eliminate the threat in response of the death of Emily. These traits--the totalitarian government, the demagogue launching propagandas, and the illogical legislation--in the story imply to readers that this community undoubtedly soon becomes the dystopian society, and lead the readers to recognize the irrationality and injustice of the totalitarian regime.
First of all, a dog hunting team is a model of the totalitarian government. For instance, the group is egocentric and wants everything to go the way they want regardless of the feelings of others. They go to visit Bourne, an old man who considers his dog Cookie as a best friend, and decide to shoot infected Cookie in the field. They just would like to get revenge on the dog by killing it regardless of how mournful Bourne is. Also, they go to Father Terry’s place to check up his dog Merton whether it is infected. Although Uncle Matt has not been sure about Merton’s symptom yet, he arbitrarily shoots it dead, in the name of validity, to make sure that the infection would not be spread. However, the readers learn from Ed’s narration that Uncle Matt hates Father Terry as hell. It is a reason why Matt accuses Terry without any evidences that Father Terry would tell nothing if he notices the symptom of his dog. Impliedly, the readers know that Matt kills Merton not only because he would like to stop the infection but also because he is biased against Father Terry. At this point, the readers notice the hypocrisy of the hunting group, and discern the injustice and insensitivity of it as the tyrannical regime ruled by a small group of people without democratic ideals.
Secondly, Uncle Matt is the representative of a pragmatic demagogue of the state. He is effectively capable of convincing the villagers to have the same idea like him by using his propagandas. He uses a photo of “color-enhanced” red bow with Emily’s photo and “tiny teethmarks” (which is supposed to be dogs’ teeth marks) as symbolic reminders to enhance the community’s anger towards the dogs. Also, he, wearing a T-shirt with Emily’s smiling face on it, holds up the ‘big new bow’ before the crowd to unite the villagers to fight with the brute animals. Moreover, he makes a great persuasive speech as he says, “All of this may seem confusing but it is not confusing if we remember that it is all about This, simply This, about honoring This, preventing This.” He unites the community by getting rid of their confusion at first and convincing the villagers to remember the loss of Emily. Therefore, Uncle Matt can practically propagandize against the animals and induce people to share the same emotion and wrath to agree with his policy to kill all animals in the village. The readers could notice that all propagandas are made up and hardly true. Whoever makes them surely has political agenda which coerce the citizens to worship the state, to think that life under the regime is good and just, and to think that all threats must be completely eliminated.
Besides the dictatorial government and the effective demagogue, the new legislation of community plays a key role in the story. In the story there are some new rules launched after Emily’s death. For example, Uncle Matt and Dr. Vincent claim themselves as the experts and use the scientific knowledge to launch a new policy “Three-Point Emergency Plan” to be a resolution; all animals must receive an “Evaluation”, all “infected or suspected infected” animals must be terminated and burnedat once to prevent the “second-hand infection.” Also, Uncle Matt claims that the evaluation is reasonable because the assessment of finding the suspected infected animals is done by “fair-minded persons.” Furthermore, another violent law is not only against animals but also against humans as Ed’s wife declares, “Kill every dog, every cat. Kill every mouse every bird. Kill every fish. Anyone objects, kill them too.” Obviously, the readers realize that these rules are the trait of dystopian world. The assessment which is judged by so-called “fair-minded” persons cannot be surely objectively accurate; and it does not seem just at all. In addition, the readers surely recognize the illogicality of the strict conformity that the dissenters are not wanted and must be sentenced to the death penalty like the animals. The readers are capable of discovering that the unfair and unreasonable laws launched by the tyranny which could not only fix the problems but also cause more difficult ones.
All in all, in “The Red Bow” by George Saunders, the readers realize the irrationality and injustice of totalitarianism by learning from the depiction of the story which the characteristics of totalitarianism exist through the story. The story makes the readers predict that the community, in the near future, would become a dystopian society ruled by the totalitarian government; Uncle Matt is inclined to be the first leader of the state. Also, the citizens are completely manipulated to do what the state wants; they would comply with the state’s policies just like they always do. They would examine each other; if someone does not follow the norms, they would destroy the dissenters. Therefore, if the readers do not want their societies to become like this community, they must not follow the same way that the villagers in “The Red Bow” do.
Kitipong Metharattanakorn is a senior undergraduate at Thammasat University, Thailand with a major in English Literature and a minor in Sociology and Anthropology. He is interested in feminism, culture and society, gender, and politics. He likes travelling because he wants to know whether I can get away from myself by moving from one place to another.