Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban [...] what the story tells of Riddley's own "Master Chaynjis?" How does Riddley change from the beginning of the novel to the end? What important insights does Riddley have about himself and his world? "Riddley Walker" is the fascinating and often disturbing story of young Riddley, a twelve-year-old boy living in the wake of a nuclear holocaust. The book follows him through some almost mythical adventures, but mostly contains a thesis on modern nuclear warfare and technology, and where it could lead society. Riddley learns many lessons throughout the book, but the most important lesson he discovers is that power is not what it is cracked up to be, and that power can corrupt.
At the beginning of this unusual book, the hero, Riddley Walker, is a boy becoming a man. He has just completed his "naming day" ceremony, and he kills a wild boar in the woods. He seems like every normal boy; perhaps from an earlier time in history, but that will all change. Riddley's life will change on his naming day, and he will never be the same again. There are three basic groups in Riddley's futuristic and yet old-fashioned world. The "Ram" are the government, but they rule rather ineffectively by sending around puppet shows that are really propaganda in disguise. The "Forms" are the agricultural communities, and the "Fents" are the communities that seek out the old machines of the previous world, while building fences to keep out the wild dog packs that roam free throughout the countryside. Riddley lives in a Fent and it is here is father is killed by an old machine. Riddley is a naive young boy when the story opens, but he is also open to change. He believes that what the leaders of his country do is "right," but discovers in his heart that "right" and "good" can be two very different things, and that sometimes, a person has to trust his heart, rather than the power and "rightness" of those around him.
Riddley's world is frightening, and he has learned much more about it, and the people in power, by the time he develops his own puppet show. He would not have been able to develop that show in the beginning of the novel because he did not have the knowledge or the capabilities. As the Reckman tells Riddley on the day his father dies, "Now you dads gone youwl be connexion man and How Fents people wil be asking you in stead of you asking them" (Hoban 14). People mature faster in Riddley's world, and he has to become a leader when he is still a boy. His first lesson comes when his father dies, and he has to assume responsibility for others, and to question his own reaction to life and power. This sends him on his journey, where he will learn many other important things, and formulate his beliefs about himself and his world. His father's death is the turning point in his life, and without it, he might never have been able to discover the things he needed to by the end of the novel.
An important lesson Riddley has to learn is to "cry for the dead" (Hoban 196). When his father dies, he laughs (Hoban 11), and he does not really mourn. It is not until the dog leader trusts him that he cries, and cries for everyone who has died before, from the dogs to the babies to the people killed in the original holocaust 2,500 years before. Hoban writes, "Him what lookit like Death on 4 legs with his yeller eyes what dint even care if he livet or dyd and he wanit me to pet him. That's when I cyrd for the dead" (Hoban 196). That is when he begins to formulate his ideas for the puppet show, and its message -- not to kill babies, and not to submit to the power of the government when it seems to be wrong. To learn to cry is to have emotions; something this society does not show much of. To be emotional is to feel with your heart, and Riddley needs to do this to develop his puppet show, and understand what he wants to teach the people about power and how power corrupts.
Another important lesson Riddley learns is about humankind. Goodparley is sometimes a friend and sometimes an enemy, and Riddley does not know just what to believe about him. Riddley has to learn this over time, because at times Goodparley seems like his enemy, other times his friend, and sometimes just a pathetic blind man who is corrupted by the thought of the ultimate power. Riddley shows throughout the narrative, which is written after everything occurs, that he has gained a greater understanding of humankind throughout his adventures. He states, "There aint that many sir prizes in life if you take noatis of every thing. Every time wil have its happenings out and every place the same. What ever eats mus shit" (Hoban.15). He is really a philosopher, one of the few in the country who can write, and quite a threat to Goodparley, who knows Riddley is wise enough to be a better leader than he could ever be. This indicates how Riddley has progressed past most of the society he lives in. He is the "connexion" man who can read between the lines of the puppet shows, but he as he travels and meets characters like Lissener, he learns more than he ever thought he could know, and it sets him above normal society. These are ultimately Riddley's "Master Chaynjis." He becomes a man on his naming day, but he does not really become a man until he sees Goodparley's destruction by the gunpowder, and knows he must take his message to the people. He is not the boy who left Widden Dump, he has more knowledge, and he has changed drastically because he can cry as well as laugh. He is a leader, but not a leader who wants power, but a leader who wants everyone to know they are all a part of something bigger than they all know. His message is simple, and his understanding is too -- power corrupts and can kill.
Power is the essential theme of the novel, and by novel's end, Riddley discovers "The onlyes Power is no Power" (Hoban 197). It takes Riddley a while to formulate this belief, and he has to travel many miles with many different people before he discovers it, but throughout the novel, his travels lead him to this conclusion. He sees good in some people, and he sees how power can destroy, as it ultimately destroys Goodparley. When Goodparley shows him the pamphlet about the painting of St. Eustace, Riddley really begins to understand all the powers the people of 1997 had, and what had been lost due to the atomic explosion of "Little Shining Man." He also begins to understand that Goodparley wants to recreate what the people of 1997 had in the way of technology, and that this could destroy what it has taken another 2,500 years to build. Goodparley is not evil, and Riddley has to discover this, too, so he can understand how humans are a blend of good and bad, happy and sad. Everything that happens to Riddley in the novel has a purpose, and leads Riddley down the path he is supposed to take. At one point, he thinks to himself, "If you cud even jus see 1 thing clear the woal of what's in it you cud see every thing clear. But you never wil get to see the woal of any thing you're all ways in the middl of it living it or moving thru it. Never mynd" (Hoban 186). That is the story of his journey, and why he has to make it -- he has to be in the middle of it to get to the other side. Riddley grows up along the journey, and has several different experiences. He is a connexion man, he is a "tel" man, he is befriended by dogs -- the enemies of the people -- and he becomes a showman who delivers his important message to the people to help them change.
Another very important moment in the novel is when Riddley discovers the puppet on the severed hand, and decides to evade the politician who wants it. He encounters and releases Lissener and begins his relationship with the dogs during this journey, but even more, it brings him back to Goodparley, and helps him discover just what Goodparley is really looking for -- the ability to make gunpowder, which will eventually take the people down the same path that those in 1997 suffered -- nuclear destruction. While Riddley cannot understand the full implications of what Goodparley wants to do, he knows in his heart that Goodparley's quest for power is wrong, and that power for power's sake…