Thoughts from the front lines


The Practicalities of Painball and Our Real Life Killers


Atwood’s novel MaddAddam again explores the recurring idea of Painball, a group of criminals who are offered the chance to be put into an arena to fight and kill other murderous criminals. The reward for victory is life; everyone else dies. The effects of being in the arena seem to be a systematic deconstruction of the human identity, resulting in, basically human monsters, once the victors are liberated from Painball. Most perpetrators, after surviving a session of Painball, return to the arena for the thrill of it. Outside of the arena, these men tend to be glassy-eyed, unstable individuals who require careful surveillance in order to ensure the peace. Given the fact that armies, institutionalized training programs revolving around teaching someone how to kill another person, it might be worth learning what exactly that kind of environment does to you mentally.

institutional killing
Against common conception, Mental health counselor Jim Dooley, in an interview, notes that it is not the loss of a friend that leads to the greatest mental trauma, but it is actually the act of taking a life. Dooley says, “I think it is a loss of yourself[…]. And I think that once they understand that, they can’t go back again They can’t say that it didn’t happen, or maybe somebody else did it” (Dooley To take a life in an act of ownership of your actions that are beyond denial. There is understanding and there is a death of self.
The army’s response to that is to relegate the problem to PTSD and observe it very vaguely and impersonally, via questionnaires, asking the participant if they have PTSD. Military stigma against PTSD has declined in recent years, but it still exists and few people want to admit to having it. Despite that fact, PTSD seems to be what Painballers are suffering from. Sebastian Junger, a soldier who was deployed in Afghanistan, describes the experience of PTSD:

From an evolutionary perspective, it’s exactly the response you want to have when your life is in danger: you want to be vigilant, you want to react to strange noises, you want to sleep lightly and wake easily, you want to have flashbacks that remind you of the danger, and you want to be, by turns, anxious and depressed. Anxiety keeps you ready to fight, and depression keeps you from being too active and putting yourself at greater risk. This is a universal human adaptation to danger that is common to other mammals as well. It may be unpleasant, but it’s preferable to getting eaten (Junger

These circumstances are exactly what the Painballers are experiencing. Their fear, a result of living in a kill-or-be-killed world is completely rational in the realm of survival. Considering the fact that some Painballers are multi-seasonal, it makes sense for them to have adopted this fear into their daily lives. Atwood describes them:

Fueled by their greyworld celebrity position, the Painball vets were pumped full of I-won hormones and thought they could tackle anyone, and they welcomed the chance to take a poke at large, solid-looking bouncer such as Zeb the Smokey Bear. He was warned by Jeb never to turn his back on a Painballer: they’d whack you in the kidneys, blam you on the skull with anything handy, squeeze your neck till your eyes popped out of your ears.
How to recognize them? The facial scars. The blank expressions: some of their human mirror neurons had gone missing, along with big chunks of the empathy module: show a normal person a child in pain and they’d wince, whereas these guys would smirk (Atwood 297).

These Painballers display a complete lack of empathy and the ability to inflict physical violence ruthlessly and without concern. Whether this is the result of PSTD eroding their empathy, or a choice that they have made after deciding that killing is the life that they enjoy, it is hard to tell. But the idea that killing makes your crazy is solidly found in our society, and the idea that the army propagates teaching how to kill is a problem. Without proper treatment, is it possible for groups of soldiers to become like the Painballers, intent on destruction and pain? Institutionalized death is an idea that is frowned upon in Atwood’s works, but at the same time, our real world institutionalizes death as a form of political defense, even though, in recent years, our armies have been deployed into foreign countries pro-actively instead of being used as a defensive measure.

The lack of empathy found in the Painballers exists as a real problem Toby and company. MaddAddam is coming to a point where a conflict between our protagonists and the Painballers is inevitable, and considering their lack of empathy, and the effects of living with PTSD, as well as the vile nature of the Painballers, established throughout the series, it is possible that the MaddAddam group will lose many people, as well as the group of Pigoons. Could empathy solve this problem? Is it even possible for the Painballers to feel empathy again? Or will Toby again be praying to the Liobam for strength, believing that it will grant her what she needs to remove these killing machines as a threat to her friends and family?




Atwood, Margaret. Maddaddam. Vintage Canada. 2013.

Dooley, Jim. “The Impact of Killing and How to Prepare the Soldier”.

Junger, Sebastian. “How PTSD Became A Problem Far Beyond the Battlefield.” June 2015.

Keevil, Rosemary. Addiction and Veterans. 2016. Wordle.

“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).” Canadian Mental Health Association.

“Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – causes, symptoms, treatment & pathology.” Youtube, uploaded by Osmosis, 5 September 2016,

Sengupta, Kim. The British Army. 2015. Photograph.

Shrivastava, Pratyush. US Army Camoflague. 2015. Photograph.

“Understanding PTSD’s Effects on Brain, Body, and Emotions | Janet Seahorn | TEDxCSU” Youtube, uploaded by Tedx Talks, 14 March, 2016,



Honey and the Bees: The Beginning of the End.

Often times, when we think of bees, we don’t think religion and we don’t think character arcs. We don’t think about the ways that bees symbolize different ideas and how that reflects the ideas that are present in a possible post-apocalyptic future. But lucky for us, Margaret Atwood, in her book, The Year of the Flood, has got us covered.

Atwood, in relation to the character of Toby, puts strong emphasis on the symbolic relationship between Toby and the bees in her role as Eve Six. In that role, Atwood also uses Toby to introduce the idea of honey and what it means to the gardeners, to Toby, and to Atwood’s themes are large. Because, in a very real way, honey marked the beginning of the end for Toby, the Gardeners and the rest of the world.


Honey is often seen as the best natural remedy due to its antibacterial properties. It can be used to treat burns, infections, ulcers and gastroenteritis. It also never “goes bad” due to its low ph, its high viscosity (thickness), its high osmolarity (concentration of solution per number of solute particles per liter) with low availability to water (meaning that mold has no opportunity to grow) and its ability to produce hydrogen peroxide. Honey has many natural benefits which lend it to be the long lasting natural remedy that can be applied to a great many positive uses. There is a discrepancy with this image and the way in which honey is significantly introduced in the novel, namely, in the first viewing of Crake a.k.a. Glenn.

honey is good

Crake first appears with a jar of honey, claiming that something is wrong with it and he is here to see Pilar about it (Atwood 145). One of the only ways to spoil honey is to dilute it, allowing for mold to grow on it, thus rendering it inedible, and that fact that this is how Atwood chooses to introduce us to Crake is telling. Crake will be the one to bring about the Waterless Flood with his BlyssPluss pill which was developed as part of his immortality project at Paradice and Atwood is choosing to introduce him already in possession of a tainted immortality. Honey is often perceived as a symbol of immortality, as it is able to withstand the trials of time with minimal damage and still be good, but Atwood is showing that Crake has managed to taint this natural immortality, and, as a result, is coming to Pilar to fix it.

This is an odd moment, of Science coming to Faith for answers; of Science coming to the natural world to ask questions. The interesting thing about the encounter though, is how Crake dismisses it in the end. He claims that Pilar’s illness merely a “design fault” and as something that “can be corrected” (Atwood 147), thus dismissing the severity or even the natural rights of death by claiming that it is a mistake that he can fix. Crake is stripping the honey and the natural world if it’s healing properties, and, in away is stripping faith of it’s validity simply by being in possession of the tainted honey and introducing it into the world of the Gardeners.


The honey is the product of the bees, a community of hard working insects who are working for the good of everyone around them. The Gardeners are the embodiment of that idea and the “honey” that they produce is their ideals and their values in how to treat others. Crake is a “friend” of the Gardeners and works for them as an ear inside the world of the Compounds, but in the end, what he does is like the tainted honey. He works against the community of the Gardeners, the hive, and even takes half of them with him to work as part of MaddAdam in Paradice. He taints the honey that the Gardeners have given him, just like he symbolically taints their ideas. Crake is like the bee that betrays the hive, and in the end it destroys them.

The bees are a reflection of the community of Gardeners, just as the honey is symbolic of what the Gardeners give to the world, something pure and lasting that ends up being taken and corrupted by Crake. The symbol of honey and bees both factor into the religious overtones that Atwood has laced her story with, as well as lending themselves to the more subtle, symbolic aspects of what is happening versus the significance of the details of what is happening, all of which culminate to describe Toby’s arc. The bees represent Toby’s time of peace with her community. Crake’s appearance with the tainted honey and Pilar’s death mark the end of that security and that peace. Toby enters a new stage in her life where she must tend the bees alone and she draws near to them, considering them her close friends, but she ends up leaving and losing that community as well. Then Crake and his flood come, stripping Toby of everything she valued, her community and everything in her life that was meaningful and long-lasting, her “golden honey”. Toby’s character is marked by the bees, and in a sense, Toby, after the Flood, lives in a liminal state, just as the bees do, “between the living and the dead” (Atwood 180). In a way, Toby, as the last bee of the hive, the last remnant of community, becomes the tainted honey. She still holds to the practices of the Gardeners and she maintains their values, but, in losing her hive, she has lost the thing that makes life living, and has entered the place between life and death. Toby is like the last bee of the hive, alone and all too mortal, the stark contrast between what she once had and what honey was always supposed to mean.

bee honey larvae

And in a very Atwood move, linking Toby to the idea of the bees and the Gardeners as her hive and collection, and then factoring in the Waterless Flood, is also an ingenious way of pointing to the declining bee population and how losing them would mean the destruction of the whole world, which finds it’s parallel in the Flood, Crake’s attempt at immortality.

So far, Atwood’s predictions of what could happen in the suture have been pretty spot on, and it leaves me wondering, is she right about this too? Will we be robbed of our ideals, our portal to immortality? Will we allow ourselves to be tainted by the prospect of bodily immortality and become like Crake and his honey? Will we be like the last bee? Or will we hold on to our honey, and what makes us bees, even if the rest of our hive is gone?


Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood.Vintage Canada, 2010. Print.

Scott. “Honey Can Be Used for a Variety of Medicinal Purposes”. Today I Found Out: Feed Your Brain. March 9,2017. Web.

Hiskey, David. “Can Honey Go Bad or Make You Sick?”.  Today I Found Out: Feed Your Brain. March 9,2017. Web.

“Why All The Bees Are Dying”. Youtube, Uploaded by Seeker. May 13, 2013.

“Honey: Magical, Immortal Superfood.” Youtube, uploaded by Seeker, August 26, 2013.