painless_j (painless_j) wrote in nealstephenson,

A question about the ending of The System of the World

I want to talk the ending of the last book of the 'mammoth', The System… It would be very spoilery so I'll hide it under a cut. I'm rather confused and want to hear other readers' opinions. You wouldn't believe how much it's bothering me :) I even had to go find this comm when nobody on my fof-list answered my question.

I was sure Jack Shaftoe would be hanged. Don't take me wrong. I love him to bits. I love all the three main characters: Jack, Daniel, and Eliza, and I was happy they all finally met in the last book. But Jack, he was never meant to die in bed at the age of 70, surrounded with his loving descendants.

So, again, I was sure he would hang. And he did……………….. but then he didn't. The scene with the two kings from the Epilogue threw me. I thought they were in the afterlife at first, not unlike Jack seeing the sort-of-ghost of Father Edouard the Gex when he had been tortured with weights. But it turned out Jack was alive and… not really well but alive, with an awful crick in his neck. And Eliza was present there too. WTF?

So how did the events prior to the hanging worked to lead to that??? Eliza had told Daniel that she had wanted Jack's execution to go according to his sentence exactly (which was hanged until half-dead, after which quartered). Suppose it was written that way to deceive us, the readers, to make us think she was still hell-bent on revenge. Then Eliza sent him his execution clothes of gold and silver and fine white. And after all that, we can see her in the garden where Jack hunts with the Sun King.

My problem is, I can't see the logic in it.

What, Eliza sent that awesome gold-cloth suit with golden buttons to Jack knowing (?) that he would throw it all away for the crowd and annoy Jack Ketch so much as to hang him slowly, rather than the swift painless death Ketch had promised him while he had thought the garments would go to him after Jack's death? Or that Jack would deliver his last speech and annoy the crowd so much that it wouldn't allow Jack Ketch to quarter him after hanging?

Absurd! I can't believe Eliza still knew Jack so well. They had last communicated properly some two dozen years before. They had traced each other closely when they could ever since but…

Also, Jack was the king of Vagabonds partly because his Imp of the Perverse made him very hard to predict (and because he was free and unafraid, and his imagination the wildest, and he energy, unsurpassable). I'm positive Eliza, with her posturing as near omnipotent and omniscient, could't know what Jack would do on his last day on Earth.

So, what was the point of her telling Daniel that and sending Jack that.


Edit Got the answer, thanks!
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic
    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.