Reflections on Prejudice from Viscera

Like our reflection on Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Viscera got me thinking. This year, I resolved to read 18 books to get myself back into the habit of reading regularly. 8 months into this experiment, I feel like atrophied mental muscles are finally regaining their strength. While I cannot promise that every book review will prompt a reflection, two points makes a line, and two articles makes a category and tag. 

In Viscera, nothing is what it seems. Every development and new character reminds us that the outward package does not define inner reality.

Reader beware, here there be spoilers. 

Viscera reinforces the theme to not judge a book by its cover consistently, and thoroughly. A quick roll call: 

  • There are several trans characters. 
  • The cute rag doll is a murderous marionette. 
  •  The horrifying zombie bear is a friendly butler. 
  • The eviscerated victim from the opening scene is perfectly fine. She’s immortal. Also, far from an unnamed side-character, she’s a major protagonist. 
  • The apparently young woman is incredibly old. See above. 
  • The tribe of necromancers is the most stable family environment we see. 
  • The largest city, with the highest walls, is built on a shaky foundation, making it precipitously fragile despite its apparent solidity. 
  • The mad woman is the most cunning planner.
  • The mysterious forest witch is more of a scientist than a practitioner of the arcane. She accomplishes the fantastic by surgically manipulating nerves.
  • Related, the magical outcome of nerve manipulation reinforces the theme that anything can change.  

We’re told all our lives to judge people by their conduct and their character rather than their outward appearance. That seems self-evident. We all want that standard applied to ourselves. Why do we need this gospel of non-judgement preached to us? There is something inside us that gravitates towards shiny packaging.

In case we’re tempted to say that knee-jerk unconscious bias does not have real-world consequences, let’s look at the impact of surface judgements on the job market. If you’re into research, follow the links and educate yourself. 

As recently as 2015, black men still earn about 75% the income of white men, black women, about 62%. Over the last 20 years, women continue to bring about home about 81% earnings compared to men. Regardless of race or gender, age eventually catches up to everybody. Job applicants under 40 are 68% more likely to get hired for the same position, and 56% of US workers over 50 will lose a long-term job before they are ready to retire. Only 10% ever reach the same income level again. 

Race, gender, and age disparities are well-documented and are hot topics. Regardless of those statuses, there is evidence that our society also places a premium price tag on height and attractiveness. Attractive people are more likely to get hired in the first place – 17% for men, and 24% for women. After landing the job, traditionally beautiful people earn 10-to-15% more. People who are over 6 feet tall earn  $166,000 more during a 30-year career compared to people under 5 feet 6 inches. 

Sadly, these disparities exist despite long-standing laws designed to even the odds. We live in an era where there is no excuse for allowing bias, intentional or otherwise, to steer our decisions. Who do you befriend? Where do you shop? If you’re in a hiring position who do you call in for interviews, and who do you ultimately hire and promote? 

Stories like Viscera remind us that we can take nothing for granted – judge people by their actions, not their outward appearance. Not only can people surprise you – they almost certainly will. 

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