As I read through Albert Wendt’s Black Rainbow, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. As Wendt’s novel progresses, the reader is gradually introduced to the “utopia” he has created for his characters. And just like Burgess’, Wendt’s utopian society seems rather dystopian for everyone involved.
Wendt’s novel begins on an impersonal level. We do not know the narrator’s first name, nor do we know intimate details about him or his family. We are introduced to the Tribunal, the be-all-end-all of human happiness, and we seen our narrator set off on a perilous journey to reunite with his missing family. We are given little information, and become desensitized to what is happening. Soon enough we realize that citizens are getting brainwashed, histories are disappearing, and only those favored by the Tribunal are granted a somewhat happy life. “Histories can be erased”, the Tribunal tells us, “Erased and replaced with histories that please us” (65). And while this may seem an ethical conundrum to some, apparently it is rather pleasing to those who may want to forget their past.
This erasing of histories, though, has its pitfalls. As we have seen in A Clockwork Orange, those that have their mentalities altered aren’t necessarily “fixed”. Alex (Clockwork) is cured of his twisted mind and delivered from his deviant past, but becomes dull and insincere. His goodwill is not freely chosen, but operated by a higher power. He essentially becomes a machine, just like our narrator in the first half of Black Rainbow. Though he is searching for his family, he has no problem committing crimes or killing people in order to find them. This weirdly controlled, emotionless state calls into question the benefits of utopian society. Is a perfect world really desirable if we must surrender every negative aspect of our true selves in order to attain it? We know Alex ended up unhappily. We can only wonder what will happen to our poor narrator.