The Son - A story of the coming leviathan
Hobbes believed the natural state of humans was one of chaos and war - the Hobbesian trap. You might kill me so I will kill you first. He believed, and I agree for what that's worth, that it takes a leviathan, a government, to arise and impose law before people would stop wantonly killing each other.
From where does the leviathan arise? Imagine a warlord with dominion over many tribes. Would he want the tribes to rape and murder each other? No, he would want them to work together to rape and murder the tribes of his competitor warlords. The leviathan arises from our society as it develops. (Read The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker to find out more). In The Son the leviathan is already there, in the East, and it is coming. But it isn't coming fast enough to stop the frontiersmen dying, so that is how they exist, in a state of Hobbesian peril.
The Son describes life with Native Americans, and on the frontier. It is a life Eli loves. Here's what Hobbes has to say about life like this:
Everyone is governed by his own reason and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies.
The Native American tribes lived in this way, and death was abundant and their lives were 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short'. The lives of the frontiersmen were much the same. If someone steals your horses they steal your livelihood, they decrease your chance of survival, and they must die. It seems bad but you or I would feel the same way.
The pre-leviathan society is awful, but many years ago in my European past. This is not the case in America: parts of America are young and the rage against the constraint of the leviathan is still felt. The Son is about the birth of the American south, it is about the civilising of the south. It is a story from the frontier, an exciting pre-civilisation story that is fresh and recent. It is romanticised. Part of me finds this distasteful, but this is ludicrous. We may abhor real violence, but we still gorge on it on television and in video games. It is suppressed and we would be horrified by a public hanging, but when I was 14 I played a video game that let you dismember your enemies with a gun, or shoot out their stomach and watch their intestines flood out. We love violence, and the type of violence in The Son is still in our minds.
The Son is not a fantasy. There is realism: the deaths, the land, the economy, the society, the buildings, the fauna and flora, the language. There is realism and enthusiasm for much of the life that could be lived out there. But the violence is matter-of-fact. Occasionally it strays into titilation, but it is not glorification. The life is romanticised, but it is not admired. It is there, as it would have been. And it vanishes through the generations, as it should. But what about the people who live through these times? What happens to them? What do they pass on to each other? How do they navigate the changes? This is the story told in The Son.