Being scared of the unfolding civil war, people try to escape from the city. As soon as K and his mother start moving, they see that “stranger and stranger conveyances were emerging on the streets” (21). There were “shopping trolleys fitted with steering bars; tricycles with boxes over the rear axle; baskets mounted on pushcart undercarriages; crates on castors; barrows of all sizes” (21). No one is afraid to look ridiculous, for their lives are at stake. This imagery gives an unsettling feeling that society is on the verge of collapse and that people are merely trying to survive in any way they can.
After a long day of walking, K finds a place where he can spend a night. This is a bungalow “in the corner of an overgrown field.” The place looked miserable, as its windows are “shattered” and the door is “broken off its hinges.” When he enters the bungalow, he sees that the floor “was covered in broken glass, old newspapers, and drifting leaves; pale yellow grass grew in through cracks in the walls” (38). The imagery helps the reader to understand how exhausted K is to spend a night here, and how so many parts of society are like this bungalow: ignored and rundown.
When K learns his mother has been cremated, he imagines "the old women from the ward fed one after another, eyes pinched against the heat, lips pinched, hands at their sides, into the fiery furnace" (32). This ghastly image expresses K's shock that his mother is gone and his sense of the cruelty and insensibility of the world he finds himself in. The horrors are banal, but they are still horrors nonetheless.
The Destruction of the Camp
When the Captain of Police orders his minions to destroy the camp because three of its inmates are suspected of setting a fire, what results is utter cruelty, callousness, and disrespect for the inmates and their possessions. The officers throw everything the people have into heaps, turning things inside and out as they sweep through the space. The people huddle off to the side, only able to watch as they receive confirmation that they truly are considered the dregs of society.
Life and Times of Michael K Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Life and Times of Michael K is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.