Literature / The Ear, the Eye and the Arm
A 1995 Newbery Honor Book, The Ear, the Eye and the Armnote
is a novel by Nancy Farmer set in Zimbabwe 200 years in the future
Tendai and his siblings Rita and Kuda have lived a sheltered life and have a strained relationship with their father, the renowned General Matsika. Thus, with the aid of their caretaker, the Mellower, they sneak out of the house...and into a whole lot of trouble, getting themselves kidnapped. Meanwhile, the Matsika parents are frantic with worry, so the Mellower suggests hiring some detectives he has heard of - the Ear, the Eye, and the Arm
. As the Matsika children struggle to survive, the detectives race to find them before it's too late.
Most notable for its heavy exploration of African myths and traditions, something that normally never appears in Western fiction.
This book provides examples of:
- Adult Fear: The notion of your children being kidnapped after they convince you to let them do a small expedition for homework. Unsurprisingly, General Matsika is frantic when he realizes his kids are gone.
- All Myths Are True: The ancient African myths are very real and drive a lot of the story.
- Ancient Africa: Resthaven. In the middle of the futuristic Zimbabwe, this is a sacred country where the old ways are preservednote - "the spiritual heart of Africa." Even airplanes aren't allowed to fly overhead, and the people who live inside of it have only the vaguest notion of the outside world - most of them.
- And I Must Scream: Happens to Arm near the end of the book.
- Big Damn Heroes: The detectives pull this in Resthaven. Arm also attempts to pull this at the book's climax, but that doesn't work out.
- Bittersweet Ending: The kids are saved from becoming a sacrifice, the family soothsayer's mother is put in jail for her extortion plot, but She-Elephant still has to serve some jail time for her crimes.
- Blessed with Suck: Arm's telepathy grows in strength as the book progresses, making him more sensitive to what other people are feeling nearby, and thus making it harder for him to function around other people. Luckily for him, he loses his telepathy due to what the Gondwannan gods do to him.
- Eye and Ear have similar issues with their own abilities. In addition to typical Sensory Overload and the disfiguring nature of their mutations, Eye is treated to a perpetual Gross Up Closeup of everything around him, while Ear's eponymous attributes are extremely delicate in the physical sense: At one point he suffers an excrutiating tear when he unfurls them in extreme winds.
- Butt-Dialing Mordor: Psychic powers and eldritch abominations make a bad combination.
- Coming-of-Age Story: For Tendai.
- Disproportionate Retribution: When Rita steals some food while the siblings are in Resthaven, guess what her punishment is? They heat peanuts with coals and use them to burn her chest. Ouch.
- Deadpan Snarker: Rita, when she wants to be. It gets her into trouble a lot.
- Decade Dissonance: In 2194 there is Resthaven, which is an independent country with people who live their life in the Good Old Ways.
- The Dreaded: Matsika. As security chief of Zimbabwe, he brought an end to the chaos caused by the great gang wars through sheer ruthlessness. Over a decade later, just mentioning his name is enough to make the surviving lesser criminals take flight.
- Eldritch Abomination: The Gondwannan gods are supposedly these.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Rita mentions that despite being their captor, at least She-Elephant made sure that the kids had enough to eat. Whereas in Resthaven, Rita gets burned with peanuts for taking a bit of food for herself.
- Fish out of Water: Tendai and his siblings, having no clue how to adapt to life outside their house.
- Flying Car: It's the future, folks. Flying vehicles are everywhere.
- Frickin' Laser Beams: Laser guns are illegal weapons in the future, used solely by criminals. In a subversion of most fictional lasers, a character actually does get temporarily blinded by looking at one.
- Future Food Is Artificial: An algae described as "pond scum" which is "pressed into the shape of hot dogs, etc."
- Good Old Ways: Inverted and somewhat played straight with Resthaven. It's a natural preserve of pristine beauty, and it's a very good place to live - if you're a man. If you're a girl, you can look forward to polygamy and drudgery for the rest of your life, and if twins are born, one of the twins will be killed. Yes, probably the girl. Also, understandably, when the kids end up there, they want to head home to their old life.
- Happily Adopted: Sekai, in the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue.
- Heel–Face Turn: The She-Elephant just wanted someone to respect her.
- Hive Mind: The mutant inhabitants of Dead Man's Vlei are hinted to be this. They don't like outsiders.
- Humans Are White: Averted. There are three distinct ethnic groups — Black, Brown, and White. Most of the characters belong to Black and Brown, but the Mellower, Knife, and Ear are White.
- Infant Immortality: Played straight, although the plot comes very close to averting this on a few occasions.
- Lightning Gun: The Soul Stealers.
- Lovecraftian Superpower: downplayed in the titular characters, but their powers are derived from physical mutations, and their appearances are very unsettling to others. Eye's eyes are bulbous and protruding, Ear's ears are huge and mobile (to the point where he can fold them to focus on a point like an animal's ears or curl them up for storage), Arm's namesakes are of the Creepy Long variety with (slightly adhesive) Fingers and legs to match.
- Ludd Was Right: This is one of the main viewpoints of the residents of Resthaven.
- Man Child: Trashman is an example of this. Kuda is the only one who can (supposedly) understand him.
- And the Mellower has elements of this, too.
- Maniac Monkeys: The Blue Monkey, a genetically engineered Talking Animal. He's a jerk.
- The Men First: Implied that this is part of General Matsika's professional standards. By the end, Tendai develops similar beliefs.
- Mutants: The source of Eye, Ear, and Arm's abilities, and the people of the Dead Man's Vlei.
- My Beloved Smother: The Mellower's mother.
- Neo-Africa: The book's setting.
- Noble Savage: Resthaven again, deconstructed. See Good Old Ways.
- Religion of Evil: The Masks.
- Psychic Powers: Arm. He loses some of them at the end, but he's not entirely ungrateful. See Blessed with Suck.
- Shown Their Work: The depictions of African traditional culture and mythology are very thorough.
- Spanner in the Works: The Masks did not count on She-Elephant's Heel–Face Turn.
- Stepford Smiler: The Mellower, still unable to get over his abusive My Beloved Smother.
- Stock Yuck: Parsnips, apparently.
- Super Senses: Eye and Ear each have one super sense. Go on, guess what they are.
- Theme Naming: This trope feels the love. The three detectives, the Mellower, the She-Elephant, Knife and Fist, Trashman...
- Trash of the Titans: The Dead Man's Vlei- an abandoned toxic waste dump- is spacious enough to house an entire colony of scavengers, and so deep that slaves mine for salvage.
- Urban Hellscape: Toxic slums, borderline-Privately Owned Society, food shortages... an excellent example from the trope's heyday in the mid-90's.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: General Matsika starts out as part of this for all his children (especially with Tendai). As you might guess, it doesn't work out very well for him.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Touches on all the characters, even the minor ones.
- Would Hurt a Child: Most of the inhabitants of Resthaven, as long as it's a girl.