In Hadestown, a musical written more than 10 years ago about Orpheus and Eurydice, the Underworld’s introduction as a tangible setting of this tony award-winning musical begins with the question “Why do we build the wall?”
This song was written in 2006 by Anaïs Mitchell, the composer and writer of Hadestown, and yet it feels contemporary. In an interview, she mentions that she never in her life imagined that in 2016, a whole new life would be breathed into this song.
Hadestown chronicles Orpheus’ and Eurydice’s story. In this Broadway musical, Eurydice becomes enthralled by the security Hades offers in the Underworld. Eurydice tired from her poverty, agrees to Hades’ deal. In exchange for her security, she literally dies by snake-bite to travel down to the Underworld.
In her arrival to Underworld, Eurydice finds that it is surrounded by the wall. This is our initial introduction to the Underworld (or as the musical refers to it, Hadestown). In the confines of Hadestown, Hades asks his “children” to build a wall around their city. “Why do we build the wall, my children, my children?”, Hades asks. And his children, devoid of all hope and identity cries, “We build the wall to keep us free.”
Hades presses, “How does the wall keep us free?” And the chorus answers, “The wall keeps out the enemy.” “And who is the enemy,” Hades asks. “The enemy is poverty. And we build a wall to keep us free,” the crowd chants.
As the song continues to its crescendo, however, the audience quickly figures out that the enemy isn’t just poverty, but poor people themselves. At its climax Hades exclaims, “Because we have and they have not, because they want what we have got!”
This song is a perfect commentary to the human condition. Far too often, we are willing to give up our freedoms to ensure that we would feel secure. Sometimes, it means voting for a president who literally promises to build a wall. Other times, it means breaking strategic economic and political alliances to keep immigrants out of the country.
Why We Build the Wall also speaks to the refugee crisis America and Australia are under at the moment. The gross violation of human rights perpetuated by both countries in the hopes of “securing their borders” is not only ineffective but morally bankrupt.
If we should take away anything from Hadestown it is that while walls effectively keep people out (although this is debatable), it also keeps people in. The wall is not a way to freedom but a tool of imprisonment. Heed Hadestown‘s warning, there is no amount of security that is ever worth your liberty.