Control on our own lives brings to us confidence and the assurance of being in a comfortable position in life. It is in our nature. It is unchangeable. Now image not being able to tell what comes next for yourself, or not being able to think a certain way because it is presumably wrong. Doesn’t that make us vulnerable? Doesn’t it put us humans in an awkward position? This comes to show how essential control is in our lives and it shows how it is impossible for us humans to function without it. That is exactly what the main character in the story “Moving On” by Diane Cook feels and is experimenting. The feeling of not being able to control her own way of thinking puts her in an instable situation.
The main character of this story is being so controlled to a point where it is impossible for her to think by herself. Whenever she does so, the placement team refers her to a pamphlet to help her normalize her behaviour. “Normalize” here represents the good behaviour she should have. She should be obedient to the placement team’s instructions and have a comportment similar to the others. However, the fact that the placement team actually tries to regulate her behaviour is slowly dehumanizing her. In other words, by shaping the people’s minds in the shelter, they end up having the same beliefs, characteristics and attitude which makes them loose their individuality therefore, they are losing themselves trying to resemble others. The placement team easily gets to control her and the rest of the widows by simply promoting a possible life with a new husband if they followed the regulations established by the placement team. “There are so many handouts and packets. We have been given schedules and rules and also suggestions for improving our lives and looks. It’s like a spa facility on lockdown. […] There are bedroom technique potlucks and mandatory Moving On seminars” (45) The fact that the seminar is mandatory shows the importance the placement team puts on this aspect. It is required for the widows in the shelter to move on before getting a new husband. They promote this idea throughout their pamphlets along with activities to distract them. Although the idea of control is dissimulated with all the activities offered, it is still very present and it is felt throughout the entire story. When the main character reminisces her past with her husband she does in fact gets very passionate and thinks mostly of the life she had with him. The placement team focuses mostly of the future she can have with someone else and automatically shuts down the memories and the feelings she is having by simply telling her that she absolutely has to move on to one day be able to leave this institution:
“Be sensible” My Case Manager says, not without some kindness. “I can’t put your name on the list until you’ve shown you’re moving on.”
“But when do I grieve?”
“Now” she says, as though I have asked what day it is.
Once again, the idea of a potential life outside of the shelter with someone else is the idea strongly promoted by the placement team. This situation puts the main character and all of the other participants in a very uncomfortable situation where they have to tell themselves what the manual orders to be able to stay on track of the regulations: “The manual says that in order to move forward we must change. But this feels more like a collapse. And that is not how the manual says it will feel” (51). Once again, we see that even a pamphlet can have such an impact in the participants behavior because the placement team has established since their very first day in the shelter the importance of the grieving of their loved ones and with time it became a much more imposing characteristic and a very controlling idea also. It is hard for the widows to grieve and to move on as quickly as the placement team wants them to and as seen in this passage, the feelings are different for everyone, the attachment to their significant other is strong and it is much harder than it seems to get over a loved one.
Furthermore, the excessive control from the placement team is shown in the importance they take in the member’s lives. As seen in the story, the placement team takes the decisions for all of the widows in the shelter. In fact, the widows do not get to pronounce their opinion on any decision taken. Before they even step a foot into the shelter everything has been taken care of for them: “The Placement team orders me to pack two bags of essentials, good for any climate. They take the keys to our house, our car. A crew will come in price it all; a sale will be advertised; all the neighbors will come. I won’t be there for any of this, but I have seen it happen to others” (44). As seen in this passage, the placement team gets to take control of her house and her belongings to sell them. She doesn’t even get to bring as much property she wants to bring with her because they restrict her to only two bags of belongings. This comes to show how the placement team has established a system and applies it to everyone in their program. Since she has seen it happened to others, she doesn’t ask any questions, she simply follows the indications. All of the members in this program are being submissive to the instructions because they have never seen anyone complain or revolt over the orders. Once she actually gets into the shelter, the entire setting of the place shows they are put to into a controlled area: “We are allowed outside for an hour each day […] The fences are topped with barbed wires. Guards sit in booths and observe” (46). The fact that the area is fenced and that there is guards to watch the are shows how they are forced to stay into the perimeters of the shelter. Also, the time allowed shows how all the system is regulated. It displays this idea of routine the placement team has established. A routine is always easier to get used to because everyone has to follow the same schedule. There is this sense of uniformity once again that is repeated here where everyone in conformed to the same regulation, no exception is made for anyone. The placement team does try to hide the aspect of surveillance by actually allowing them to go outside and by providing activities to distract them but the essence of control will always be seen. The entire system of the placement team has brought all of the widows, men or women, to follow a program exactly how it was presented to them. There is no place for resistance or for any types of questions whether they are pertinent or not. Which means that they would have to fit into the program by not complaining, not talking to the people they should not talk to, do the activities recommended, pretty much submitting to the placement team to potentially achieve their goal of starting a new life outside of the shelter. Although remarriage has never been guaranteed by the placement agency, all of the widows still adhere to the program because they think that it is the best solution and the most effective one also. Once again, the placement team gets to control these people by simply showing their resume and by proving that their method has worked for others and that it could work for them also if they follow the rules. But it is always important to keep in mind that the people placed into these institutions have lost the presence of their loves ones. Forever. Which means that it is natural for them to not move as fast as the placement program predicted. It is normal for them to be desperate and to feel lonely.
As seen with the main character of the story, she finds comfort into writing letters to her “friend” that happened to be her deceased husband in reality. “I promise that we’ll find a house, […] we’ll be the lucky ones. […] We’ll never wait for something we want now, like children. […] I’ll never cook him things he doesn’t like because I think he should like them”. By the end she realizes that, “Of course, [she’s] writing to [her] husband” (52-53). She knew from the start that the wishes she had for the both of them could obviously not be said out loud and this is why she attempted to write him a letter instead. She was trying to find comfort from him and was expecting him to feel the same so that she knows that there is someone in this world who genuinely has the same feeling as her. Unfortunately, reality soon come for her as her “friend” gets chosen to become someone’s new husband. This scene in the story demonstrates that even if they do have fantasies and desires, the reality is that they are placed into a shelter and they are all candidates to become someone else’s new spouse. They don’t really have a choice but to follow the program because if they let their dreams and expectations overcome them, they will end up being real disappointed when the reality hits. This is why the placement team control and manage the entire process for them because the widows would tend to just be overwhelmed by their expectations and completely forget about the reality.
In conclusion, the excessive control the main character and the other widows had to live definitely affected them and made them become people they would have not become if it was for them only. This entire story comes to show the importance of the mental stability and how the control of our own lives can influence our own sanity. Human beings are made to be unique and to think differently from others. Taking this characteristic away from us would only reduce us into being humans still, but definitely not alive. There would be an important factor missing: our ability to be ourselves.
Cook, Diane. “Moving On”. The Best American Short Stories, by T.C. Boyle with Heidi Pitlor. Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, New York, 2015 .pp. 44-55