Tropes: Twin Symbolism and Societal Extremes in Bumped

BumpedTwin symbolism is common in literature, and particularly in literature aimed at children and young adults. "The Girl Sleuth" by Bobbie Ann Mason posits in passing that twins are common in literature partly because they provide an automatic 'best friend' (something most children long for, see also 'imaginary friend' and similar constructs) and partly because they provide a sort of 'living mirror': validation that you exist and that your experiences and feelings are valid and appropriate. With this in mind, I wasn't shocked to find twin sisters in Megan McCafferty's latest YA novel "Bumped", but I was surprised to see how well the twin symbolism is used here to illustrate the two extreme societies featured in the novel's futuristic dystopia.

Melody and Harmony are twins separated at birth, and if their names seem a little whimsical to you, well, Melody is the first to tell you that it just shows how drug-addled their biological mother was. Melody was adopted into a "liberal" family (both her parents are professors and their house is constructed entirely out of recycled material), while Harmony was adopted into a "conservative" family and raised in an isolationist religious commune. These wildly different upbringings has resulted in two very different young women, and it's nice to see the "usual" twin setup in literature shaken up with a nod to the "nurture" side of the "nature vs. nurture" debate.

What is especially fascinating, though, is how author McCafferty goes on to use her twins to really illustrate how screwed up this futuristic dystopia really is. Melody has been raised by her parents to be the perfect commercial breeder - she's been groomed from birth to be smart, beautiful, and athletic in order to appeal to prospective "buyers" as a valuable surrogate. Harmony, on the other hand, has been raised by her parents to be the perfect submissive wife-and-mother - she's been taught her entire life to be obedient, pliable, and silent in order to earn her place in heaven and please her husband as her earthly lord and master.

Neither twin ultimately has a "choice" in these decisions. Melody, as a member of the "liberal" free world, would seem to have the most room to refuse the fate her parents have in store for her, but we're repeatedly shown that higher education in this world is so phenomenally expensive that young women almost have to become commercial breeders in order to afford to go to college. In their world, as well as in our own, higher education is linked to the sorts of jobs you can get - fundamentally, Melody's future life, liberty, and happiness hinges on her ability to get into a good school, become trained in her desired field, and be deemed qualified for the position she wants in life.

(That a society threatened with the real possibility of extinction would completely fail to grasp the importance of training as many doctors and scientists for free as want to be trained does not, sadly, surprise me. Why plan for the future when there's so much money to be made off of the commercial breeding business today?)

Harmony, as a member of a "conservative" isolationist enclave, is probably given some token choice to refuse her arranged marriage, but then what? Her community is completely structured around being a wife and mother (up to and including what colors they are allowed to wear!), with no other choices of occupation for the women who live there. She is, of course, free to leave at any time - but doing so will completely sever her ties with her family and friends forever. Here, again, the society around her is unsympathetic - instead of addressing her concerns and doubts, they slough her off as damaged goods into an arranged marriage pairing with a "problem" son who is suspected of homosexuality.

What I like most about "Bumped" is how both the twins are used to explore the absolute horribleness of both the extreme societies presented. Harmony is living proof that marrying girls off into an arranged marriage as soon as they hit menarche is detrimental to their happiness; Melody clearly embodies the wrongness of a society that gives girls a "choice" that isn't really a choice at all - be a commercial breeder for the upper-class or consign yourself to poverty forever. Fundamentally, "Bumped" isn't about capitalism or cults - it's about the abuses that take place when the youngest and most vulnerable members of society have all vestige of choice stripped from them and instead the older and the upper-class decide how to best use them as human commodities sacrificed to ideology and greed.


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