Kyle Smith

Contemporary American fiction: 603-102-MQ

Jeffrey Gandell

October 4, 2017


The character’s lack of individualism makes her easily manipulated by the Placement Team and the society in “Moving On”. Diane Cook’s short story “Moving On” in a dystopian future where women and poor men who they (the placement team) feel can’t support themselves will be sent off to a shelter, where the Placement Team will help them forget their passed loved ones. This future’s government, or so it must be because of the number of compounds that are across the country, are the ones running the shelters. But the thing is they are more of a “production process” where people are treated like livestock rather than actual people with feelings, as the protagonist states: “Burdened women are more difficult to place, I’m told. They separate mothers from children”. (44) Like horses, they are harder to find homes when they have a foal because it’s harder to take care of two.  The compounds are separated into compound for males, females and children: “A men’s shelter is across the road […] The nearest children’s shelter is in a different country.” (45) And like livestock again, they are all separated so they won’t mate and the children may be raised for different uses. The staff don’t seem to treat them equally either: “Sometimes hiding men ambush the women scurrying from the bus to the gate, and the guard, women themselves, don’t always intervene. Sometimes they even help. As with all things, there is a black market for left behind women […]” (45) When they get too old they can live on their own instead of being placed, just like old cattle, their meat is no good so they get to live and die of age. The managers act like breeders where they suggest things and try to make their assigned people the best and when they get picked it’s like a show where the best one is chosen: “ “The knitting helped,” she notes, taking quiet credit for suggesting it.” (54).


The Placement team is similar to a conservative culture where everyone needs to be good at the same things, look nice, do everything well and just accommodate to the demands of the program. Then they get you ready for a rich man or women to choose you and make you their new husband or wife: “We are encouraged to take cooking classes, sewing classes, knitting classes, gardening classes, conceiving classes, child-rearing classes, body-bounce-back-from-pregnancy classes, feminine assertiveness classes, jogging classes, nutrition classes, home economics. There are bedroom-technique potluck and mandatory “moving on” seminars.” (45) There are also many rules like, no possessions that remind them of the past: “I had a picture of us hidden under my mattress. […] One night, I fell asleep while looking at it; it fell to the floor, was found at wakeup and was confiscated.” (48) This helps them forget about their past and only think of the future, they enforce this very much (hence the mandatory “moving on” classes): “We’re each given a framed picture of a man, […] I’m supposed to replace my husband’s face in my memory with this man’s face while being careful not to get too attached; the man in the photo won’t be my new husband.” Like they shouldn’t get attached to something like that because that’s not what they’re going to get anymore. Falling in love doesn’t exist at this point, its only survival; this is arranged marriage like conservative-like cultures.


This is the situation that our main character ends up in, she is stripped of everything other than two bags of essentials and forced into a shelter where she starts this rough program of prepping her for her next husband, getting no say of her own. Right from the beginning, Cook drops a weight of emotions on you when you start to empathize with the character. The protagonist doesn’t show very much emotion about the entire situation because of the shock of her husband’s death, as explained by her Case Manager. But she is also not the rebellious type and easily molded: “I don’t think I could do it. I’m too domestic for that kind of thing.” (47) She basically related herself to a domesticated pet. She is also afraid of taking risks like the runners: “Though the coyotes prowl the barren tract, it is the forest that, to me, seems most menacing. It is so unknown.” (47) She didn’t seem to understand how individuality matters to the runners so much. Like tame versus wild animals, if there is an opportunity to for them to leave some place enclosed, the wild will leave while the tame, like the protagonist, will not. Because the wild do not take kindly to being domesticated while the ones raised that way won’t mind. Even after she understood a little, she still can’t find the will to do anything like the runners: “I still secretly hope she, whoever she was, made it, and I feel twinges of curiosity at the thought of that life. But they’re just twinges. Not motivation.” (53)


Although when we reach the rising action where the protagonist meets the man on the other side of the road and waves, she gets all these feelings that seems like she once had with her late husband, then she understood why people kept trying to run and it all clicked. Then she wrote a letter “begging” him to escape with her, like it was her last chance at a good life. Then she found out he was chosen, she lost all her will she developed and became numb again.


Putting yourself in that kind of situation and having more will to be different and not conform to these demands must be very hard and frustrating. I think that it would be a very scary place to live in because your fate depends on your ability to do good and look good, so if ever you can’t be good at something you may get jealous of the others and if that one thing is stopping you from getting out, you don’t want anyone else to have that pleasure: “A woman on floor five who had just been chosen was attacked while she slept. Slashed across the cheek with a razor blade. […] When the placement team contacted the husband to be with the new, he rejected her.” (47) Just like figure skaters, when your contesters get jealous or intimidated, there have been cases of an opposing team of the victim injures them to win, for example, the Tonya Harding incident.


To conclude, the placement team treats the women in the compound like cattle and the main character is tame so she never goes against them or tries to run at all. The character doesn’t truly understand the concept of having free will, making her easily manipulated. They are trying to make very one fit this perfect mold of how people should be by forcing them to get over their past and making them good at things they wouldn’t naturally be good at and making them look like what is demanded.