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In 1939 Norbert Elias published his research called ‘The Civilising Process’ which is described to be as one of the most significant and founding works of the twentieth-century sociology. His work examines the process of how Western Societies have associated themselves with being “civilised” when compared to other forbearing and neighbouring societies. His research examined the transformation of the concepts ‘shame’ and ’embarrassment’ of societies in regards with behavioural etiquette and violence. Elias further considered the effects of socio-economic, socio-cultural backgrounds and reciprocity within the growth of state monopolies. The novel High-Rise by J.G. Ballard, is a significant work of post-modern dystopian literature exploring similar concepts of the work provided by Norbert Elias. This essay will aim to critically examine the operation and limits of the ‘Civilising Process’ theory portrayed by the characters in the novel High Rise by James Graham Ballard in the context of psychological dissatisfaction. 

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While modernism supports the notion of a universal truth and the rational thinking followed by science and reason is the path of evolution, the postmodernist approach suggests that the notion of having a universal truth can not exist and that there irrationality exists among mankind. It is suggested that postmodernism developed though technology and it’s use within the arts and literature, thus, High-Rise sets a postmodern approach of the consequences created by the hierarchies. Furthermore, a dystopia is described as “an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.” The novel, High Rise begins with the character Dr Laing narrating his own feelings in third person while cooking the leg of a dog, thus, shares the image of the dystopian and unpleasant environment of the novel early with the reader. Moreover, Dr Laing states “…he was surprised that there had been no obvious beginning, no point beyond which their lives had moved into a clearly more sinister dimension.”  further establishing the dystopian and shifted nature of the novel beforehand. High Rise by J.G. Ballard illustrates the lives of the people, residing in a 40 floor apartment, of different socio-economic and different socio-cultural backgrounds, with each floor representing the social class of the residents. The higher the floor of residency is regarded with higher wealth and privilege. With the building incorporating social environments satisfying the residents everyday needs, such as a super-market, a gym, a swimming pool it becomes unreasonable for the residents to leave the accommodation barring for daily work. Further in the novel, tension and hostility begin to rise between the lower and higher floors due to electrical problems, where the lower floors experience light cut outs. It could be argued that the concept of electricity cut outs which leave the residents in darkness, trigger the aggression and violence of the ‘lower’ social-class that has been repressed by the ‘higher’ social-class breaking all laws and rules. 

Although the novel does not have a main protagonist, the plot is predominantly revolving around three prime characters; Richard Wilder, a television producer and documentarian who lives on the second floor as a lower-class resident; Dr. Robert Laing, a doctor in the field of physiology who seeks solitude and resides on the twenty-fifth floor as a middle-class resident; and Anthony Royal, known as ‘The Architect’ who played a role in the design of the accommodation and lives in the penthouse representing the higher-class. The three major characters all show signs of psychological dissatisfaction in different ways. 

Firstly, Richard Wilder in the novel is a representative of the lower class as he lives on the second floor and often reveals his frustration of being in a lower class social group through his aggressive comments and behaviours. Being a former rugby player, he depicts a rather physically strong character to the reader and plays a crucial role in the intensifying violence within the structure as he drowns a dog in a swimming pool located on the tenth floor of the building during an electrical cut which is above his social-class. It can be argued that the repressed anger and violence in Wilder was the spark that led to the violent protest and war between the classes. Further in the novel, as Richard Wilder is now a current television producer, he  decides to document the life within the isolated structure that is falling apart with the aim of showing the reality of the inequality, mistreatment, violence and could be argued to prove that he was the one to bring down such a structure making him some sort of hero. 

Secondly, Anthony Royal who is known as ‘The Architect’ is seen as some sort of God within the structure as he lives in the penthouse and represents the wealthy higher-social class of the building. Throughout the Novel, Ballard has presented the Architect as a mystery where the reader can only assume that the Architect has a sinister plan due to the fact that he mentions that The Architect was well aware of the flaws within the apartment. Although Royal lives on the top floor with luxury, wealth, entertainment and power, it could be argued that he has an interest and curiosity for the lower social classes. Furthermore, it could be said that there is a sense that Royal wanted to see the limit and the breaking point of the lower class people of the residence and how they would behave in isolation and violence.

Lastly, Dr. Robert Laing who resides on the twenty-fifth floor is the representative of the middle-class and unlike Richard Wilder and The Architect, Dr. Robert Laing begins with being at peace with his social class and only seeks privacy and remoteness. In the beginning of the novel, Laing seems to be content with his new environment as he does participate in discussions of the structure of the building merely listens, however, as the plot evolves, Laing is presented as a character who longs for the creation of an isolated world which is ruled and controlled by himself. His character transforms from being comfortable to a frustrated character who desires something else but can not figure out his wishes, to then, becoming a predominant piece of a structure. 

The three main characters, Richard Wilder, The Architect Anthony Royal and Dr. Robert Laing represent a chronic psychological dissatisfaction within different social and economic classes. A psychological dissatisfaction is referred to the feeling of “wishing for something more but not knowing what it is”. It would seem that most of the characters in the novel, mainly Wilder, Royal and Laing are constantly in the search of something however never truly know what they are in search of. Moreover, all three characters portray their desire in different ways. Wilder, throughout the novel unveils his dissatisfaction through rude, inappropriate or aggressive behaviour. Even in his marriage he does not have loyalty which further proves that he is dissatisfied with the majority of his life, thus has intercourse with other women and is the character that breaks all the ‘rules’ and begins the protests within the High Rise. The Architect on the other hand, although has all of the resources and is seen as a God figure by the residents of the High Rise, seems as he is also not at peace. The character depicts a dissatisfaction and desires to see and experience some sort of excitement through violence and chaos by not fixing the problems of the High Rise although he is well aware of them. And lastly and most importantly, Dr Laing, from the beginning of the novel demonstrates a chronic dissatisfaction. Laing had first moved to High Rise on the advice of his sister because she had described the residents of the accommodation as ‘clones’ which shows that Laing was not satisfied with his life outside of High Rise. During the novel, Laing grows as a character and although wanted to be isolated in the beginning, he then realises that his own isolation would not be enough to satisfy him, however, he desired a place of isolation where he was in power.