For my summer reading, I chose Scythe by Neal Shusterman, and I enjoyed it so much that I got the second book, Thunderhead. The novel takes place in a dystopian future where issues like death and poverty have been eliminated. In order to keep the population under control, “Scythes” are appointed to “glean” (kill) a certain quota every year. The story follows Citra, a Junior Scythe, who finds herself in the middle of increasing turmoil within the Scythedom. Although she despises her responsibility of ending people’s lives for good, she knows she must keep her role as a Scythe in order to quell the corruption emerging around her. Like “Escape from Spiderhead,” if not more, the premise of this story is highly absurd. However, that doesn’t mean it fails to relate to Benjamin’s theory of mutual recognition.
In this novel, society has lost all respect for individual life. With no such thing as death, the lives of people seem to have little value. In this world, it is apparent that no one thinks about anyone else. In fact, when a Scythe is finished gleaning someone, their family cares more about receiving immunity for a whole year than their recent loss! This is the complete opposite of mutual recognition.
Additionally, I find it crazy to think that the heroin of this story takes pride in the fact that she, unlike other Scythes, gives her unfortunate victims a month to decide how they wish to die: “Of course, this method of gleaning [creates] double work for her – because she [has] to face her subjects twice. It [makes] for an incredibly exhausting life, but at least it [helps] her sleep at night” (31). That is how low the bar is!
I take this book as a warning as to what can happen if we, as a species, completely lose sight of Benjamin’s theory. She says that in order to establish healthy identities/relationships we need to not only see ourselves as worthy entities, but also others. If we can’t value each and every person as a unique and important story, then perhaps we will find ourselves gleaning one another someday…