Bas-Lag Reading Project Iron Council Part Six: The Caucus Race
Set a mournful funeral march, get ready for eulogizing. Ding dong, the witch is dead. So long Eliza Stem-Fulcher.
“The Caucus Race” drives home what I have been saying about Ori for a while. Toro’s Gang targeted the Mayor of New Crobuzon for assassination, or did they? Eliza Stem-Fulcher, last seen in Perdido Street Station as Mayor Rudgutter’s Home Secretary, has become Mayor in her own right (and seems to have been in the position for a number of years- maybe a decade). While Stem-Fulcher does get assassinated at the end of this section, she was not the target.
The truth of Toro’s Gang is revealed, and also Ori’s self delusions of what he is doing. There is a distinction between terrorists and revolutionaries, although a thin one. Terrorists are aiming to cause fear and panic in their opponents and are more apt to commit atrocities when it furthers their cause. Revolutionaries can be just as ruthless, but terror is not their method, rather it is achievable goals. The line is ever so murky, however.
Ori is a revolutionary, he wants to act to bring about a new New Crobuzon. But he is unwilling, squeamish even, when it comes to killing, especially when it comes down to the innocent. The old couple for example. He is okay with their deaths when he thought them Militia, but when he realizes that they are innocents, their only crime being owning the house adjoining Magister Legus’s, he is not okay with it, despite him rationalizing it. This event sours him on Toro and the gang although he still contributes.
But this is only a part of the shattering of Ori’s illusions. He believes that the purpose of the gang is to free New Crobuzon, to make it a better, more just place to live. But the truth is very different. Toro’s true intentions have always been to kill the Magister who ordered her Remaking. Toro, like Stem-Fulcher, is a returning character. Derkhan mentions going to the trial of a woman who accidentally smothered her child. That mother is Toro. And the Magister who so happened to order her Remaking just happens to be Stem-Fulcher’s lover.
This revelation completely breaks Ori’s constructed view of the gang, its purpose, and what he is doing. He is thrown out and becomes more of a detached observer. He is not as present as he was.
In a way, Ori becomes both an observer and protagonist. As a character, he really only comes alive when he is dealing with Spiral Jacobs. There is something about their interactions, the stalking curiosity that breaths life into Ori’s sections. However, Ori is also just an observer when it comes to the new face of New Crobuzon, the Commune- wait, the Collective.
The funny thing is that Ori’s (and Toro’s Gang’s) action do not contribute at all to the “awakening.” The assassination of Stem-Fulcher honestly has nothing to do with the revolution. He keeps talking about “waking the city up” when it is actually him who has been asleep.
Moving back to Spiral Jacobs, the power he exerts on Ori is similar to that of Judah Low on Cutter. Both are older men who have taught the younger man something. Though there is clearly no sexual component to Ori’s fascination with Jacobs, there is clearly a connection-if only from Ori’s side of it.
The relationship is mediated by the memory of Jack Half-a-Prayer. Jacobs new the famous rebel, and Ori is obsessed with that image of popular rebellion. Part of his blindness as to the event unfolding around him stems from not being able to see that an organized rebellion is coming. He can only see armed struggle as originating from rebel gangs- the FReemade and Toro’s Gang.
Just as there is a new New Crobuzon, so there is a new Toro. The death and abdication of Toro, having accomplished her goal, leads to the new Toro. Ori has been given the bull’s head, the symbol of anarchism. What does he do with it?
Finally, say what you will about Mayor Stem-Fulcher, she did go out with a crowning moment of awesome.
Next time, a harrowing jaunt through the Cacotopos in “The Stain.”