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From: Michael Straight <straight@email.unc.edu>
Subject: (urth) Westwind (spoilers)
Date: Fri, 10 Oct 1997 14:50:11 

[Posted from URTH, a mailing list about Gene Wolfe's New Sun and other works]

On Thu, 9 Oct 1997, Jim Jordan wrote at the end of a post about Holly

> 	Lemme reiterate that some allegories are specific and some are very vague.
> In Wolfe, "Westwind" is pretty specific, while "The Man in the Pepper Mill"
> is pretty vague.

I'm inclined to disagree with you about Westwind.  I've seen your list of
a=x, b=y, c=z for that story, but I don't think an allegorical reading,
where each element of the story represents a specific thing or concept in
the real world, is the best one.  

I think the most interesting way of reading the story is to consider the
story and the situation it presents as a whole and how it compares to
real life epistomological uncertainty and Christian faith.

If you are not thinking about God or Christian faith when you read the
story, it may come across as a typical (almost sf-cliche) "Blade
Runner-type" scenario.  The setting is a tavern/hotel in the future, but
it's just as poor, dirty and grungy as some of the worst that can be found
in cities today.  Meanwhile on the big TV screen, the commoners get a
message from the Leader who lives in comparative beauty and luxury.  He
tries to sound benevolent, but the commoners see through the politician's
happy-talk and are more intersted in the game.

Then it gets interesting.  Some of the commoners seem quite devoted to
this Leader, even though they live in a world of poverty and
suffering, the woman recently preyed upon by someone.  We soon find the
reason for the young man's loyalty, he is secretly "Westwind," a friend
and spy for the Leader.  

However, in a surprise ending, we find that the blind girl and the owner
of the tavern *also* think they are "Westwind" and have same kind of
communication link with the Leader.  Obviously, the Leader is using some
kind of computer technology to simultaneously pretend to talk with many
people at once.  Or maybe the Leader is himself just a digitized computer
personality.  Thus, people of goodwill are co-opted away from any thoughts
of overthrowing the government and improving their lot because each thinks
he or she has a special, unique link with the Leader.  A perfect sf-method
of social control.

Or is it?  True in many sf stories the leaders in charge who live in
luxury are the bad guys, but maybe this Leader is different.  Maybe he
really does love each of those people.  Maybe he's more than human, and
genuinely able to converse with many people at once.  But if he's so good
and powerful, why are his people living like this?

Now, I have to admit that this isn't the way I initially read the story,
because in the anthology I read, Wolfe introduced it by saying it was
about God, so I started out assuming the Leader was good and only
afterwards saw the other, more sinister interpretation.  But I think it's
fruitful to compare the story as a whole and the different thoughts and
emotions it raises to the different perspectives people have of trying to
reconcile the ideas of a good, loving God who has a personal relationship
with each of his people, with the suffering people experience. 

If you have faith that the Leader really is good, in spite of appearances,
then the portrayal of the intimate, personal relationship, of speaking
together privately before bedtime, is very moving.  If you don't, then the
whole thing is revolting.  Obviously, Wolfe chooses the first way of
looking at things (and so do I), but nothing about the story forces you to
interpret it that way, which is part of why I think it is so great.


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