Thoughts on suicide and colonialism

Beat Not the Bones - Charlotte Jay

This is one of the books that I read for English I and considering some of the reviews that the book received, it seems as if I will be the odd one out on the grounds that I simply did not like it. However a lot of people have compared this book with Heart of Darkness, and that was a book that I really did like. I have put Heart of Darkness on the list of books to read again, so I will try not to say too much about it here. I guess it is because I would like to be a little more familiar with the book before I comment on it, where as for this book I think I will make a commentary without reading it again (not that I actually own a copy of it any more as I gave it to a friend who was studying English the year after me).

It is suggested that this book is a murder mystery as it is about a gold deposit that was found in the mountainous regions of Papua New Guinea and an anthropologist who is living in the region ends up committing suicide, apparently. However his wife, who lives in Australia, does not believe it so she decides to travel to New Guinea to attempt to uncover the mystery and to prove that he did not kill himself. Unfortunately I can't remember all that much about the novel to actually say how it ends, and I raise this because it is not an uncommon theme in mystery stories to try to prove that a suicide is a murder.

It is a difficult concept though because the idea is that a suicide is murder, but translated it means self-murder. Homicide is the murder of another, fracticide is murder of a brother, patricide murder of a father, and so on. However, the problem with suicide is that the culprit and the victim are the same person, so it is not easy to arrest the culprit because the culprit is dead. However, things have changed a lot because it is seen that somebody wanting to commit suicide must be mentally ill and treated as such. In a way I find that a bit disappointing and disrespectful because it is an idea that if you wish to commit suicide then there must be a problem with you namely because no sane and mentally stable person would want to end their life (which is pretty narrow minded in my opinion).

Things are changing somewhat though because it is beginning to be recognised that there are generally external factors that would lead a person to this position. Take an idea where somebody is locked up in gaol and knows that this is what the rest of their life is going to be. The victim is now placed in a position of hopelessness, there is no escape, well, none but an attempt to end one's life. This is a bad example though because, ideally, if one lands up in gaol then one must have done something to put one there (though this is not always the case, and it is pretty narrow minded of me to suggest that). This is not always the case, especially if somebody is subject on going and intense bullying, say a teenager with an alcoholic father (or mother). If the situation is that when the teenager goes to school, he (or she) is subject to bullying, and at home is subject to bullying, there literally is no escape. Wherever the teenager goes the teenager is subject to bullying. As such, there is only one escape.

However, I have moved quite a way away from the main theme of this book, and that is the failures of colonialism (which is said to be the main theme of Heart of Darkness). Colonialism was a problem (and still is with Neo-Colonialism) in that it involves transplanting a society in another land. It worked with the Greeks, apparently they never lost a colony, however it was much different when it came to the British. They actually did lose a few colonies, and also had a lot of trouble transplanting their society into a new realm. The difference that I suspect is that the Greeks colonised the Mediterranean whereas the British colonised the world. With the Greeks, distance wasn't as great, and also many of the colonies were set up in mostly uninhabited regions. This was not the case with Britain, especially when we come to India and China.

However, the book is set in Papua New Guinea, and here we have a vastly different realm to good old England. Like Australia, most of the settlements are on the coast, and even then there aren't that many settlements anyway. Like Australia New Guinea is a pretty harsh land, however in a different way. Australia lacks water and is mostly desert, while New Guinea is mountainous and full of jungle. Even today civilisation does not stretch much inland. This is in a way what the book is about, in that the natural realm will run rough shed over civilisation. We see that in Heart of Darkness, the deeper one travels into the jungle, the more civilisation seems to vanish. Hey, you see this in Australia as you travel further inland into the desert the less civilised the realm becomes. There are places in Australia where it is strongly encouraged that tourists do not go, this is the case with Africa, and New Guinea as well.