the totalitarian control of a three year old a contextual analysistotalitarianism

Jerome Bixby’s ‘It’s a Good Life’ is a short story following an unusually gifted, three-year-old boy named Anthony Fremont. In spite of his age, Anthony has the capacity to transform other people or objects into anything he wishes, think new things into being, teleport himself and others where he wishes, read the minds of people and animals and even revive the dead. If either citizens or animals of the area do not comply with Anthony’s capricious whim, grim consequences occur, often Anthony placing his victims into cornfields to their grave or ‘vaporized’ into largely soulless bodies, as the case of Amy Fremont.

Bixby’s allows Anthony to gain a heightened power and authority over the small Ohio town because the townspeople regard him in with a toxic mix of tremendous terror through his cult of personality and adoration through appeasement. Indeed, one can interpret that Jerome Bixby imbues Anthony to be totalitarian tyrant, having the set of characteristics of totalitarianism: omniscient, omnipotent, oppressive and often narcissistic.

To supplement one’s understanding of the reasons behind Anthony’s clout, Stephen Spender’s ‘Nations in Goose Step: The Age of Totalitarianism’ will be associated, contrasted and addressed, as one can argue that the central idea of both Spender and Bixby’s work is the “ambition to totalize to bring all aspects of life under the supervision of a central authority” (Spender, 216). In the passage selected, Bixby’s story is at its climax, and speaks to Anthony’s cult of personality the townspeople sense that Anthony has nurtured. We understand that the cult of personality is defined as an idealized, heroic, and, at times god-like public image.

The reader see this development as Dan Hollis is given a surprise birthday party, and in the celebration of the event, Hollis becomes intoxicated and plays a Perry Como record. Anthony despises any kind of singing, even without being present in the room. Hollis realizes his mistake of playing the record, having “suddenly [stopped] laughing and face his got slack, and then it got ugly, and he said ‘Oh Christ! ’” (Bixby, 433). Here, the reader can establish that even without Anthony’s direct attendance, the very act of singing shows the fear of Anthony as omniscient and omnipotent entity, almost as ‘god-like’ figure.

Indeed, this is revered personality of “man who was regarded as a virtual god” (Spender, 216). Despite Hollis’ initial reaction, he continues to behave erratically to the horror of our partygoers and begins to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to himself, to which Anthony’s demigod personality is most prevalent. Ethel Hollis, his wife, screams for her husband to stop. The scene is as if Anthony’s influence were passed down through a “hierarchy of individuals”, as Reilly, Hollis’ wife, and other partygoers are “transmitting his will” (Spender, 216).

As Anthony enters the room, Bixby gives a sense of Anthony’s personality, as the partygoers are simply horrified of prosecution by “everybody freezing” and Ethel Hollis fainting, incapable of screaming (Bixby, 446). This has similar tones not far from the character of one Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin (Spender, 220), where a reporter noted, “[Gide] was put on record the terror of persecution of those who, meeting [Stalin] in secret, dared to criticize the regime” (Spender, 220).

The reader can understand a connection between such a historical figure and Anthony because of the god-like figure, the terror of persecution and the omniscient, omnipotent, oppressive traits that allow these individuals to have a certain cult identity and totalitarian control. Even prior to Anthony releasing his wrath, the reader can also see this idolatry appeasement to him. Pat Reilly plays Night and Day and then Lover, songs that appease Anthony (even though the child is still not present), and to shroud the sounds of ascending discourse and Hollis’ singing.

As soon as Anthony encounters with Hollis, the partygoers then “all tried to smile”, responding to Hollis and Anthony’s encounter as “a very good thing”, “a wonderful thing”, “it’s swell, just swell”, while the passage ends with “Pat played for two hours” (Bixby, 446). This appeasement is central to the broader context of the short story and provides irony to it’s title, as the town’s population must not only act content with the situation when near him, but also think they are happy at all times.

Anthony’s shows characteristics of ruthlessness and adulation with his encounter of Hollis and the partygoers, the reader can compare that historical dictators such as Stalin and Hitler had been similarly “quite ruthless…and the object of as much adulation” (Spender, 218). The ruthlessness that harbors party attendees’ appeasement also transcends to the fear that the townspeople and partygoers have towards Anthony’s total control. The reader can find the Bixby’s portrayal of fear of Anthony in the absence of the details and in Anthony’s presentation.

Indeed, nothing Bixby could come up with is as chilling to the reader as the details and images that will appear, summoned, from the depths of their imaginations. When Anthony “thought Dan Hollis into something like nothing anyone would have believed possible…thought the thing into a grave, deep, deep in the cornfield” (Bixby, 446) — the resemblance of a banishment to GULAG or Nazi concentration camp should be remarked (Spender, 219), but the reader is not sure of the specific implications, but one understands the terror by the partygoers’ response and Anthony’s purple gaze (implying an imperial or shocking gaze).

Prior to this verdict however, it is curious to note that Bixby allowed Hollis to curse in vain to a religious figure, that of Christ. Hollis repeats this phrase, making the phrase “sound like a dirty word” while the Reverend who had also attended the party “said Christ too—but he was using it in a prayer” (Bixby, 433). One would question if Anthony were already fashioned to be a ‘god-like’ figure, why would an individual like Hollis or the Reverend preach to another one.

This can be interpreted to direct the attention of the reader on this transcendental notion, albeit a terrorized one. Certainly, the presentation of Anthony with his “purple gaze” and his total control hardly presents himself as a three-year old, let alone one that can be related to Spender’s portrayal of totalitarian regimes. However, one notes that there are undeniable contrasts between the omniscient, omnipotent, oppressive and often narcissistic characteristics of Anthony and those of nonfictional historical importance.

In a lecture discussing Plato’s The Republic, Plato writes about an idealized society wherein a large significance of a society is practically imperfect, but corresponding to imperfect realities is an unflawed idea (Peck). In Soviet and Nazi context, we can understand that these imperfect realities led to the fall of these societies. In Anthony’s eyes, he lives in similar an imperfect world to which he sculpts his own, perfect ideas into this realm using his own narcissistic and fear mongering reasoning. But what Anthony has which undermines this idealized control is a wholly immature moral judgment due to his age.

This places him part way between the omnipotent power and authority of Soviet or Nazi leaders, to which these leaders placed the same idealized society to an imperfect reality. Indeed, Anthony does not “promise eternal, or near-eternal national glory”, indulge as a “political interest group” nor “open embrace the Big Lie” (Spender, 216). Anthony is consumed with the lawless desires, unrestrained by conscience, advice or external forces. The reader can interpret that the omniscience, omnipotence, oppression and often narcissism are traits to which embody the text of Bixby and Spender’s work.

Total control is defined in Jerome Bixby’s ‘It’s a Good Life’ by unusually gifted, three-year-old boy named Anthony, who in spite of his very young age cultivates a ‘god-like’ figure through his cult of personality and adoration through appeasement. If there was a silver of doubt that the story did not question these dictatorial and fear-mongering themes, the reader would understand the ‘It’s a Good Life’ was written by an American author in the context of the McCarthy era. This context thousands of Americans accused of being Communists or communist sympathizers cements this totalitarian idea.

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