The Automobile and Power in “Clay’s Ark”

I thought Clarissa made a great point in her post from February 26th about how in Mind of My Mind and in the videos we watched in class about the Mission district in San Francisco the powers possessed by Doro and by the tech workers seem to end up getting used against them. Though the dynamics are slightly different, I got thinking about how technologies get used against their owners in Clay’s Ark too. The specific example I am thinking of has to do with Blake and the automobile.

Driving seems to be really important in Clay’s Ark. Eli tells Blake one of the reasons they choose to abduct Blake and his family is that they drive a nice car (465). The car seems to function in the beginning as a symbol of Blake’s power and authority. After all, living in a time where few can maintain cars, Blake has not just this powerful, rare Jeep, but we learn later, several other cars too (failing to find the page # right now). Even in our own time the car is a symbol of wealth, and allows the owner go many places faster and more luxuriously than anyone who does not have a car. As we learn early on, “[Blake’s] armored, high-suspension Jeep Wagoneer was a hobby, a carefully preserved relic of an earlier, oil-extravagant era” (459). Further, as we come to learn how dangerous the highways are in this time period, Blake still can provide the “old-fashioned car trip” his daughter asks for as a dying request (458). From the beginning Blake seems powerful and capable in many aspects. Butler also demonstrates how attentive Blake is to other cars on the highway on p459, noticing the trucks, the battered old cars, the new electric cars, and finally the “beautiful, old, wine-red Mercedes” that ends up containing his, Keira and Rane’s captors. Thus, Butler establishes Blake’s attention to a kind of hierarchy: some cars are better, cooler, and newer than others.

I was interested in how attentive Blake is to aspects of automobiles that we might call judgments of taste: age, condition, brand. Driving a vintage, well-conditioned Mercedes seems quite luxurious today—even more so in Blake’s time, presumably. Thus, he seems not just surprised, but his use of ‘beautiful’ and ‘old’ suggest an admiration that accompanies his surprise as the Mercedes comes out of the desert.

However, after demonstrating Blake’s power, privilege, and status, Butler quickly revokes it when the Mercedes pulls up. Despite being a doctor, Blake can do nothing as his daughter is taken away. Despite being a father, he cannot do anything. Despite having money and an armored car he can’t do anything next to the power of the desert that forces him to pull off the road and the power of Eli, Ingraham, and Meda. I thought one symbolic moment in this scene was when Eli told Blake to move over so he could drive. When Eli tells Blake, “ ‘Use your head, Doc…Just slide over to the passenger side. I’ll drive’” Blake “abruptly [gives in], [moves over]” (465). To his credit, perhaps, Blake acknowledges and then accepts his abrupt loss of power. But being forced to sit passenger in his own car seems to be a humbling symbolic moment for Blake.

This theme of technology being used against those who imagine they own it seems to persist into the next novel in the Patternmaster Series, even as we follow a group of new characters.

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