The Motivations Behind Duty

Modern society is notable because of it’s philosophical justifications based on the
natural world. The social and political theories that developed during the age of
enlightenment stated that in a state of nature, when isolated from others, man is perfect.
In David Brin’s The Postman, Gordon is in a position of absolute independence. John
Locke argued that men perform good only when society clearly defines and requires it. In
a state of nature, man neither knows nor does good. Gordon was a natural man, yet he
continued to perform what he felt was his duty to his fellow man. He was motivated by
three factors during different stages of his journey, self protectionism, protecting his
friend, and protecting the world on a large scale.

Duty is defined as the fulfilling of ones moral obligations. Duty is often completed
out of fear of god or the state, yet Gordon was citizen of no state and The Postman did
not focus primarily on religious themes. Gordon’s motivation for electing to become
postman and accept a role of leadership must be evaluated. Gordon initially entered the
town of Pine View, he was looking for nothing more than a hot meal, which he paid for
with his acting show. He initially felt that his duty as a postman was nothing more than a
charade. “you aren’t really a postman, are you?” asked Mr. Thompson (Brin 58) . His
initial duty to his fellow man was fulfilled for purely selfish reasons.
As Gordon is accepted into the societies, his duty as a postman becomes a greater
leadership position and his motivation for fulfilling his duty changed. After his
relationships with abby and dena and his befriending many members of the societies, he
began to see his duty as an obligation to others. He felt that he could only be accepted
into their society by being “a demigod in their eyes, or nothing else” ( Brin 132)

In the final section of the book, Gordon has completed his moral development and
now recognizes his duty to serve humanity in general. The greatest symbol of Gordon’s
acceptance of duty to the entire world was his leaving his established world in Oregon and
continuing south as a loner to try and find California. Gordon had united Oregon, leading
to Powhatan creating the “new defense league of the Oregon commonwealth” (Brin 318).
Gordon resigned his role as postman, stating “My obligations are to the nation, not to
one small corner of it (Brin 319).

Gordon is an ideal character because he clearly displays the three stages of moral
development. His shift for egocentricity to concern for his social group to concern for the
nation as a whole demonstrates how his character change in order to compensate for the
events he witnessed. Gordon accepted society and fulfilled his duty to that society. The
Postman demonstrates the effects of the “social contract” between man and society.