Moral Disorder

I recently finished Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood, who may may know as the auther of A Handmaiden’s Tale.

It was an interesting collection of stories, there were times when I wasn’t sure if the stories were related by women in a particular family or simply by the question of morality. And as for the question of morality, I’m a black and white kind of girl, I try hard not to deal with grey areas, because when you do acknowledge the grey areas, in for a penny, in for a pound starts to happen. You know the mental bargaining that starts to happen, ‘if a was okay, and if b is slightly different than a, surely a and b are the same, thus both a and b are okay, right?’

But it made me think of an interesting question, as a child, if you feel that ‘a’ was the moral way to be, but as an adult you think otherwise, were you a terrible child? And that made me think of this boy from elementary school. I lived in a small suburban town outside of Houston for most of my time in elementary and there was the typical small town, everyone-knows-everyone-and-everyone-else’s-business kind of relationships. Keep in mind this was during the 1980s, when not too many people, at least in the South, didn’t have one-parent households. In my memory, which admittedly was bad at times, I can remember only one child with divorced papers (but they did have step-parents) and only one that had only one parent (the other one left). He wasn’t a bad kid, but you kind of felt awkward around him, especially when we had to read a book, do a project, etc. concerning fathers. To my knowledge (but I really didn’t talk to anyone, I was too shy for a variety of reasons) no one made fun of him or was cruel to him for not having a father, not like I’ve witnessed while I’ve been teaching, but no one was exactly friendly to him.

I’ve had an aversion to liars, I really don’t know why, but I do, and I remember the last time that I saw him. FUN GEOGRAPHY LESSON: in the late 1980s, 1990s, I lived in the last subdivision before the farmlands and the trailer parks, this little boy lived past me. It was in the middle of summer right after fourth grade, which was a big deal because all four elementary schools filtered into the one middle school, at least in those days, we were both at the neighborhood video rental store, I casually asked him how was his summer going and he told me this fantastic summer. But deep down I knew that he was lying and he knew that I knew he was lying.  And wierdly/oddly that was the last time that I ever saw him, I’m not really sure what happened, but reading these short stories made me think of him.

In the majority of the stories in the book, one of the characters suspends their beliefs so that they can be considered normal or to not hurt another character’s feelings. I really don’t like lying, if I think that a person’s lying to me, it hurts, and if I think they’re lying about me, I generally don’t have a problem cutting them off. But in that moment, he just wanted to be normal, to be considered, just another normal kid, and I let him. He lied, we both know it, but was it a bad lie? It’s that weird grey area that I was talking about. So all other times, it’s bad to lie, but his lie made him feel normal, so it was a good lie, that’s definitely a case of  moral disorder in my book.

I like Margaret Atwood’s books, because there always seems to be some kind of topic to think about, a question of morality to ponder, a what-if question, I don’t always like the particular subject, but it makes you think and think about your own life…at least it does for me.


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