Relations Between Shuttlecock and Out of This World

Barry J. Fishman '89

Readers of Out of This World cannot help but be struck by the repetition in this new work of several themes and plot structures first presented in Shuttlecock. Although they are "repetitions," these images and thoughts are not "repetitious." Their discovery instead helps to clarify some of the mysteries left after reading Shuttlecock and in turn make Out of This World a more enjoyable novel. The more recent work is used as a vehicle by the author to broaden the appeal of his themes and to tie them in to events to which everybody can relate.

The first and most obvious overlap is the conflict between Harry Beech and his father Robert Beech. Robert fought in World War I and won the Victoria Cross for being wounded in an act of dubious heroism; soldiers quite often threw away live grenades without injury and without winning the VC either. One major difference between this situation and that of Shuttlecock is that in the older work Prentis suspects his father of actively lying about his exploits during the war. All that Robert Beech has done is accept the Victoria Cross, a passive action. The offense that Robert Beech does commit is demanding that his son Harry live up to the heroic standard he has set, a plan that Harry is unable to reconcile against his feelings about the dirty Beech family business of arms manufacture.

The two other areas that directly recall Shuttlecock are of relatively small importance to the work as a whole, yet show promise as developing themes in Swift's palette. The first is brought to the foreground by Sophie, who delivers several long meditations on the fundamental opposition of New York City to the natural world. Her main point is that the natural world is changing shape and that "Nature" is being replaced by "Man-made," and that this might after all be the natural course of history. This is the opposite of the view presented by Prentis in Shuttlecock, that each individual person needs to be a part of Nature and must have some direct contact with the outdoors. The clash between the two characters' views fuel a debate that extends far beyond the confines of Swift's writing. The melancholy tone used by Sophie in her descriptions of New York places Swift on the back-to-nature side of the fence, his admiration for the natural world having been made clear by the detailed Waterland.

The second reiterated theme relates to the first. It is the advent of television and how it replaces the reality of experience with passive viewing. In Shuttlecock Prentis rants and raves at his children for watching too much television instead of being outdoors experiencing real life. Harry's argument is similar, voicing a protest at the way television first replaces reality, and then confers reality to world-wide events. Harry, once an important part of the news media, recognizes that nothing is even considered "news" anymore until the TV press is there to cover it.

Themes that recur throughout an author's career strengthen his ties to a readership. Although the characters and situations vary in many different ways from work to work, the familiar ideas increase a work's accessibility. In Out of This World, Swift makes a large number of his ideas more easily understood by a broader audience. The mere fact that most English reviews were enthusiastically positive while American reviews are only cautiously so and in some respects negative supports this argument.

The English reader will in general be more familiar with Swift's work, while the American reviewer may be approaching Swift for the first time in Out of This World, and experience some confusion over the author's messages. Read together, Out of This World and Shuttlecock complement one another and enhance the reader's experience and understanding.

Postcolonial Web United Kingdom OV Swift OV Out of This World