The name of the story, ‘Dumpster,’ might provide some insight to the readers as to what the story would entail. However, the dumpster is just the surface value answer to the questions explored by Ben Stoltzfus. The author from California is renowned for his witty sense of humor and satirical comments. These elements are spread all over the story. As soon as Reverend Newell appears on the pages in the story, we know that one or the other reference to Christianity or the practices belonging to the religion is in order. On many instances, the author has followed a pattern and represented a comparison between the cleanliness of the soul and the city of Loviers. This is an interesting take on human collectiveness. We are aware that humans thrive in community and are social beings by nature. Ben has tried to explore this concept through the lenses of politics and religion.
As the story starts, a common setting of a dumpster truck moving along and accomplishing its job is introduced to the audience. But it would be incomplete to mention this without the term ‘monster,’ which the author has used to illustrate the garbage truck. Just like a monster, this machine has claws that grab; it growls and makes its presence known from a distance. It follows a symmetrical process of commencing the gathering of the garbage.
As mentioned in the first few pages through Peter Newell’s character, ‘the dumpster’ is not just a literal tool for dumping waste materials, just like garbage does not just refer to trash. He compared the waste or garbage to the ‘sins’ that individuals commit, and not cleaning these sins on time might lead to contamination and might start to stink. We may similarly draw a comparison between a dumpster and the cycle that the cleaning of sins follows. For example, it is not a practical method to work as a community, create a dystopian society, commit a mistake, and repent for it. If such a practice is followed, it becomes a vicious pattern with no return. All we do is consume and cleanse, we buy destructions for ourselves, use it, discard the waste (the cleansing after the sin is committed), and again travel down the same road. It is as if there is no consciousness behind the actions. We just follow the process of taking out and cleaning the trash (sins) so as not to burden ourselves with our mistakes.
The first half of the story brings forth the unprecedented and unusual combination of people living in the city of Loviers, along with the members of the city council. The author mentions how the city is one single unit and functions as such. There are disagreements to be seen but never a scene of bickering. All the beginning parts focus on how everyone is united by the same goal of the salvation of Loviers city. Everything is found to be kept in check, whether by the Mayor or the Sanitary Squadrons. There is a feeling of complete responsibility in each citizen, and they take pride in being well-oriented.
A scenario of antithesis is created by the writer while moving ahead with the story. He is quick to address the questions swirling in all minds while reading the book. The sudden shift in the condition of the city, or as referred to by Nora, one of the characters, ‘an omen,’ makes the readers realize that the condition might not have been as promising as it seemed in the start. Where there were talks of ‘nothing being wasted’ and cluster behavior early on, it seems to get shattered very quickly. Cameron Grace, a one-time cover girl, while handling the poetry competition, notices the animosity in the hearts of people regarding various issues. She finds herself in shock when their writings reflect how they find Racism and Misogyny to be right while claiming to be one single group. Their facade of unity also gets tampered with the treatment of homeless people in their city.
The author sneakily mentions the sense of contentment in the hearts of the people of Loviers and how they relax with everything being right in the world. It is laughable how opposite their situation was in reality and how contrasting their reactions remain in times of mere distress. An example can be taken of the time when the population of crows increases, and rather than tackling it in a systematic manner, the first solution they could think of was declaring war against the birds. There were seemingly far greater things that demanded their attention, like the condition of the Derelicts. This situation puts a stamp on their convenient and selective idea of community. This takes us back to CG’s understanding of groups being temporary and how she believes that it is not the creation of the idea of a group that’s difficult but making sure the foundation is correct (takes the example of Nazi unity).
When readers weave through these transitions in the book, they get a taste of the author’s humor. It is mostly religion that is at the brunt of this. A scene of unparalleled nature occurs in the city when an image of the Virgin Mary is found on a tree in such a manner that makes it look essentially realistic, with sap dropping onto its face as if it is a tear. This sighting is followed by some weird incidents. The Catholics are quick to advocate for their belief being the true one. They claim there to be no possible retort from the Protestants’ side now when a sign has come to them directly. The way the author writes about this thought process, mentioning the ‘Trinity Concept’ being discussed by two drunk men, reflects how unrealistic it all sounds, and yet a whole city shows no doubt in believing it. It is also funny how the people in the town expect the Virgin of Loviers City to be a source of re-energizing the whole of America for the twenty-first century when these people were ready to put the symbol of their religion on the front cover of Playboy.
The most applause-worthy part from the writer comes when he points out the way business was made from religious beliefs, whether it was the flourishing tourism or the tickets to see the Virgin Mary; it was all more than mere faith. This can easily be connected to the present conditions as well. The irony of the situation comes into play when the whole country is referring to Jasmine, who wrote about the findings, as the ‘Virgin Mary’s depiction’ when she had just lost her virginity to Rudy. Her unexpected pregnancy, in a way, carries forth this image of her related to the mother of Jesus in the reader’s mind when she also turns out to be pregnant. Humor gets further reflected in Ben’s story where the city decides to install razor wire atop the chain-link fence to stop the Virgin from disappearing. It shows how short-sighted humans are, and there is only so much that their knowledge can cover. Even Leila’s prank on the people turns into a joke when they mistake her for Jasmine and believe that she talked to the Virgin, further conveying the message of Peace on Earth.
Towards the end, we see how the line “Art can be an antidote to chaos” comes to life with Jasmine preparing an intricate sculpture as a form of remembering Rudy. This reflects that art provides solace for even the ache of death. It was not just her, though. Even CG found her art of writing to let out all her pent-up emotions that, due to the long distance, she could not share with her husband.
It completes a full circle when Ben, in the end, compares the city to a dumpster and believes it to have turned into one. Cameron’s statement of “Only time will tell” comes true in the sense of how the condition of Loviers City turned out. This conveys an unavoidable message of how the city holds a mirror to the future ahead. No matter what might transgress, it is impossible to run away from the growing interconnectedness of the world, hence shared problems. The main theme very subtly, while talking about the ‘growing progress of the merchants,’ also puts forth the chains of capitalism surrounding us and how in all situations, the capitalists will seem to find a benefit.
“Dumpster, for God’s Sake” by Ben Stoltzfus is a thought-provoking and satirical exploration of politics, religion, and human collectiveness. With its witty humor and clever commentary, this book offers an engaging and insightful reading experience. Available now on Amazon.
Also Read: Transgression by Ben Stoltzfus: Book Review