Historical Context of The Minority Report

The historical context of any piece of literature cannot be ignored while engaging with the text. Such a reading of the text provides an added dimension to the story. The Minority Report highlights the anxieties and tensions of the 1950’s America. The widespread fear, panic and propaganda during the cold-war is raised consciously in the story. The USA of the 1950’s saw the advent of the cold-war and proxy wars, and the seeds were sown for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. Espionage, spying and constant surveillance were some of the features of the political atmosphere of the day. Hence, the political and social mood of the day is significant to understand if one wishes to situate The Minority Report in its immediate socio-cultural context.

The precogs, which looks into the future to judge acts of violence by the citizens can be said to work on the system of Artificial Intelligence (AI), a term used to describe “machines (or computers) that mimic ‘cognitive’ functions that humans associate with the human mind, such as ‘learning’ and ‘problem solving’” (Wikipedia) The story gains an added historical and scientific significance owing to the fact that this concept of AI was also coined and devised in the mid 1950’s, precisely the time when the story was first published.

There are references to wars and the destruction caused by it. When Anderton takes up the garb of Ernest Temple, an unemployed electrician in New York to avoid arrest from the police, one cannot ignore the references to the war-torn city: “The bus had entered the vast slum region, the tumbled miles of cheap hotels and broken-down tenements that had sprung up after the mass destruction of the war.” These can be taken up as references to the nuclear war, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These are some clear indications to the 1950s discourse in USA. Hence, The Minority Report can be said to be Philip K. Dick’s attempt to capture some of the immediate historical, social and political characteristics of the day and this is one of the major reasons that the story became an instant success upon its publication in 1956.

The principles of the precrime system trample upon the principles of natural justice. The principle of natural justice states that any accused must be heard in a court of law, in an unbiased manner and that the accused has the legal right to a free and fair trial. None of this is guaranteed to the civilians in the short story. The Bill of Rights, as enshrined in the American Constitution were also put to trial in the 1950’s American civil society. The America of the 1950’ was mired with political witch-hunting and an omnipresent state police force. Hence, in the backdrop of the cold-war era, Dick’s narrative gains an added political and historical authenticity. The American values of liberty and life were evidently at stake in that era. Dick’s narrative is concerned with these basic rights getting curbed by the totalitarian forces of the era. Hence, it would be safe to assume that the story allows Dick to sketch several ethical, political, moral, historical and philosophical concerns in the narrative.

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