"Volunteer 4711" Themes
There are subtle themes throughout "Volunteer 4711" that symbolize her transformation from a volunteer with no rights or privacy to an equal galactic citizen. I would like to briefly explain these themes about survival, immigration, freedom, and culture shock.
As always, my books are not for the faint of heart.
Forced to volunteer.
Transported to an alien world.
Stolen by an alien pirate.
I must integrate to gain my freedom.
***BEWARE SPOILERS AHEAD****
WHY IS SHE CRYING ALL THE TIME IF SHE IS SUCH A SURVIVOR? People who survive terrible things are typically not the “momentary heroes” you see depicted in Hollywood films. Instead, they are the ones that do all the hard work, no matter how demeaning, all the while drudging away at the path they hope will be their salvation. During those times, even the strong doubt themselves, and yes, they cry. At other times, they motivate themselves by being happy and content with the small achievements they have made along the way to their ultimate goals. And sometimes of course they feel like, ‘Maybe this is good enough, I have come this far.’ We see all of this in Volunteer 4711.
Volunteer 4711 was sold by Earth. She lost everything. Not just materially but culturally as well. This is not unlike what we expect of immigrants moving from country to country, that they should learn our language and adapt to our culture. However, despite Volunteer 4711 saying she wants to give up sometimes, she never does. She has grit. She learns the Silver language. She learns the Silver culture. She learns to survive and succeed in her new culture despite her low position as a volunteer and a human.
She becomes more than just a volunteer. She is a survivor because she went from being a human woman, who was ignorant of Silver culture and was an alien's property to the wife of an important alien male with her own money and skills to survive. Not only that, she became a mother to a galactic citizen, knowing full-well, that status would protect her forever from becoming a volunteer or anyone’s property in the galaxy ever again. That is what a survivor looks like—someone in it for the long game, not the Hollywood second.
MASTURBATION IS SYMBOLISM FOR VOLUNTEER 4711 FREEDOM When the doctor forces her to masturbate (because, as her guardian/owner, he is responsible for her health, just as the Commander is later), the doctor makes her go through a year’s worth of “release” because he had been remissive in her “sexual health” according to Silver culture. This masturbation scene is symbolic of her having no freedom as a volunteer on the farm. The doctor does not even condescend to tell her what he is doing. When she masturbates for the Commander, he gives her the privacy and respect to do this herself. And because she is attracted to the Commander, she fantasizes that they are playing out a romantic scene, and the Commander also knows this and allows this scene to be played out. In this way, she asserts her ability to make choices for herself and that she is no longer the volunteer from the farm without rights.
URINATION IS A SYMBOL OF SLAVERY On the spaceship over to the Silver planet, the volunteers are forced to use one toilet. This is a transition and sign that they have already lost some of their dignity and freedom. The last time Volunteer 4711 urinates freely is before she is auctioned in the rain. At that moment, we know she has lost all her culture or bearings in human society through this symbolism. As humans, we would never just pee anywhere, but her doing that shows she is among aliens now and does not know what they do or how to behave. Nor do they care for her which is a sign that she is not an equal and a sign of her new status on the Silver Planet.
The Commander asks her to hold his penises when he urinates. This is not only a sign of her low status and how he views her, but a measure of her culture shock and understanding of Silver culture.
HOLDING THE COMMANDER’S PENISES AS CULTURE SHOCK
Volunteer 4711 does not hold his penises properly, probably because she has never held any man’s penis to urinate (I know I never have and I also know I would be frightened in her situation to try with an alien) and the urine gets on her and goes everywhere. But then she works it out, despite how uncomfortable she is with the entire situation she pushes herself to do it. This is what learning a new culture feels like. It is not dangerous but it is very uncomfortable.
WHO IS FREE AND WHO IS THE SLAVE? When Volunteer 4711 is confronted with the other human woman, there is a disagreement about who is still a slave and who is free. In fact, Volunteer 4711 is looking at a mirror image of herself if she had been dropped into different circumstances or an image she might have created for herself if the Commander had not been in charge of her cultural education. Her Commander gave her the tools to integrate into Silver society and make a life for herself. The other human was given no such instruction, and although she no longer bears the name “volunteer” tattooed on her cheek, she is not free. She only has the illusion of freedom (many of us are just like the other human woman).
However, the other human feels she is free and her reality is reinforced by her surroundings and the society onboard the other ship. She also has material evidence that she is no longer a volunteer by not bearing the tattoo of a volunteer and having access to watch Silver dramas and do what the other women onboard the other ship do. Both Commanders need to confirm to their human women that they are free and that the other human is a slave. But they both cannot be free. One of the commanders is lying, even if he himself does not acknowledge that for his own narrative (but that is a different topic all together). With this, I am showing that our realities are based on our daily lives and what we want to believe. But like in the book, Volunteer 4711, there is only one true reality, and it is up to you, the reader, to decide who is free.
Is Volunteer 4711 free?
Or is the other human woman free?
DID VOLUNTEER 4711 USE THE COMMANDER THIS ENTIRE TIME? You might have thought it odd when Volunteer 4711 was a bit obsessed with having a child. Perhaps you thought it was because she was in love with the Commander. But in the end, we find out it was because she knew if she had a child that was a member of the greater galactic community, she would never be a volunteer or slave again. The Commander purposely kept so much information from Volunteer 4711, and he definitely kept this a secret too, so when he discovers she has always known, it is worrying for him, not only because she knows this but he must also question what else she may know. As the Commander is not one to sit around and wonder he asks Volunteer 4711 and hopes for a truthful answer. She tells him they have both won and that she loves him.
Do you believe this?
Has there been anything in her conduct that would make you believe otherwise?
What would Volunteer 4711 have to gain by not telling the truth?
You as the reader must decide.
WHY DOESN’T SHE HAVE A NAME?
I wanted to make it obvious that when Volunteer 4711 leaves Earth to never return as she doesn’t have a spaceship, everything she was, knew, or had, no matter how little it was, is gone. She is starting over completely fresh but at the bottommost rung.
Her name also becomes a source of pride for her. Just like the Commander always has his status, she gains status through her new names but never her human name because that name is dead (and some can question if her humanity is dead too now having adapted to this new Silver culture). It’s illustrated here when she and the Commander talk about her getting another name:
“You have volunteered. You volunteered not to die when you were chosen by your people. You volunteered to do the farm work. You volunteered to save me. You volunteered to learn my language and my culture. You volunteered to become a part of this crew. And all of this you did as a Water person. You volunteered, and you have won this game that was set out against you. I only see a successful female who has achieved more than most Silver people do and that no one seeing your achievements would ever call a ‘slave.’ Your name is your fame. Your name is the record of your accomplishments. Your tattoo is a sign of your success.”
Her true victory is to symbolically show that she has not only survived being traded to an alien planet but that she will never run the risk of being made an alien’s slave again and that is by gaining the title of ‘Mother.’
HISTORICAL INFORMATION "Volunteer 4711" was inspired by Zheng Yi Sao, a Chinese pirate leader active in the South China Sea from 1801 to 1810.
This book was not only a science fiction romance but a commentary on the human condition. With best wishes, Olympia x