The Elements of a Dystopian Government in Ten with a Flag, a Short Story by Joseph Paul Naines
Elements of Dystopian Literature in “Ten with a Flag”
Plotting to supplant the Protestant monarchy with a Catholic one, Robert Catesby planned
to destroy the Parliament building. However, the government discovered his “Gunpowder Plot,” after they captured his conspirator, Guy Fawkes. Since then governments have been on the lookout for future insurgents. No government does this more than Joseph Paul Naines’ Central, from his “Ten with a Flag.” The acting government, called Central, will analyze a fetus’ DNA. They then give the child a rating based on their future utility and likelihood to rebel. The higher the number, the higher of a social status he or she will have. Haines argues that a government, which values lives of the lives of some citizens over others, is dystopian. There is open oppression of the person, in order to satisfy the needs of Central. Secondly, the cult of personality, which has replaced all forms of religion, supports his claim. Finally, there is an outsider who desires change but is ultimately defeated by manipulators.
After receiving their child’s results, Johnnie and an unnamed mother go speak with Mr. White, the head of Human Services which is a branch of Central. Their future son had been rated a 10, but there was a flag, indicating the child would be problematic. Furthermore, the flag gives the mother the option to abort the child, should she feel it necessary. Johnnie is afraid that his wife may die during childbirth, as previously recorded data shows. But he is reassured by Mr. White the child will have no problems, “The important thing to remember is that your baby rated a ten. Your child will be an asset to the Nation … The state has raised both your rating to eight, effective immediately” (25). Mr. White wants to parents to forego the risk of bearing a child with a flag in order to help Central. In his eyes, the mother’s life is worthless compared to the possibilities offered by a 10. The fact that individuality is given up in exchange for the advancement of power is indicative of a dystopian world.
During their meeting, the mother shows utter reverence to Mr. White, who is a ten
himself. However, Johnnie openly questions Mr. White. In response his wife thinks, “Eight didn’t mean could just randomly disrespect government officials” (25). In this world, citizens have been conditioned to never question the judgement of higher ranking citizen. There is also never a mention of religion: implying that man’s innate desire to worship is satiated with higher numbers. The worshipping of other citizens is highly reminiscent of a cult of personality. Except here, many citizens are worshipped instead of just one. This supports Haines’ claim because a cult of personality is a key trope in dystopian worlds.
As the life of the mother is in apparent danger, Johnnie must make a critical choice. Having been given the choice over his son’s life, he decides to abort the child. As the doctor makes preparations for the operation, Mr. White and Human Services greet the future parents. Enraged and confused, Johnnie yells, “You said you wouldn’t interfere.’ Mr. White smiled. “We didn’t, We allowed you to make your decision of your own free will… No one ever said we’d let you go through with it, though. The flag is an option, not a right” (30). The twisting of language by Mr. White is indicative of his sly and cunning behavior. Here the classic outsider, who understands the government is evil, is outwitted by Central. Their euphemistic language seeks to expose those, who would betray the government. In this instance, Johnnie would put the life of a 6 before that of a 10. His failure is indicative of the helplessness a single person faces against the entire collective. The failure of an outsider to make a change due to scheming by government officials is very indicative of a dystopian society.
Using dystopian motifs, Haines demonstrates that a world in which citizens worship others, for simply winning the genetic lottery, is dystopian. Haines, the author of “Ten with a Flag,” writes of a world where the government fully controls the lives of its citizens. While
different, Central and the Handicapper General from “Harrison Bergeron” are extremely similar. They both react to the birth of citizens, but in different ways. One seeks to make them equal,
while the other stratifies them. While both vastly different, they are both dystopian worlds; meaning that one must let his or her citizens to be free to make their own path.