Babel A4: Family and identity


It strikes me that Robin is very isolated and lonely. His family died in the start, his father denies their relationship and pretty much ignores him, his half-brother is a fugitive, and we know very little about his friends at Oxford. Why do you think this is? Is it an expression of the fracturing and oppression of empire? Is it Kuang's way of giving us an outsider's view of Britain?

Why is Robin male? Why that privilege? Is it so he can pass as a white man? Will that be important?

Griffin is there, I think, to show what Robin could become if he were just a bit less useful to the Empire. Do you think it's important that they're half-brothers? Will they form a closer relationship?


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    Yes, Robin is definitely lonely at first. It’s probably important to isolate him, which is maybe a discussion for the end. I think there‘s a lot of path not taken to explore. Why Robin is male is interesting. I don’t know, but would be interested to hear theories in the final discussion.
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    To some extent this is a loneliness that many undergraduates face as they move out from whatever family and friends they might have had in childhood, and move into an environment that can be fun but is also deeply challenging and at times highly competitive. The 19th century setting allows the more brutal side of competition to come out much more forcefully than would be the case now (eg the treatment of those not successful in their exams).

    In my (admittedly limited) experience, university friendships seemed really deep and tight while studying, but have not survived the passage of years in comparison with childhood friends and work colleagues. I wonder if university friendships are more based on shared experience of difficulty rather than any actual commonality of interests and the like?

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    What is Robin's core identity, and where does he "belong"? I think the Robin of Book 2 belongs nowhere, and he knows it. He is, and will always be, a tolerated intruder in the British ruling class, accepted only so long as he's useful. He's an artisan, not an aristocrat: Robin works for a living. But he has nowhere else, and no-one that really accepts him for who he is.

    University friends, I think, suffer from the curse of distance. After living in each others' pockets at university, everyone goes their separate ways and builds new lives. It's hard to maintain the connections that made sense in another context.

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    At the end of Act 1, Robin faces a test of whether he will stay loyal to his adopted and imperfect Babel community or join Hermes (a perhaps more sinister community). At the end of Act 2 that question is put to him again under different parameters. He also has a third community, that of his friends, who didn’t play a role in the first choice, but did in the second.
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    It has to be like this to set up the colonizer/colonized hammer target. Everything in this book is in service to that message.

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