1984 by George Orwell

Yet again I’m using an old piece of writing that’s a more technical piece rather than a book review. But I’ve been watching the news a lot lately, and I don’t want to get too political, but I thought this book would be worth looking at again in this day and age. While this book is a classic staple of Literature Arts classrooms everywhere, it’s one that has the power to suck you into the prose and make you compare what you are reading to what you are witnessing in real life. As I said, I don’t want to get too political, but for those in the USA, the current presidential candidates are coming to a head and soon we will know who will be on the ballot for general election. Every time we decide to choose the voice of our nation, it is best to do your research, to read between the lines of the media propaganda, and to exercise the right to vote for who you think will best represent the nations needs. Now, I’ll step off my soap box and say that Orwell composed this piece long before the current day and age (in 1949) and set it in the future, 1984, but his piece still seems relevant to this day, which is why I’m sure many have read it in a classroom by assigned chapters. I encourage you to take a second look on your own and reread 1984, then mull over Orwell’s message and apply it to your reality.

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In the futuristic novel 1984 by George Orwell, a man named Winston lives in oppression because of the Party, the system of government that controls every aspect of life, including things that cannot be controlled, like science and thought. The Party had such control over society’s mind that if they said something that defied reality, a person would believe the Party and ignore reality. This power leads to the deterioration of individuality, education, and humanity in society. Using symbolism, satire, and characterization, Orwell shows that the complete control and power and the resulting conformity could spell the downfall of society as we know it.

In Oceania, one out of three continents on earth and home of Winston, personal identity had become almost non-existent. Everyone goes around calling others “Comrade” no matter the gender. Everyone wears the same blase colors and uniforms of the Party. When Winston happens upon a small shop that sells things from the past, he is intrigued by a small lump of glass–coral.  What appealed to him about it was not so much it’s beauty as the air it seemed to possess of belonging to an age quite different from the present one…It was a queer thing, even a compromising thing, for a Party member to have in his possession. Anything old, and for that matter anything beautiful, was always suspect. (96) Individuality was against the Party. And though the Party had no laws, there were certain things that were avoided to keep from committing crimes against the Party. Orwell used this little piece of coral to symbolize individuality and to illustrate the danger of conformity. With conformity, there is a loss of beauty, of uniqueness, and of personality. Because the coral was a personal item, something pretty and unique, it went against the conformity expectations of the Party, which would eventually put Winston in danger. He didn’t mind though because  he personally felt that the coral was also a symbol of his rebellion and opposition of the Party, and he took pride in it.

One of the Party’s slogans, “Ignorance is Strength (4)” is disturbing to any intellectual. The Party would prefer to keep it’s members, willing or not, completely oblivious about what is actually going on within the Party. The less people that know about who’s in charge, the more control the leaders have. Because the leaders have gained so much power and nobody questions it, the leaders can change facts and other information, and the people would “doublethink” or re-learn the altered information as the truth and believe whole-heartedly in it’s credibility because of the Party. They don’t inquire about it because that goes against the Party, and that makes it a crime. This cycle allows even more control to the Party, and completely goes against today’s eager-to-educate society. Orwell uses satire to affirm his opinion that today in society we couldn’t imagine a world in which we didn’t question everything or accept information that defies science, math, and other proven facts. He also uses the satire to warn us that if we didn’t question authority or use our own minds, we would certainly end up as ignorant conformists.

Another point that Orwell makes is that because of the overpowering control held by the Party, humanity itself takes a turn for the worse. Using characterization, he introduces Winston as a man of 39, with a gray complexion and a varicose ulcer on his ankle. He moves slowly, in pain. Winston is a young man in an old man’s body. But he’s not the only one. Everyone is pre-aged in this society. Everyone is pale and dusty. Winston’s own neighbor actually has dust particles on the wrinkles of her face. The only ones who seem young are the children. And they act like adult soldiers. In this society, the children seep fear into their own parents because children are spies for the Party- they turn their own parents in as criminals for committing crimes against the Party, known as “thoughtcrimes”. Winston noted; Hardly a week passed in which the Times did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak– “child hero”…– had overheard some compromising remark and denounced his parents to the Thought Police. (24) A child, usually dependent on their parents, would turn their own parents in to the police for the Party. This goes against today’s society in which children have become more dependent on their parents for longer periods of time. The society during Orwell’s year of 1984 is showing complete lack of true humanity, in which our young are protected by their family, and where the children look up to their parents with affection and love.

In conclusion, the futuristic 1984 by George Orwell warns about the consequences of total conformity and giving over power of our individual minds. When everyone gives up their own freedom of will and succumbs to authoritative abuse, we could lose our education, our individuality, and humanity. Using symbolism, satire, and characterization, Orwell shows that the complete control and power and the resulting conformity could spell the downfall of society as we know it.


Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

I’m still slacking in the reading department. I have been doing the dusk-to-dawn routing between my day job and gardening on the farm, and researching things for my (still unofficial) move into my new house. So, please bare with me until I can get my nose back in a new novel!

To tide you all over, I dug into my old google doc files and found an essay I wrote back in college. (I know, I make it sound like so long ago…) Since I reviewed Lone Wolf  by Jodi Picoult last week, I thought Nineteen Minutes would be another great example of Picoult’s engrossing literature. I wrote it as an analytical essay so it’s more technical than conversational, but the story outline is there and the explanation behind Picoult’s technique that has more depth to it. Just keep in mind that this is a college paper, and there are moments that show my naiveté.  Hopefully between the two, I’ll have convinced you to read something by her! So, without further ado…

Nineteen Minutes: Maslow’s Third Layer

    Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comes to mind when reading the novel Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. The main characters of the story reflect upon themselves and the tragic shooting incident, and the causes that lead up to the event. Josie, who seems to be the typical popular high school girl has come from the bottom of the social ladder at school, and struggles to maintain her status and belonging in the ‘popular’ crowd. Alex, Josie’s mother, struggles to feel needed as a mother since she constantly buries her maternal side under her job position as a state judge. Peter, the person who started the shooting at the school, was constantly being bullied, and all he wanted was to be accepted by Josie. These three main characters struggle with acceptance and belonging. Picoult’s reflective formatting of chapters and third person omniscient point of view allows the audience to see the struggle within the three characters.

Picoult’s reflective format in the novel starts on the day of the incident, but flashes back to the past, then to the future, and then continues to switch the past and present. So when we are first introduced to Josie, she seems to be an average popular high school student. Then, after the shooting, we start to see her past history with Peter. Josie used to not care about what other people thought, until she made friends with a popular girl while working on a project. Then, she ditched Peter because he wasn’t cool like the popular crowd. They picked on him, put him in his place. Josie found out that with them, she didn’t have to worry about being picked on. But then she starts dating her popular boyfriend Matt, who is Peter’s bully. Matt reminds Josie that the social ladder is what keeps her above Peter, saying “If there isn’t a them, there can’t be an us.” Josie realizes that being popular isn’t simply being accepted, but a struggle to maintain acceptance from everyone else. This causes her to feel guilty about the treatment of Peter, because every time he is bullied, she is reminded that at one point she was his friend, and that she could easily fall from the graces of the popular crowd and become just like Peter.

Alex, a state judge, must maintain her calm, unbiased reputation no matter where she is. At home, this becomes the downfall of her relationship with her daughter, Josie. Internally, she struggles with the fact that she isn’t the mother she wants to be. “I’m good at being a judge. And I’m lousy at being a mother.” Shocked for admitting the truth out loud, since she couldn’t admit to herself, the audience realizes that even though Alex is a great judge, she is still a human, and can’t help but judge herself. She also can’t help but want to be accepted as a normal human, rather than ‘Your Honor’.

Finally, throughout the book, Picoult has the audience questioning the motive behind Peter snapping and shooting at everyone at the school.  While some of his bullies were shot, there were other people that seemed innocent in the novel. Peter seemed to show no remorse, and even dared to ask “How many did I get?” But for some reason, Picoult convinces the audience with Peter’s bullied history that maybe the boy isn’t a murderer, but someone who was pushed to the brink and finally snapped. And towards the end of the novel, Picoult reveals at least one hint that shows why Peter killed these kids. We find out that Josie was also a culprit- she is the one who puts a bullet in Matt. She doesn’t kill him, but shoots him in the stomach, and instantly regrets what she did. She begs Peter to help, and his response was putting a bullet in Matt’s head. This put Matt out of his misery, but isn’t what Josie wanted. Peter takes the blame for Josie, hoping that after all the years of adoring her, that this will finally make her accept him. It was his final offer of friendship to her, but obviously the most damaging.

Josie, Alex, and Peter all have internal conflicts about acceptance and belonging. As Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states, all humans need this to feel complete. Picoult shows this struggle of the main characters achieving acceptance in the novel Nineteen Minutes through the use of reflective formatting and third person omniscient point of view.

Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

Oh, Jodi Picoult… I don’t have favorites, but you are at the top of my list when I think of amazing authors. To take a novel and make a person think so deeply about real life situations, right and wrong, ethics and values, and life or death… that’s something beyond special, and it’s completely enrapturing.

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I’ve read most of Picoult’s work, and eagerly look to the next new novel, so I bought Lone Wolf shortly after it came out, which has been a few years now. But, I never got around to reading it. I just kept it stashed in my purse, or by my bed, as the back-up book for whenever I didn’t have something to read and was in need. Being in the current transition of moving out of my apartment, I’ve been too afraid to take a book out of the library. I don’t want to lose a book in the shuffle. So it seemed like the perfect time to actually crack the spine of Lone Wolf.

Now, here’s where I’m going to deviate from the system here. I’m only 50 pages in, but I’m not going to review on anything further than those 50 pages, and here’s why. I am not but 50 pages in, and I’m already having some serious ‘deep conversion’ in my head. THAT is what impresses the hello out of me when I say that Picoult is an amazing author.

So here’s the summary as of those 50 pages. We meet Luke, a man who lives, eats, and sleeps wolves. He has a teenage daughter, named Cara, who has lived with her dad and doesn’t seem to mind his eccentric parenting methods. Luke’s ex-wife, Georgie, has moved on to a new husband and twins, but ends up rushing back into his and Cara’s life when the hospital calls about the car accident they were in. She’s immediately concerned about Cara, and blaming Luke for everything, until she learns that Luke was in the accident and worse off than Cara. Because she’s the ex-wife, she isn’t privy to next-of-kin information, so she immediately calls her son, Edward, Clara’s older brother, who moved to Thailand to get away from the family problems. It’s the typical “broken family bonding due to family tragedy” scenario, but it works like a charm to lure in the reader.

Picoult uses multiple points of view separated as chapters per person to get into each character’s thoughts, and this aids the reader in keeping track of them. In “Lone Wolf”, I was immediately drawn into the comparisons of human vs. animal nature and nurture. As an animal person who has make it a passion to study and learn animal behavior, I find the parallels of the wolf pack behavior to human behavior fascinating. Picoult uses Luke’s point of view for this, and I’m really interested to see where she takes it as I read further.

I also want to point out a piece from Edward’s point of view that make my brain fire up:

“Mistakes are like the memories you hid in an attic: old love letters from relationships that tanked, photos of dead relatives, toys from a childhood you miss. Out of sight is out of mind, but somewhere deep inside you know they still exist. And you also know that you’re avoiding them.” (pg. 57, Picoult)

This resonated with me. I’m a perfectionist, I hate making mistakes, and as quickly as I learn from them, I stash that memory away and don’t want to reflect on them once I’m past it. And of course I’m an over thinker so I went through about 10 scenarios that fit that quote. It’s only just a part of Edward’s stream of thought, but it made me, as the reader, think about the way my own conscious thoughts roll.

All of this, from 50 (or so) pages into this book. Now, I don’t know how it’s going to end, but all I’m saying is that there is always something at the end of a Picoult book that blindsides me, and I’m eager to find out what it is. And, I highly suggest you give this book a read, as well as check out some of her other works.

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