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Unsheltered


A timely novel that explores the human capacity for resiliency and compassion.
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Discuss Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver:
How are Mary Treat's eccentricities related to her strengths? In what ways is her friendship especially valuable to Thatcher? What is the role of the scientist in times of social upheaval?

Created: 10/16/18

Replies: 2

Posted Oct. 16, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 1815

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How are Mary Treat's eccentricities related to her strengths? In what ways is her friendship especially valuable to Thatcher? What is the role of the scientist in times of social upheaval?

How are Mary Treat's eccentricities related to her strengths? In what ways is her friendship especially valuable to Thatcher? What is the role of the scientist in times of social upheaval?


Posted Oct. 31, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JLPen77

Join Date: 02/05/16

Posts: 259

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RE: How are Mary Treat's eccentricities related to her strengths? In what ways is her friendship especially valuable to Thatcher? What is the role of the scientist in times of social upheaval?

I think our eccentricities, what conventional people might consider our failings, are all expressions of our strengths. It's a matter of how we use those strengths. Mary Treat was by nature an introspective person, and a passionate person (in the sense of being able to give herself deeply to what or whom she cared about). This led her to become keenly observant, curious, active in pursuit of knowledge, and passionate about her study of nature, enough to commit herself to hours of discomfort for the sake of gaining more knowledge. Her interests were an expression of her reasonable mind, however peculiar they might seem to her neighbors. While not at all interested in the shallow social world of middle/upper class women in her era, and stuck in an empty marriage to a charlatan, her reasonable nature led her to build a life on her own, and she showed her passionate character through her commitment to being a good friend to Thatcher and to her young maid Selma: her intelligence and caring makes social standing irrelevant to her; what matters more is quality of character. She is naturally drawn, as Thatcher is, to those few people in her world who share that open-minded perspective, about people, about the world in general, people who are willing to look clearly, and change their assumptions if those assumptions are disproved by reason. Their friendship is an affirmation and a refuge, for both Thatcher and Mary. (The newspaper editor Carruth is another example of that.)

In general, science -- which is really the practice of reason, not the "results," as even scientists revise their results over time, learning to apply their reason and their measurement tools more effectively -- is the one truth most rational people accept and respect. It offers truth about our shared physical reality, and it's up to us to respond to that in our private lives (personal faith, e.g.) and in public policy. Reasonable people may struggle emotionally with revising their understandings (for example, parents of my generation, with children who are homosexual). But they do it -- this is the paradigm shift.

The scientist's role is to be faithful to the facts, do all that she or he can to communicate them accurately to the public, and push back against those who attempt to undermine science. Sadly, in the present era of global warming and climate change, this puts a scientist in the position of an Old Testament prophet, to the extent her or she is willing to speaking truth to power.


Posted Nov. 27, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
rco

Join Date: 11/04/18

Posts: 10

RE: How are Mary Treat's eccentricities related to her strengths? In what ways is her friendship especially valuable to Thatcher? What is the role of the scientist in times of social upheaval?

I loved the character of Mary Treat. She had the wonderful curious mind I admire and was secure in herself. I would have been happy hanging out with her, observing the spiders in her jars and laying on my stomach on the ground watching the ants close up. I think there is much more to the story then I took away in my first reading of the book and have started rereading just those chapters again. Kudos to Kingsolver for bringing her story to light. She was a woman scientist in a time it was not acceptable for a female.


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