Fences and Windows: The Fight for Inclusion

By: Rory Mondshein

The United States of America was a nation founded on organized action: we rose against the British to get our independence; we organized against the colonialists, like the Spaniards and the French, to get our land; we lobbied Washington to give equal rights to women and African-Americans; and we protested increased corporate power until we were blue in the face. Needless to say, collective action has been a very important part of the American experience. Each movement resulted in fairer policies for previously marginalized groups by both destroying ostensible fences and creating “political portals” for these people to thrive. (Klein XXIV). These movements were successful because they were conveyed their message through images and rhetoric. Naomi Klein’s Fences and Windows also benefits from her own use of literary devices, such as metaphor, imagery, and rhetoric. Klein’s mastery of figurative language strengthens her argument that an unregulated global market will produce two groups—haves and have-nots—and create “barriers separating people from previously public resources” due to capitalistic greed (Klein XVIII)

In the first section of the book, “Windows of Dissent”, Klein discusses the logic of collective action in American history. Although she acknowledges that these riots lack a clear leader and “some confusion about the protesters’ political goals is understandable”, she notes that they have been widely successful. (Klein 3).  Klein, however, refutes some of the common misconceptions behind this protest, as she distinguishes anti-globalization from anti-corporatism. She specifically states that the rioters were not opposed to globalization; for they, too, were “bitten by the globalization bug as surely as the trade lawyers inside the official meet”. (Klein 4).

Many were enamored by globalization, believing that it would increase international cooperation and foster a more connected world. Naomi Klein represents this communal belief through metaphor and imagery. Yet, Klein’s choice of a “bug” to describe a positive phenomenon—such as globalization—is interesting; her usage completely defies the conventional connotation of the word. In its traditional sense, bugs have a negative undertone; they are typically associated with infection, viruses, and contagion. Yet, it seems that Naomi Klein just did not get the memo—instead, she marches to the beat of her own drum and manipulates the word to have a positive bearing. In Fences and Windows, “the globalization bug” represents the infectious spirit behind globalization and how it was spread throughout society. Through word of mouth, people came to believe in the promises and prospects of globalization. They touted the idea and encouraged their friends to do the same because this world pledged “barriers coming down, increased mobility, and greater freedom” (Klein XX). Unfortunately, while this allowed individuals to dream of a better world, these promises have yet to be fulfilled.

This, however, does not imply that these promises cannot be carried out and that globalization has somehow morphed into a force of evil. In fact, Klein specifically expresses that globalization can be wonderful, but has just not been constructed in that way so far. Instead, it has enabled corporations to construct, monopolize and exploit the world market to their advantage through corporatism. For these reasons, Klein specifically bifurcates between the two, advocating that they do not necessarily connote the same things. They have been incorrectly used interchangeably because the latter has tainted the former. She expresses that the protestors separated these terms and believed that corporatism was the root of the problem, not globalization:

When protesters shout about the evils of globalization, most are not calling for a return to narrow nationalism but for the borders of globalization to be expanded, for trade to be linked to labour rights, environmental protection and democracy. (Klein 5)

By framing it in this way, Klein establishes that globalization, itself, is not “evil”, but it can be used as such based on how it is facilitated. She mentions that globalization is good because it leads to “a surge in cross border information swapping”, which fosters a global community. (XV)

At the same time, however, Klein recognizes that someone needs to regulate this global community so that it resists being dominated and exploited by capitalistic corporations. She believes that the system has been constructed to enable this kind of “evil” behavior and suggests the need to develop a fair system based on basic conceptions of human and labor rights.

Unfortunately, Klein depicts the current state of affairs as anything but fair. She specifically uses “fences” as a metaphor to describe how the system has produced a greater disparity between the haves and the have-nots. While the rich have benefited from the system, the poor have fallen by the wayside, as the elite have pilfered public resources and privatized them for their own gain. She expresses this phenomenon through fences, which she defines as:

Barriers separating people from previously public resources, locking them away from much needed land and water, restricting their ability to move across borders, to express political dissent, to demonstrate on public streets, and even keeping politicians from enacting policies that make sense for the people who elected them.(XVIII)

The previous passage shows how Klein uses fences to express how the elite have dominated society by creating invisible borders around public property. As a result, the poor have gotten poorer and have increasingly been constrained and limited by the wealthy. In fact, Klein implies that this system has fostered imagined communities amongst these classes: the impoverished have been confined to their own destitution, as the affluent members have insulated their fortune through their exclusive access to public property. This two-part system has benefitted the elite, as it reaffirms the social hierarchy by allowing the wealthy to peacefully guard their assets without fearing recalcitrance from the poor. Klein conveys this image and represents it through fences.

This metaphor, of course, has both physical and non-physical connotations; Naomi Klein argues that both are equally present. Fences can be expressed metaphorically: they do not have to exist physically to have footing in society. Instead, these symbols gain legitimacy through public understanding of both their boundaries and importance. In fact, these imaginary fences are expressed in many forms: in the school system, in housing, between countries, and in day-to-day interactions. While these fences do not literally draw borders around property, they are nonetheless respected because they have been properly ingrained into people’s minds.

This is not to say, however, that these imaginary fences are not often supplemented by physical structures. These physical fences reinforce the boundaries expressed by the invisible fences and represent the border between haves and have-nots. Klein specifically says:

All these fences are connected: the real ones, made of steel and razor wire, are needed to enforce the virtual ones, the ones that put resources and wealth out of the hands of so many. It simply isn’t possible to lock away this much of our collective wealth without an accompanying strategy to control popular unrest and mobility. (XXIII)

This excerpt shows that one cannot exist without the other: the physical fences reinforce the disparity between the rich and poor, as they are established by the metaphorical fences. Together, they illustrate the social hierarchy and the fence around happiness that the system has produced. Happiness has been confined to a small space around the rich because they have been able to grow and benefit from the system; contrarily, sadness has also been boxed in, as the poor have been restricted to bask in their inferiority.

Klein’s classification is extremely powerful, as it gives readers insight into the seriousness of the issue. In fact, it evokes a somewhat melancholic feeling, as readers experience the destitution, isolation and restriction associated with the image of a fence separating two communities and confining each of the members to their own. Klein strategically appeals to the readers’ empathy and uses it to communicate the need for increased regulation. Klein’s rhetoric produces compassion for the marginalized and increased venom towards the rich, as Klein’s audience asks themselves how the world has come to a point where individuals are allowed to suffer like this.  When one thinks of a fence, they think of how limited things are and how not everyone gets to enjoy the fruits of life. Klein’s metaphor helps the readers understand this better by giving them a context to these feelings.

Unfortunately, few readers can properly comprehend these emotions because they have yet to experience them in their entirety. These fences are so ostensible and so ingrained into our mind-sets that the average person would not recognize their existence. Klein, however, gains footing because of her ability to illustrate these circumstances through her mastery of language. When one reads this paragraph, they literally envision fences—maybe a fence around a farm, or even the United States-Mexican border—and see how it literally divides two sides. The physical image helps set the stage for the virtual connotation and shows how these ideas go hand-in-hand. Klein’s rhetoric allows the reader to literally see a fence, “cut[ting] off from one another, from the earth, and from our own ability to imagine that change is possible” (XX)

Yet, Klein does not only use fences to illustrate the consequences of the current system. Instead, she uses them to describe one of two possible effects they can have. Though fences can definitely destroy individuals’ sense of hope by reinforcing these lingering feelings of mediocrity, they can also open a window for change. While Klein acknowledges that both are present, she implies that the former causes the latter.

According to Naomi Klein, fences are not as inhibiting as their connotation makes them seem; instead, they cause people to stand up for themselves and fight for justice by showing them what the world can look like after a little collective action. Klein conveys through yet another metaphor—windows—which describe: “a sense of possibility, a blast of fresh air, oxygen running to the brain.” (Klein XXV). This metaphor has a positive connotation and represents hope in a world full of despair. Though the fences seem inhibiting at times, it is these windows that remind people that they can rise above these tall fences and create a better world for themselves. These portals allow the marginalized to see light through a period of darkness and help them survive those terrible days; it reminds them that they are only temporarily confined and that time will yield a better day. These are the emotions that Klein’s rhetoric evokes, as it turns even the most cynical reader into an optimist. It is literally “a blast of fresh air” to the tragic story of the commoner. (Klein XXV) .

Whether one loves or hates Naomi Klein, none can doubt the exclusivity of the fences in society and how they lead to these social movements. Through her mastery of literary devices—such as metaphor, imagery and rhetoric—Klein communicates the need for increased regulation in the global market. Her metaphors set the stage for her entire argument through their description and imagery. Klein uses rhetoric to effectively convey her point and evoke empathy towards the underlying issues that globalization and anti-corporatism produce.  Klein’s language shows that, though fences and windows appear to be diametrically opposed, they act and react in surprising ways. Further, fences and windows work together and balance each other out. Without these fences, no one would be able to see the portal for change, just as there would not be a path to hope without a period of struggle. After all, it was these windows that made Americans want to fight the British for their independence in the 18th century, African-Americans want to challenge the rigid hegemony of the 1960’s, and the fifty-thousand or so protestors to express their outrage about “a lack of rules being applied to corporations, as well as the flagrant double standards in the application of existing rules in rich or poor countries” (Klein 5) Klein shows us there are two sides to everything: all of the problems we face and all of the fences we have to climb mobilize us to change our world and give us a glimmer of hope—“a blast of fresh air”—through the political portals they create in their wake. (Klein XXV).


Works Cited:

  1. Klein, Naomi, and Debra Ann. Levy. Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate. New York: Picador USA, 2002. Print.