Chapter 1: Economic Inequality and Hegemonic Influence

Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto begins in an impoverished Spanish country in need of an economy stimulant. When Japanese tech-giant Nansei’s President Katsumi Hosokawa pays a visit to see his favorite opera singer Roxane Coss perform for his birthday, the country begins to speculate wildly about hosting a new manufacturing plant for the company. To quote, “Industry could move the economy away from the farming of coca leaves and blackhearted poppies, creating the illusion of a country moving away from the base matter of cocaine and heroin, so as to promote foreign aid to make trafficking of those very drugs less conspicuous.” Guests of the party are initially told the reasons for the President’s absence are “matters in Israel,” whereby they are led to think higher of the President and his country. This theme demonstrates the strong leverage and influence hegemonic superpowers have on third-world countries.

Patchett is very detailed when she conveys the painstaking efforts the people of the Spanish country had gone through in preparation for Mr. Hosokawa’s arrival. For examples, “the garden, which the guests would see only for a moment… was polished and composed” and “three days before they had put a fresh coat of whitewash on the high stucco wall… careful that none of the paint should fall on the grass.” The people of the country are trying to make a positive impression on Mr. Hosokawa so that he might choose to open a factory on their homeland.

This attempt to aid in initiating strong foreign policy reminds me of the way countries construct elaborate stadiums when awarded to host a season’s Olympic games. For example in 2008, China constructed Beijing National Stadium to host the event and spent $428 million doing so to impress some 90,000 spectators (Ouroussoff). In this way, China – like the Spanish country in Bel Canto – aims to raise its approval ratings and make itself known as a capable and powerful nation.

Further separating Japan and the Spanish country are the differing systems of government. While Japan’s government follow’s a constitutional monarchy with an aristocratic electoral college, the government of the Spanish country is tight-knit within a closed cabinet where the presidency is to be handed down from President to Vice President (Executive). Vice President Ruben Iglesias is said to’ve “ended his own political career” when he confesses to the whereabouts of the President because his betrayal of telling the truth brought the President much embarrassment. In other words, Iglesias would not be handed the Presidency not because of legislation, but because the President simply will be too upset with him.

In the coming chapters I expect the relationship between Mr. Hosokawa and the Spanish to tighten – especially after bonding through the terrorists’ attack on the Vice President’s home. Perhaps here Mr. Hosokawa will understand how desperate the people are and how he could leave such a profound effect. In other words, not only does the terrorists’ attack show Mr. Hosokawa how desperate the people are, but their undergoing the same experience together can bring them closer together.

Or perhaps Mr. Hosokawa will cut ties with the country altogether – after all, his only reason for attending the party is so he can hear Roxane Coss sing. It’s quite possible that the novel’s focus will shift from a relationship of two contrasting countries to the relationship between Mr. Hosokawa and his love of an artist and her music. And a third possibility is that Patchett is actually comparing the two relationships and will continue to do so throughout the novel.

More specifically, the relationship between Japan and the Spanish country is relatively one sided where one must work hard to land the other’s benefit. Mr. Hosokawa very rarely is able to find the time to enjoy listening to music because he is so busy running his company. Another possibility is that the two relationships actually contrast. The Spanish country strives to make itself noticed as of importance and high reputation. Mr. Hosokawa, however, desires only to listen to Roxane Cross’ voice and never to make himself known to her. An example of this is given when he requests she perform Rusalka, which does not require great effort on her part.

In conclusion, Patchett conveys the roles two contrasting countries play in developing foreign policy with one another through specific tactics. The Spanish country is in great need of an economical stimulant that Japan’s Mr. Hosokawa may be able to offer, though he isn’t particularly interested in doing so. The relationship between the two countries and Mr. Hosokawa and his music are comparable and may foreshadow where Patchett will take us through her novel.

Works Cited

“Executive Summary – Japan.” U.S. Department of State. 2011. Web. 2 Sept. 2015. <http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/186486.pdf>.

Ouroussoff, Nicolai. “Olympic Stadium With a Design to Remember.” The New York Times. 5 Aug. 2008. Web. 2 Sept. 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/05/sports/olympics/05nest.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>.

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2 thoughts on “Chapter 1: Economic Inequality and Hegemonic Influence

  1. sariegel says:

    The idea that the relationship between Japan and this Latin American nation, as played out through Mr. Hosokawa and President Masuda, and the fixation Mr. Hosokawa has for Roxanne Coss could be comparable for thematic elements of the novel is very interesting. I had not considered this before reading your post. I personally think that it is likely that Ann Patchett will distinctly draw comparisons between President Masuda and Mr. Hosokawa in an attempt to illustrate how often the majority of the population of struggling countries suffers at the hands of government and industry. It’s the whole idea of whether technical solutions can or should be employed to “fix” problems in poorer nations at the hands of foreign experts and under corrupt or negligent governments. The comparison of the two relationships you described could definitely add to this theme, if Patchett does explore it in later chapters.
    Your research into the preparations for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing is an avenue I would not have thought to explore, but it ties in perfectly. I would love to hear more about how this relates to the host country’s attempt to gain prosperity by pretending prosperity. It’s an interesting comparison between China and this host country, as China is no longer considered a “third-world” country. This is where your research about how governmental structure and policy affect economic growth becomes a powerful tool. Is it the comparison valid because of governmental structure rather than economic structure? I think the answer could definitely be, “Yes.” I would recommend running with this avenue of research, particularly as the demands and plans of the terrorist group are revealed.
    – Sarah Riegel

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bsejdiu942 says:

    Hey Colin and Sarah,

    The fact that these impoverished countries try so hard to impress first world countries is rather interesting, but in some sense understandable. The nations who one could argue initially became first world countries did not have anyone else to bring them to the level of prosperity they achieved, only their imagination. However, these underdeveloped nations have seen what these powerful nation have achieved and wish to achieve it as well. Although it seems as though most of these ‘benefits’ that bring with it the technology and advancement to particular nations don’t seem to benefit a majority of the people. Mostly the top 1%, so to speak. Rather than using these advancements to give opportunities towards a nations citizens, they take advantage of them. It’s amazing how many large companies in America outsource jobs to underdeveloped countries. Where they pay workers a fraction of the price and they rake in all the income. For businesses whose primary function is to make money, they have found a terrible way of doing so. I think this could use further research in relation to the author’s story.

    I also like the reference to China and the Olympic games in Beijing. I think research should be done to see what the economic impact was of the games, and who profited the most. Another area of focus would be the World Cup stadium in Brazil. They actually cleared out people from their homes in order to build the stadium. A clear display of the ethical standards when it comes to business and economic growth. I would definitely compare this to China and maybe several other large scale events which brought in revenue into a region. It brings into question how much we are willing to sacrifice, and how many lives we are willing to take advantage of in the name of economic prosperity. Another interesting research point to focus on.

    Liked by 1 person

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