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Monday, March 18, 2013

(Revised) Classics Revisited: The Folk of the Fringe: "Salvage" and "The Fringe"

In "Salvage" one of the yougest members of the "West" trip goes diving for gold in the underwater Mormon church.  But the treasure he seeks isn't what he finds.

"The Fringe" is one of the more enduring of Orson Scott Card'short works.  It features a teacher with palsy, stuck in a wheelchair teaching children of the farmers working The Fringe, a portion of the desert that became arable when weather patterns changed.

As an educator myself, I found myself sympathizing yet cringing for Carpenter, the teacher.  LaVon is the typical bad combination of bright kid who is also the class clown and ne'er-do-well.  This is the kid teachers lose sleep over trying to figure out how to handle him.  Strangely, you rarely see the difficult student in genre fiction.  At first Carpenter's reaction is good--no reaction--but then he resorts to acerbic wit, beginning with a tasty worm and ending with a barb:
"Brilliant essay, Mr. Jensen.  The irony was powerful, the savagery refreshing. Unfortunately, it also revealed the poverty of your soul.  Alcott's title was ironic, for she wanted to show that despite their small size, the boys in her book were great-hearted.  You, however, despite your large size, are very small of heart indeed."
Sometimes retorts work--high school students are just learning and appreciating the power of being a smart aleck--and sometimes not.  It surprises me when it works, actually, but it's a rather new tool to high schoolers and students do enjoy witnessing its wielding.  Nonetheless, I cringed.  And later it doesn't fare so well for Carpenter.  He presses the students a little harder in an economics lesson where he barbs a thinly veiled, anti-stealing sermon.  A few students' parents are involved  in stealing from their colleagues, and Carpenter number-crunches the data to prove it.

Carpenter hands the data over to the authorities who then arrest the parents, leaving the family in a more difficult situation, trying to make ends meet without one of the families' providers.  Carpenter is so confident in the rightness of his actions that he allows his victims to know the name of the man who turned them in.  The boys of the imprisoned fathers decide to exact revenge on Carpenter.  They want to hear him squeal without the aid of his computer.  Carpenter's reaction is heartbreaking, nail-biting, and uplifting.  Much as feels for Carpenter, one also feels the man brought part of it on himself--an interesting complexity of emotion not often experienced in the genre.  Carpenter may be a symbol for Christ--retribution for some, forgiveness for others--a man apparently weak but full of strength.

This piece deserves its place as one of the best representatives of Card's work and the field in general.

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