Archive

Tag Archives: classic

John Steinbeck is one of the great American writers. His novels and short stories frequently took place in southern and central California and often focuses on themes of love, fate and justice, with ‘everyman’ – often terribly flawed – central characters. After the world celebrated Steinbeck “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception”, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, after a body of work containing the Pulitzer Prize winning The Grapes of Wrath, and other notable works such as Cannery Road and Of Mice and Men. But it is the epic East of Eden, published in 1952, that Steinbeck considered his magnum-opus. “There is only one book to a man”, Steinbeck famously wrote of East of Eden, a 600 page novel set in the Salinas Valley, California, at the turn of the 20th century.

eastofeden

The narrator tells the story of two families – the Trasks, headed by Adam, and the Hamiltons, headed by Samuel – as their lives intertwine over several generations in the rich farmland of the Salinas Valley. I won’t go into any more detail than that – I can’t, not without writing another thousand words – but East of Eden is heavily influenced on the Bible’s Book of Genesis, especially the story of Cain and Abel, and the struggle for their father, Adam. The title itself is taken from Genesis, Chapter 4, verse 16: “And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the Land of Nod, on the east of Eden.”

The Trask family end up re-enacting the rivalry of Cain and Abel not once but twice in the book. First, with Adam and Charles Trask vying for their father Cyrus’s love, and then in Salinas, where Adam raises the two twins Aron and Caleb Trask, alone. The parallels are obvious, from brothers being very different people, to the handling of rejection and the wrath of jealousy, and the consequences of these actions. I don’t think Steinbeck was trying in any way to be subtle, and while the symbolism may seem somewhat heavy handed at times, they are no less powerful, and this is testament to how well Steinbeck writes and breathes life into these characters. Lee, the Trask’s Cantonese, surprisingly philosophical servant, and old Sam Hamilton, a jolly inventor and farmer who is adored by all for his strength and heart and values, are personal favourites, and I have not felt such a strong attachment and admiration for two fictional characters in some time.

I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?

East of Eden is a strange book. To describe it as ‘biblical’ is sheer laziness, but it is a unique and beautiful read. It feels historical, mythical, magical all at once. It suffers from heavy handed characters, some of which are too easily defined as ‘good’ and ‘evil’, it can be verbose and melodramatic, but it has a strong heart. A compelling fable retelling the story of man’s original sin, the maddening way of love and the consequences of its absence, and the internal struggle that happens within all of us, that of right and wrong, and the human ability, that freedom to choose.

But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.

great gatsby quote

For whatever reason The Great Gatsby had never really appealed to me, both the book and the recent-ish big-budget adaptation by Baz Luhrmann. But with my determination to read through all the classics and sample the great authors (and that list growing ever and ever longer…) I finally tackled it last week. The Great Gatsby is considered by many as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s best work despite suffering from average reviews and poor sales upon its publication in 1925. A rather sad fact; Fitzgerald died in 1945 under the impression that he and his failed works were to be forgotten.

The Roaring Twenties. The Jazz Age. Whatever you want to call them, it is this period of time where the events of the book take place, and they were brought to an end when the Great Depression hit after a stock market crash in 1929. Fitzgerald’s book, published in 1925, several years before the crash, is eerily prophetic as he peers through the charades of wild and reckless parties and general decadence to see the stark truths, built up on vanity and wealth. By the end of The Great Gatsby, we are left in no doubt what Fitzgerald’s general opinion was of this era. The book is a cautionary tale; the unfairness of inequality, power and wealth, of living to excess, the inability to let go of the past, and the chasing of the American Dream.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

The plot follows the book’s narrator Nick Carraway, as he moves from Midwest America to the east, to take a job in New York, to Long Island and the fictional town of West Egg. He lives in a small house next door to the rich and mysterious Jay Gatsby. In Nick’s first few weeks he catches up with his cousin, the flirtatious, incredibly well-off Daisy, her powerful, even richer but also a complete dickhead Tom Buchanan, and their friend, cynical but glamorous golfer Jordan Baker. We get a taste of life in the Jazz Age through a series of small parties where alcohol is drank to excess and the conversation is just awful. Power and wealth and the upper class are not exactly put in a great light here. Alcoholism, promiscuity, social prejudices, the discussion firmly kept to class and wealth. The crowd that Nick becomes involved with are not exactly the most grounded bunch.

the great gatsby

Eventually Nick is invited to a party of his neighbour Gatsby, whom owns a tremendous mansion next door to Nick’s much more humble abode. Having seen the bright lights of many of Gatsby’s parties from a distance Nick is is quickly enveloped into an almost surreal existence, full of swinging parties and audacious feats of wealth. Gatsby is the source of nightly parties that carry on into the early hours of the morning, yet Gatsby himself rarely takes part, leading to rumours about his past, how he came about his wealth, and his true desires. Nick attends more and more of these parties in West Egg at Gatsby’s mansion, and grows an attachment to the man. There is something about this Gatsby, as Nick writes:

He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced–or seemed to face–the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.

Despite being set during prohibition, there is plenty of booze, drunk driving, car crashes and debauchery. Nick is intrigued by this man, seemingly so generous in opening his home to people he knows and knows not, yet he doesn’t participate – he doesn’t drink, hell he hasn’t even used his luxurious pool in his back garden – he is observing, or waiting. But for what, or who? Well, Gatsby is in love with Daisy Buchanan, has been for the past 5 years and in fact the two once dated before Gatsby had to fight in the war. It turns out that Gatsby has been attempting to win Daisy back. His mansion is exactly opposite hers, across the bay on East Egg, with the green light shining across the water a constant reminder of the love they shared.

The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.

The Great Gatsby’s final chapter is one of the sad and unfair endings in literature. A chain of events ends in a hit-and-run. Ironically, Tom’s mistress Myrtle is unknowingly killed by his wife Daisy, but Gatsby agrees to take the blame. However, when (finally) relaxing in his pool one afternoon Myrtle’s wife George Wilson enters Gatsby’s property and shoots him before turning the gun on himself. Nick’s efforts to arrange a funeral while gauging the reactions of Gatsby’s so-called friends is troubling as we realise just how lonely this seemingly popular and successful man was.

After that I felt a certain shame for Gatsby — one gentleman to whom I telephoned implied that he had got what he deserved. However, that was my fault, for he was one of those who used to sneer most bitterly at Gatsby on the courage of Gatsby’s liquor, and I should have known better than to call him.

What Fitzgerald succeeds in is creating terribly flawed characters that demand the reader’s attention. You may (in Tom’s case, will) despise certain characters, but you will enjoy reading about them – they are all fascinating in their own way. Daisy (who of her daughter says ‘I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool’), and Tom Buchanan in particular, who Nick describes as ‘one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterwards savours of anti-climax‘ and is prone to racist rants, come across as shallow, self-centred, careless individuals. Nick’s views on Tom after an encounter several months after the death of Gatsby:

I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

Was Gatsby great? It’s a difficult question. When compared to the rest of the supporting cast, he certainly comes across as a likeable character, and perhaps with narrator Nick Carraway’s encouragement, we the reader would be inclined to say yes.

They’re a rotten crowd’, I shouted across the lawn. ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.

From the start the strange rumours of Gatsby as this almost mystical presence are exaggerated. He resembles a magician, the ‘Great Gatsby’, and even his vehicle at one point is described as a ‘circus wagon’. But how great was Gatsby, really? As Tom refers to him, ‘Mr. Nobody from Nowhere’, Gatsby came from humble beginnings and of low-birth, which doesn’t really work out well for you in this book. He is a self made man, literally making his own name, changing it from Gatz to Gatsby. What he does demonstrate is incredible ambition to make something of himself – sure, it was through bootlegging and other illegal activities, but coming from nothing to throwing the best parties in New York is pretty impressive. Gatsby got to where he was through hard work, desire, ambition and ‘an. extraordinary gift for hope’.

Leonardo Di Caprio and Carey Mulligan as Gatsby and Daisy in Luhrman's 2013 adaptation.

Leonardo Di Caprio and Carey Mulligan as Gatsby and Daisy in Luhrman’s 2013 adaptation.

But ultimately Gatsby’s doomed romanticisation of Daisy was hugely flawed. His inability to move on, to try and recreate the past exactly, was naive and foolish.

“I wouldn’t ask too much of her,” I ventured. “You can’t repeat the past.”

“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”

He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.

“I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before,” he said, nodding determinedly. “She’ll see.”

The tragedy is not Gatsby’s dedication in chasing a dream, but chasing an morally ambiguous, dishonest dream. And he shows tremendous greed too. He is not content with Daisy loving him – he wants her to have never loved Tom. To have never loved Tom the five years they were apart, as if he can erase the past. And this is his downfall.

There is plenty of symbolism within The Great Gatsby. The infatuation with money is everywhere, and there is evidence that Gatsby, when they dated all those years ago, loved Daisy’s money more than Daisy herself. He reminisces about her mansion in particular, and when he reconnects with her finally he insightfully shares with Nick that ‘her voice is full of money’:

“She’s got an indiscreet voice,” I remarked. “It’s full of-“

I hesitated.

“Her voice is full of money,” he said suddenly.

That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money-that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it.

And ultimately wealth is the ultimate power of this age. Wealth consumes the rich, and destroys the poor. Everyone is striving for wealth in the book, but in The Great Gatsby, they bring immorality and death.

While reading The Great Gatsby I enjoyed Fitzgerald’s writing and the vivid and complex characters. But it was only once I had reached the end of the book and had it clouding my thoughts for days after that I realised how much the book has affected me. It’s a tragic tale of the hollowness of the American Dream that still resonates today.

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Anyone unable to understand how useful religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either.

Like all of Kurt Vonnegut’s books, Cat’s Cradle is typically difficult to nail down in terms of genre. To define his books as science-fiction is like calling Moby Dick an adventure book; there’s much more to them than that. It is science-fiction, but there’s a hearty dollop of satire. And while it’s a tragic tale, the way its written reads more like a comedy. Vonnegut’s fourth novel, the book was published in 1963.

193iex1yq1unrjpg

The narrator of this story is John, or Jonah, who is attempting to write on what Americans were doing on the day the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. We follow him on his investigation into the life of the late Felix Hoenikker, the father of the atom bomb that killed thousands in Japan and brought WWII to an end. To learn more about him he contacts thes the three Hoenikker children, still affected by their father’s life and legacy, and it is through them he stumbles across Hoenikker’s last and most deadly invention, ice-nine. A blue crystal like substance, split into three and owned by the Hoenikker children, that upon contact would crystallise every droplet of water it touched, turning the Earth into a blue frozen tundra.

After the thing went off, after it was a sure thing that America could wipe out a city with just one bomb, a scientist turned to Father and said, ‘Science has now known sin.’ And do you know what Father said? He said, ‘What is sin?’ Felix Hoenikker. The bloke who invented the atom bomb. Promising. . .

John’s investigation takes him to the republic of San Lorenzo to interview Dr Julian Castle, where he is introduced to a number of strange and interesting people, including Dr Castle’s son and the owner of the island’s only hotel, Philip Castle, ‘Papa’ Monzano the island’s old and terminally ill dictator, his daughter Mona Monzano, the most beautiful woman John has ever seen, and the three Hoenikker children, Frank, Angel and Newt. And it is through his eyes and writings we witness the end of the world.

“Self-taught, are you?” Julian Castle asked Newt.

“Isn’t everybody?” Newt inquired.

“Very good answer”.

Dialogue throughout is often funny and smart.

“And Father started giggling,” Castle continued.

“He couldn’t stop. He walked out into the night with his flashlight. He was still giggling. He was making the flashlight beam dance over all the dead people stacked outside. He put his hand on my head and do you know what that marvelous man said to me?” asked Castle.

“Nope.”

‘Son,’ my father said to me, ‘someday this will all be yours”.

Vonnegut goes to town creating the wacky island of San Lorenzo, with a rich cast of characters and strange traditions and the fascinating religious movement, Bokononism. Many of the most thought-provoking quotes are Bokononist teachings, and John reveals during his tale that he too has become a Bokononist through his experiences on San Lorenzo.

cats cradle

To my eyes there are two main themes within Cat’s Cradle. Firstly, Ice-nine, Hoenikker’s technologically (or biochemically?) bewildering invention, clearly representing weapons of mass production (more specifically atomic warfare given the book was published a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis) and the threat their mere existence poses to humanity. The science involved is astounding. . .but ultimately the vast amount of intelligence and hard work has gone into creating something primarily to kill. And as is shown, accidents can happen – it doesn’t necessarily take an evil madman to destroy the world. What is somewhat amusing in the book, but terrifying in reality, is how easily this ensemble of inadequate and flawed characters have access to a doomsday device that can end humanity. We see how recklessly the Hoenikker children use it to get their wants. Angela, for example, gives some of her ice-nine to the Americans in exchange for a stunningly attractive toy-boy husband. Frank trades some of his ice-nine to Papa Monzano of San Lorenzo to be a Major in Papa’s shambolic army. The poor, poverty-stricken San Lorenzo where fatefully, ice-nine is allowed to be unleashed on the world.

I do not say that children at war do not die like men, if they have to die. To their everlasting honor and our everlasting shame, they do die like men, thus making possible the manly jubilation of patriotic holidays. But they are murdered children all the same. Vonnegut perhaps warming up his war-weariness for his most renowned work, Slaughterhouse 5.

Which leads to the second major theme of Cat’s Cradle, religion. Bokononism is Vonnegut’s calypso/Carribean themed religion, and the native religion on San Lorezno. The general theme is that we are attracted to certain people and objects throughout life, and those within the same group, a karass, are linked and somehow intertwined through the will of God. Within John’s karass is Dr. Felix Hoenikker and his three children along with many of the characters he encounters in San Lorenzo. Members of the same karass often express their love in the ritual ‘boko-maru’, where the bottoms of feet are pressed against one another. Like a sole-shake.

“Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before,” Bokonon tells us. “He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.” Bokonon, in the Books of Bokonon, admits that it is all a lie, right off the bat. There is no deceit.

Don’t be a fool! Close this book at once! It is nothing but foma!

Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy. *foma = harmless untruths

Basically, Bokonon created Bokononism as a relief to those who need it. A lie can be a good thing if it promotes happiness, no? The inhabitants of San Lorezno are thin and dying, starving in poverty. They use Bokononism to make their lives more bearable.

“Papa” Monzano, he’s so very bad

But without bad “Papa” I would be so sad;

Because without “Papa’s” badness,

Tell me, if you would,

How could wicked old Bokonon

Ever, ever look good?

Bokonon’s calypso on Dynamic Tension

Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;

Man got to sit and wonder ‘why, why, why?’

Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;

Man got to tell himself he understand.

Bokonon’s calypso on trying to understand

The very ending of the book shows Bokonon, sitting on the top of Mount McCabe, with a piece of paper containing scrawled handwriting. John approaches him and reads the final words of the Books of Bokonon;

If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity; and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow; and I would take from the ground some of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men; and I would make a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who. The final sentence within the Books of Bokonon

That is how the book ends. Does this mean, upon reading this, John finishes his account and commits suicide? Is that the end? It seems likely. To discover Bokonon, contemplating his religion. To see him write like this, why did he carry on the charade of Bokononism all this time, if this was how he really felt? Or did he genuinely think he could make a difference, only for ice-nine and the end of the world caused by the events on San Lorenzo shatter his faith in (God/fate/mankind?)

Short and sweet, written simply with a rapid turnover of chapters, Cat’s Cradle is probably one of Vonnegut’s more accessible books. The warnings of humanity’s self-made destruction in ice-nine and the soothing falsities of religion as themes can be as shallow or as deep as the reader wants to take them. Or you can ignore that all together and read about a strange bunch of characters who together bring about the end of the world as we know it.

Someday, someday, this crazy world will have to end,

And our God will take things back that He to us did lend.

And if, on that sad day, you want to scold our God,

Why just go ahead and scold Him. He’ll just smile and nod.

Bokonon’s calypso on the end of the world

Four legs good, two legs bad.

The English classroom classic. I would imagine that Animal Farm was present on most secondary school curriculums and therefore, for better or worse, most have experienced Animal Farm. When I read the book, and I can’t remember quite how old I would have been, I recall a book about animals, mirroring flaws that we see in human nature, and struggles for power, for equality. Yes, the teacher at the time may have made some vague remark about it being very much a political book, but I wasn’t really interested and / or I didn’t comprehend it at the time.

Any commentary on Soviet history and communism would have been completely lost on me.

animal farm

Still from the 1994 live action adaptation. “Politics? I thought it was just a film about some animals”

Now of course, it’s a bit clearer. Animal Farm is a satirical novel, written by Orwell during the Second World War. Swimming in allegory and symbolism, it describes the situation in Europe and Russia, but takes away the main players of Stalin, Trotsky, Marx and Tsar and replaces them with an ensemble of animals; pigs, horses, dogs, sheep, and of course humans. It could be considered a dystopian novel too, in the same vein as Orwell’s other masterpiece, 1984.

We are given a short and direct sequence of events that occur at Manor Farm over the course of several years. Mr. Jones is the farmer and owner of Manor Farm, and his cruel and drunken handling of work and treatment of animals. Old Major, an old boar, prophesies a world where animals are no longer ruled by humans, deriding them as parasites who consume but do not contribute, and teaches the farm the song ‘Beasts of England’. He later dies, and this spurs the animals into revolt.

Their lives now, they reasoned, were hungry and laborious; was it not right and just that a better world should exist somewhere else?

They drive Jones and his farmhands from the farm and rename it Animal Farm. They set out a set of rules to ensure life on the farm is fair and better than under the rule of Jones. Named the ‘Seven Commandments of Animalism’, they are as follows;

Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.

Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.

No animal shall wear clothes.

No animal shall sleep in a bed.

No animal shall drink alcohol.

No animal shall kill any other animal.

All animals are equal.

Cool cover design by John Holcroft http://crean.es/tag/john-holcroft/

Cool cover design by John Holcroft http://crean.es/tag/john-holcroft/

The animals are overjoyed at their revolution, and news of their victory over the humans soon spreads far and wide. Morale is high, the farmyard tasks run smoothly and life is better than ever before. The pigs are elevated to the leaders as they are naturally the most intelligent, and two young pigs Napoleon and Snowball seem to begin a political rivalry for leadership of the farm. Snowball seems the more educated with rational and well thought out ideas, keen for the farm to prosper and develop. Upon announcing plans to build a windmill, which could provide electricity to light stalls and keep the animals warm in the winter, Napoleon ousts Snowball and declares himself leader of the farm.

Slowly, under the rule of Napoleon, a more controlled and ordered rule of the farm comes into play. The pigs seem to have more and more benefits over the rest of the animals.

This work was strictly voluntary, but any animal who absented himself from it would have his rations reduced by half.

Napoleon also begins to manipulate the thoughts of the animals, primarily through a young pig named Squealer, who claims that the windmill idea was Napoleon’s idea all along, and the animals are required to start working hard (very hard) on the construction of the windmill right away. When the partially constructed windmill is destroyed in a storm, Squealer tells the animals that this was an act of sabotage from Snowball.

“No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”

Squealer becomes the charismatic mouthpiece for Napoleon’s regime is Squealer, a pig who spouts propaganda which is lapped up by the animals who have doubts and concerns but ultimately are too afraid of Animal Farm failing, and the possibility of the return of Farmer Jones.

“Surely, comrades, you do not want Jones back?”

Once again this argument was unanswerable. Certainly the animals did not want Jones back; if the holding of debates on Sunday mornings was liable to bring him back, then the debates must stop. Boxer, who had now had time to think things over, voiced the general feeling by saying: “If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.” And from then on he adopted the maxim, “Napoleon is always right,” in addition to his private motto of “I will work harder.”

Snowball soon becomes the scapegoat for any and every problem that the farm encounters, and Napoleon begins to rule with an iron-fist. Any animal suspected of collaborating with Snowball are deemed traitors of Animal Farm and sentenced to death. Boxer the carthorse, the most faithful and hardworking of all the animals, strives to work for the benefit of the farm and collapses, injuring his hoof and unable to work any longer. He was close to retirement, and looks forward to a peaceful end to his life. Napoleon however, sells him to the slaughterhouse, disposing of him cruelly and for his own profit, as the pigs use the money to buy whisky. Instances of cruelty and inequality from Napoleon’s dictatorship continue but through Squealer’s propaganda and the animals fear, the farm reverts back to a state not seen since the days of Jones’ rule.

As the years pass, the pigs have taken on many human traits, such as sleeping in beds, drinking alcohol, wearing clothes – even walking on two legs and carrying whips. And all this despite the initial commandments stating otherwise…but when the animals return to the wall of the barn where the commandments were initially painted, they have been replaced by just a single line, reading:

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

The animals, exhausted and starving, leave their pens one night to a raucous event occurring within the farmhouse. Napoleon and the rest of the pigs are celebrating an alliance with a local human farmer, and together men and pig are drinking, gambling, laughing. Napoleon announces that the farm shall return to being named ‘The Manor Farm’. As the animals are about to leave the farm for good, they hear curses and shouts and return to the farmhouse window.

There were shoutings, bangings on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials. The source of the trouble appeared to be that Napoleon and Mr Pilkington had each played an ace of spades simultaneously. Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

animal farm cover mine

Animal Farm demands a reread. Orwell achieved something special, with a story that can be as simple, or complex as you like. Take it as a sort of fable at face value, a reenactment of the Russian Revolution leading into the Stalin era, or a commentary on the nature and perils of revolution. I believe the book is not strictly a warning on communism, or criticising the Stalin era, (the Russian Revolution and events leading up to WWII), but of all forms of rebellion and overthrowing those in power. Benjamin, the aged donkey who has lived longer than anyone on the farm, speaks very little. He is distant and disgruntled all of the time, and is heard cryptically saying that a donkey lives a long time. He is cynical and wise, and has perhaps lived through many a regime, thus perhaps he has seen this all before. I think he sees that revolution and struggles for power are always inevitable, but in the grand scheme of things living rarely changes or improves for the masses.

Only old Benjamin professed to remember every detail of his long life and to know that things never had been, nor ever could be much better or much worse–hunger, hardship, and disappointment being, so he said, the unalterable law of life.

The cynical, pessimistic but wise Benjamin.

Life will go on as it always has gone on – that is, badly.

If you haven’t read Animal Farm since you were a young mind in school, take another look. It will be a totally different read to what you remember. If you haven’t read it at all, and you aren’t interesting in such a politically charged piece, give it a chance. It still has Orwell’s simple, easy to read prose, and the short length combined with its fairytale feel means it can be digested quickly and easily. And by digging deeper, one of the most read and arguably important books of the past century awaits.

Four legs good, two legs better.

Meet the Bundrens. A dysfunctional family who struggle with the death of Addie Bundren, mother and wife, in their own ways while each plagued by their inner demons.

As I Lay Dying, written by American author William Faulkner and published in 1930, is considered a classic, one of the great twentieth century novels. One of Faulkner’s most renowned works, it is best known for its wide cast of narrating characters (over 59 chapters there are 15 different narrators…!) and unorthodox structure, with lengthy chapters interjected with sentence-long chapters. Faulkner too utilises a writing technique known as stream of consciousness, where the actions and speech of the characters is connected and dispersed with thoughts, ramblings and inner monologues.

While by no means the first to use such techniques as stream of consciousness and multiple narrators, Faulkner is considered somewhat of a pioneer in his ability to evoke such an emotional and intimate piece. We are given the monologues of the flawed Bundrens, and the observations rife with (or without) sympathy from outsiders who watch as they pass.

Any dysfunctional family needs a struggling father figure. Anse Bundren is a stubborn, self-obsessed, god fearing man. He is preparing for the death of his bedridden wife, Addie, who watches from her window their oldest son Cash as he slaves away on a coffin, the very coffin which will carry Addie Bundren to Jefferson, Mississippi, the home of her family, when she dies.

Sons Darl, a strange, almost omnipotent entity, and Jewel, the illegitimate but favoured son of Addie, bastard born of a preacher, are taken away on an errand during their mother’s final days. When they return, Addie is dead and together the Bundrens set off on a long trip to Jefferson, coffin loaded in their wagon.

It takes two people to make you, and one people to die. That’s how the world is going to end. DARL

Due to the methods Faulkner uses during As I Lay Dying there is no real central protagonist, but Darl narrates the most chapters and would be the leading candidate for the role. Darl is perhaps the most intriguing character, for Faulkner seemingly gives him internal thoughts high above his actual intellect, for his external diction comes across as simple and few. He is even given an air of omniscience as he is able to report back on events happening while he is not there. Hard to pin down as he seems somewhat unstable, this is mentioned several times by characters who seem to agree Darl has a somewhat mystical quality. He burns the barn and appears to lose his sanity towards the end (carted off to a mental asylum), he is disconnected from the family and perhaps his experiences during the war in which he fought have led to his unhinged state. He taunts Jewel while they are both away from the Bundren household for work, questioning his parentage, something that is apparently unknown to the rest of the family.

In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I don’t know what I am. I don’t know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he is and he is what he is not. Beyond the unlamped wall I can hear the rain shaping the wagon that is ours, the load that is no longer theirs that felled and sawed it nor yet theirs that bought it and which is not ours either, lie on our wagon though it does, since only the wind and the rain shape it only to Jewel and me, that are not asleep. And since sleep is is-not and rain and wind are was, it is not. Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is. DARL

Indeed, it could be that Darl’s perception is so strong, rather than being crazy, that leads him to act the way he does. We see him crying after Jewel has saved their mother’s coffin from the fire, and perhaps, seeing the arduous task that lies ahead (and perhaps Anse’s selfish intentions), he attempts to end this farcical trip that threatens to tear the family apart.

How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home. DARL

Jewel is a man of action, devoted to his mother and her memory. We always see him proactively attempting to move forward. Singlehandedly getting the coffin onto the wagon, rescuing it from the burning barn, and even selling his beloved horse in order for the Bundren’s to keep on their way to Jefferson. A product of an affair between Addie and Reverend Whitfield, Addie has a child she does not share with Anse and therefore has a bond with him stronger than any of Anse’s biological children.

The reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time. ADDIE

Addie’s chapter, roughly halfway through the novel, is haunting. Are we hearing Addie from beyond the grave, or are these her thoughts before she died? Either way, her morbid pessimism and discontent with life is hard-hitting. Some of the bleakest quotes in the book come from Addie.

He had a word, too. Love, he called it. But I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack; that when the right time came, you wouldn’t need a word for that any more than for pride or fear….One day I was talking to Cora. She prayed for me because she believed I was blind to sin, wanting me to kneel and pray too, because people to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too. ADDIE
as i lay dying

That was when I learned that words are no good; that words dont ever fit even what they are trying to say at. When he was born I knew that motherhood was invented by someone who had to have a word for it because the ones that had the children didn’t care whether there was a word for it or not. I knew that fear was invented by someone that had never had the fear; pride, who never had the pride. ADDIE

Cash is the eldest of the Bundren children, and a skilled and dedicated carpenter. One short chapter Cash purely dictates in detail the process of building the coffin for his mother. Logical and understanding, Cash seems the most balanced of the Bundren children, but for all this he near drowns crossing the river and has lost the use of a leg by the time Addie is in the ground.

Sometimes I aint so sho who’s got ere a right to say when a man is crazy and when he aint. Sometimes I think it aint none of us pure crazy and aint none of us pure sane until the balance of us talks him that-a-way. It’s like it aint so much what a fellow does, but it’s the way the majority of folks is looking at him when he does it. CASH

I feel like a wet seed wild in the hot blind earth. DEWEY DELL

Dewey Dell is the second youngest of the Bundren’s, and the only girl. She is pregnant, and much of her chapters focus on her own problems and how she plans to deal with them. She comes across as naive, and her age dictates much of her behaviour. She struggles with her identity, with her sexuality, and seems to have similar feelings about children and motherhood that her mother had. What’s worse, she is to be a single mother; the father, a worker on their farm, has given her ten dollars for an abortion, but Dewey’s lack of understanding and knowledge on the subject, as well as being unable to speak to anyone (for noone except Darl knows – and he shows little sympathy) make her life unbearable. Her chapters come across as selfish and careless about the situation around her but it is hard not to feel any sympathy.

I said to Dewey Dell: “You want her to die so you can get to town: is that it?” She wouldn’t say what we both knew. “The reason you will not say it is, when you say it, even to yourself, you will know it is true: is that it? But you know it is true now. I can almost tell you the day when you knew it is true. Why wont you say it, even to yourself?” She will not say it. She just keeps on saying Are you going to tell pa? Are you going to kill him? “You cannot believe it is true because you cannot believe that Dewey Dell, Dewey Dell Bundren, could have such bad luck: is that it?” DARL

The youngest Bundren child is Vardarman. His mother is a fish. At just seven years old his chapters are difficult to comprehend. He is just a kid, but a traumatised and confused kid. His attempt to give Addie breathing holes in her coffin only to bore into her face is almost grotesquely amusing, as well as tragic.

My mother is a fish. VARDARMAN

as i lay dying 2

There are a number of set pieces that build up platforms for the characters to stand upon and they either stand or fall. Some can handle the pressure and sorrow, others fall by the wayside, lose themselves on the journey.

It can be difficult to follow the narrative. Some scenes overlap and are described from different perspectives. From a different point of view the same scene can come across very differently. The river crossing and the burning of the barn; some of the details are lost and not immediately revealed. It can take a while for the current situation to be clear, and past events clarified. Throughout, Faulkner scatters some beautiful prose, often through Darl’s stream of thoughts.

The river itself is not a hundred yards across, and pa and Vernon and Vardaman and Dewey Dell are the only things in sight not of that single monotony of desolation leaning with that terrific quality a little from right to left, as though we had reached the place where the motion of the wasted world accelerates just before the final precipice. DARL

The ending is almost comical; Anse returns with another woman, a new wife, taken just hours after Addie has been put in the ground. You can sense the children staring with mouths agape, and while his philosophy of isolation is flawed, at the end of the novel he has new teeth, and he has a new wife. His dishonorable actions have worked in his favour. And this, the father of these characters. He has ultimately used his family for his own wants.

“It’s Cash and Jewel and Varadaman and Dewey Del’, pa says kind of hangdog and proud too, with this teeth and all, even if he wouldn’t look at us. ‘Meet Mrs Bundren’, he says.” ANSE

As I Lay Dying can be a challenging read. Not immediately accessible, it may require patience. Still, I enjoyed it and appreciate the style and the feel Faulkner has used masterful effect.

Introducing We, the godfather of the dystopian novel. Written by Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin in 1921, it has endured a troublesome publication history to say the least. At the time of writing Russia had recently undergone revolution, the rise of the Bolsheviks and the governing of the Soviet Union.

We is thought to show Zamyatin’s disapproval of heavy labour and industry witnessed in England, along with the strict censorship becoming apparent under the Bolshevik regime. Zamyatin’s work was initially, and perhaps unsurprisingly, denied publication in Russia; its first publication came in 1924, an English translation by Gregory Zilboorg. Zamyatin was banned from writing and exiled numerous times. His work was not published in his native country until 1988, three years before the fall of the Soviet Union and an incredible 51 years after Zamyatin’s death, in Paris, in poverty, in 1937.

A man is like a novel: until the very last page you don’t know how it will end. Otherwise it wouldn’t be worth reading.

We is set in the twenty-sixth century A.D., in the walled up nation of the OneState where a totalitarian system presided by ‘The Benefactor’ rules a society where logic and reason preside over emotions and freedom. Taking place a thousand years after the Two Hundred Year War, where it is suggested weapons of mass destruction wiped out the majority of the population, the OneState is a city made almost entirely of glass; thus allowing the Guardians to keep a constant eye on the subservient public. People are given numbers rather than names, and the narrative focuses around the journal entries of D-503, a mathematician and lead engineer of the spaceship INTEGRAL, upon which is a mission to locate and bring happiness to (see: invade and conquer) life on other planets.

44e35471ccff70871da39cae0490a2bf

Life in those early diary entries doesn’t seem so bad, at least not to D-503. He is assigned a lover, O-90, who must obtain pink slips in order to draw the blinds in his glass apartment and make love. The numbers work and outside of work they visit the auditorium or take part in controlled, synchronised marches across the city. There are public executions. The sky is always blue…

But then, the sky! Blue, untainted by a single cloud (the Ancientes had such barbarous tastes given that their poets could have been inspired by such stupid, sloppy, silly-lingering clumps of vapour). I love – and i’m certain that i’m not mistaken if i say we love – skies like this, sterile and flawless! On days like these, the whole world is blown from the same shatterproof, everlasting glass as the glass of the Green Wall and of all our structures. On days like these, you can see to the very blue depths of things, to their unknown surfaces, those marvelous expressions of mathematical equality – which exist in even the most usual and everyday objects.

When on one of these walks, D-503 encounters the strange woman, I-330. Through her eccentric and rebellious behavior (in which, among other habits, she takes to smoking and drinking alcohol) she makes him feel sick and angry yet has a strange pull on his mind. One day she takes him to the Ancient House, a property (the only one in the OneState not built of glass) on the outskirts by the city walls, filled with antique goods and pieces of history. Steadily his mind is opened to the possibility of the soul, to the happiness and individuality he had not previously experienced under the disguise of the many, the army of ‘we’.

D-503 is torn and both loves and detests I-330, vowing to report her to the authorities but never able to bring himself to do it.

In the widely open cup of the armchair was I-330. I, on the floor, embracing her limbs, my head on her lap. We were silent. Everything was silent. Only the pulse was audible. Like a crystal I was dissolving in her, in I-330. I felt most distinctly how the polished facets which limited me in space were slowly thawing, melting away. I was dissolving in her lap, in her, and I became at once smaller and larger, and larger, unembraceable. For she was not she but the whole universe. For a second I and that armchair near the bed, transfixed with joy, we were one.

Everything used to revolve around the sun; now I knew it all revolved around me-slowly, blissfully, squinting its eyes.

Written as a series of journal entries, the reader witnesses the confusion and conflict as D-503 experiences them. So desperate is he for this account to be used and read by future generations, historians, even other species…he is determined to keep all the crippling doubts, the insane dreams, the sickness he feels as his mind is opened to a freedom the OneState has denied him for his entire life.

And a question stirred within me: What if he, this yellow-eyed creature, in his disorderly, filthy mound of leaves, in his uncomputed life, is happier than we are?

[Directed at D-503] You’re in a bad way! Apparently, you have developed a soul.

And everyone must lose his mind, everyone must! The sooner the better! It is essential — I know it.

After a series of riots and rebellions, D-503 discovers that I-330 is a member of MEPHI, an organisation intent on destroying the iron fist that rules the citizens of the OneState. In response The Benefactor reveals the ‘Great Operation’ – basically, a lobotomy for all citizens, so that they can experience true happiness. As D-503 observes, ‘like tractors in human form’.

D-503 is finally forced, like the rest of the citizens of OneState, to be tied down and submitted to x-rays which removes emotions and imagination from the brain, in order to prevent future riots and discontent. We ends bleakly. D-503 is indifferent. He willingly informs The Benefactor of MEPHI, giving up information willingly on all known members, including the woman whom he loved so dear, I-330. He casually informs of the torture and execution of the MEPHI members, but registers some surprise that despite extensive torture, I-330 gave up nothing.

There is some hope. Through the actions of MEPHI social rebellion is on the rise, and the Green Wall cannot keep out the wilderness beyond forever as birds flock in through the cracks.

We is not an easy read. The narrator admits himself – he is not a poet, not a writer. He is an engineer, a mathematician. He works in equations, calculations, fractions. There is a logical and mathematical answer for everything, and so when his eyes are forced open by I-330 and MEPHI he can barely understand what is happening, let alone explain this coherently. But the more journalistic style Zamyatin has chosen to report his narrative gives a personal feel. The first person perspective allow us to tap into the doubts D-503 experiences, the feelings that are within his very nature, hardwired into the human spirit but that have been repressed, by years of manipulation and engineering. It is sad but fascinating to watch D-503 struggle between what he has always known and what he starts to feel.

Parallels with Orwell’s 1984 are unavoidable, and Orwell is widely known to have been inspired by Zamyatin’s tale. Winston Smith is D-503. Julia is I-330. Big Brother, the anonymous, almost mythical figure of power, is the Benefactor. An intimidating dictator but more human – he is shown to the numbers and to the reader, and D-503 even has a conversation with him. The telescreens replace the glass rooms and buildings. 1984 follows We’s plot and characters with unnerving accuracy.

A portrait of Yevgeny Zamyatin, 1923 by Boris Kustodiev

A portrait of Yevgeny Zamyatin, 1923 by Boris Kustodiev

‘Now I no longer live in our clear, rational world; I live in the ancient nightmare world, the world of square roots of minus one.’ D-503. Not at all dissimilar to Winston’s dilemma in 1984 of 2 + 2 =5.

Orwell is quoted as saying ‘This is a book to look out for when an English version appears.’ Perhaps he got tired of waiting and wrote his own version. This is by no means a slight on Orwell. It is written better than We, which I at times struggled to read for the reasons I have criticised previously.

Zamyatin’s future is more mathematical, more precise, more sterile. Technology has fuelled it. Whereas Orwell’s feels more like a response to the threat of war. Both are disturbing in the futures they portray but Orwell’s is darker, bleaker, filled with pessimism. Suitably Orwellian. Zamyatin allows for D-503 to provide an informality, a lighter tone – dare I say a slight more humour, in the way that only the first person narrative of a diary can achieve.

With We, Zamyatin seemingly accepts that together, the collective can grow strong and accomplish incredible technical feats, such as the INTEGRAL. But a stark warning remains within, that the cost of such technology and precision could have on the individual, the happiness and the soul of each.

Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 … may all be more compelling, arguably better constructed stories, more complete in their attempts to illustrate a future that nobody wants. But We got their first. We blazed the trail for dystopian futures, as a platform to air concerns on events that were happening at the time and predict and warn what we stand to lose if these ideals are carried out.

Ubik is a dazzling science fiction novel, which is as unsettling and hard to pin down as it is ambitious and visionary. When it comes to creating worlds and futures, imaginative and brave beyond belief, Dick is right up there. His writing may be somewhat lacking in comparison to the greats. He doesn’t have a distinctive style; a relatively simplistic prose that rarely leaves the reader breathless. Rather, he lets his visions and ideas do the talking, and it is these that compel the reader to continue.

Dick describes to us another fantastic manifestation of his wild imagination. In Ubik, the year is 1992 and space travel is commonplace, with humanity capable of colonising on other planets, including the moon. The protagonist is Joe Chip – an employee of the Runciter Association. They are a ‘prudence organisation’, and Joe is a tester, whose job is to measure and verify the potency of ‘intertials’ or anti-psis. These are individuals who can negate the psychic powers of individuals with psionic abilities, who are often hired to commit acts of business sabotage. Joe’s boss and employer, Glen Runciter, runs the association with help from his deceased wife, Ella. Yes – deceased. Another aspect of the future presented in Ubik is the ability to cryonically store the dead and communicate with them, albeit in a slightly limited fashion. This suspension, known as ‘half-life’, allows the dead a limited state of consciousness and the ability to speak to former loved ones, family and friends.

It touches on, but never really investigates this new culture of psychics and inertials. It’s a fascinating subject – and the fact that Dick goes down a path where they aren’t fully explained is bold. Like I said, I would have expect this great battle between Runciter Associates’ inertials and Hollis’ psis on Luna. But on Luna, the situation changes, and the narrative begins to revolve more around the method of half-life.

Personally, there was some slight disappointment that the plot didn’t go in the direction I expected to. But whose fault is that? Certainly not Dick’s. The pieces were being arranged for a battle between Hollis’ psis, and Runciter’s inertials. And we do get that – kind of. But I expected these psychic and psionic abilities to play a much more forward role, and the half-life technology to take a backseat (as interesting and imaginative as it is).

When reading a book, the majority of the time you have an idea of what type of book it is shaping out to be. A hunch of what is going on, who the main players are, where the plot is going. Ubik is different. As a reader, moments are few and far between where you feel ‘safe’. I attribute safe to understanding. Dick is a master at pulling the rug out from under you. But in Ubik, he yanks that rug chapter after chapter. You will feel battered and bruised, and thoroughly confused.

There are a multitude of characters; the nature of the narrative means some are, not underdeveloped but perhaps underused. The focus remains on Runciter and Joe Chip throughout, with a few more key players being introduced later on. Glen Runciter is a well respected, experienced businessman who is admired by his employees. After the events on Luna there seems to be a real sense of shock at the loss of this great man. But he is resourceful and cunning – the trail of breadcrumbs he leaves for Joe and the group allows them to ‘wake up’ and realise the danger and reality of their situation. And Joe Chip – a faithful employee of the Runciter Association, he is clearly talented and rated highly by his boss and friend Glen Runciter. But he is not without his faults. There is a hint of unused potential, and his poor handling of personal finances and disorganised living quarters is a cause for some ridicule and disrespect.

From the drawer beside the sink Joe Chip got a stainless steel knife; with it he began systematically to unscrew the bolt assembly of his apt’s money-gulping door.

“I’ll sue you,” the door said as the first screw fell out. Joe Chip said, “I’ve never been sued by a door. But I guess I can live through it.”

The Runciter Association’s main rivals are run by a man named Ray Hollis, who runs an organisation of psychics. Given a lucrative contract by the powerful businessman Stanton Mick, Runciter organises a party of 11 of his inertials, as well as Joe Chip and himself, to travel to Mick’s lunar facilities on the moon, where the anti-psis will be used to negate the telepaths ability and enforce privacy. However a trap has been set, no doubt orchestrated by Hollis to cripple his rival, and a bomb kills Runciter and leaves the rest of the employees in complete disarray. They panic and flee Luna, desperate to escape with their lives and to get the dying Runicter into ‘cold-pac’, so he can continue to advise and run the Runciter Association from half-life.

When that bomb explodes, everything changes. Runciter is killed. Or is he? What follows is a pseudo- crazy trip through time and the past. Reality is seemingly changing radically all around the group, and it becomes clear that not all is as it seems.

A bizarre state of decay and rapid ageing is following the group everywhere. Stale cigarettes that crumble when taken out the packet. And more grotesquely, dried-up and desiccated corpses of the Luna expedition.

Bizarre, existential questions then start being asked within the group. Was Runciter killed in the explosion? Is it, in fact, the group that died, and Runciter that survived? Did anyone die…or are they all dead, communicating with each other in half-life?

At the same time, it appears Runciter is attempting to contact his former employees. Joe Chip hears him through his hotel telephone. His face appears on currency. And most importantly, Joe Chip witnesses an advertisement featuring Runciter promoting a bizarre product; Ubik. At the start of each chapter, an advertising slogan is featured, praising Ubik as some sort of wonder product that can be used for anything and everything. Yet in the narrative it is not introduced until the last act.

Instant Ubik has all the fresh flavour of just-brewed drip coffee. Your husband will say, Christ, Sally, I used to think your coffee was only so-so. But now, wow! Safe when taken as directed.

My hair is so dry, so unmanageable. What’s a girl to do? Simply rub in creamy Ubik hair conditioner. In just five days you’ll discover new body in your hair, new glossiness. And Ubik hairspray, used as directed, is absolutely safe.

It appears that Ubik is an agent (most consistently found in the form of a spray can) which can ‘restore the effects of aging’, and has possibly been created by those in half-life – as a way of protecting themselves from stronger, hungrier minds that can devour others in half-life to extent their own time in this bizarre limbo.

I am Ubik. Before the universe was, I am. I made the suns. I made the worlds. I created the lives and the places they inhabit; I move them here, I put them there. They go as I say, then do as I tell them. I am the word and my name is never spoken, the name which no one knows. I am called Ubik, but that is not my name. I am. I shall always be.

There are several theories but the strongest comes from Dick’s wife Tessa, who in her essay ‘Ubik Explained, sort of’, she wrote “Ubik is a metaphor for God. Ubik is all-powerful and all-knowing, and Ubik is everywhere. The spray can is only a form that Ubik takes to make it easy for people to understand it and use it. It is not the substance inside the can that helps them, but rather their faith in the promise that it will help them.”

4036267302_a76a829222_o

This is a difficult book to write about. Having read some Franz Kafka recently, I would describe Ubik as incredibly kafkaesque. A spiralling sense of confusion and incoherence. The unease you will feel of an impending danger or doom.

Ubik is a book I suspect the reader would benefit from reading more than once. If I didn’t have such a huge backlog I’d probably be reading it now. But it might benefit from a few months on the shelf as my subconscious tries to figure out what the hell just happened.

We are served by organic ghosts, he thought, who, speaking and writing, pass through this our new environment. Watching, wise, physical ghosts from the full-life world, elements of which have become for us invading but agreeable splinters of a substance that pulsates like a former heart.

I didn’t think I would end up finishing this book.

“There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. . .Well, what they sold there was milk plus something else. . .you could peet milk with knives in it, as we used to say, and this would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of dirty twenty-to-one, and that was what we were peeting this evening I’m starting off the story with.”

A Clockwork Orange was written by Anthony Burgess in 1961, published in ‘62 and was famously adapted to the big screen by Stanley Kubrick in 1971, with Malcolm McDowell brilliantly portraying the sadistic Alex.

Iconic poster for the 1971 theatrical adaptation

Iconic poster for the 1971 theatrical adaptation

It’s important to know that the author, Anthony Burgess, specially created a language used by the youth in A Clockwork Orange, a dystopian crime and punishment novel. This future speak, nadsat, is like a type of cockney rhyming slang, but heavily influenced by Russian.

Burgess was allegedly a huge fan of language. My first impressions of nadsat and the use of a fictional language so established at the start of the novel was that it was a very brave, and bold move. I wonder how an initial meeting may have gone with Burgess and the prospective publishers. Because, quite frankly, I’m sure many would have laughed him out of the room. It is a difficult and at times incomprehensible start, with the first act a whirlwind of confusion and disgust.

It is jarring; every new word of this strange language drags you out of the narrative as you ask yourself, what does this mean? What are they talking about? You try to keep reading, to teach yourself to ignore the words and you can still get a grasp of where the narrative is heading and what is going on.

And then of course, there’s the violence to consider. The sadism and deprivation of Alex, his droogs, and seemingly most of the youth culture in this dystopian future is shocking. The casualness and nonchalance in Alex’s narration of street fights, theft, violence and rape is nauseating at times.

“We fillied round what was called the backtown for a bit, scaring old vecks and cheenas that were crossing the roads and zigzagging after cats and that. Then we took the road west. There wasn’t much traffic about, so I kept pushing the old noga through the floorboards near, and the Durango 95 ate up the road like spaghetti. Soon it was winter trees and dark, my brothers, with a country dark, and at one place I ran over something big with a snarling toothy rot in the head-lamps, then it screamed and squelched under and old Dim at the back near laughed his gulliver off–“Ho ho ho”–at that. Then we saw one young malchick with his sharp, lubbilubbing under a tree, so we stopped and cheered at them, then we bashed into them both with a couple of half-hearted tolchocks, making them cry, and on we went. What we were after now was the old surprise visit. That was a real kick and good for smecks and lashings of the ultra-violent.”

Despite not using explicit words like blood, murder and rape, it is still hard-hitting, and coupled with the bizarre made up wordy words, I think the way these youths have replaced words like blood and rape and now seem to use them so casually give them a disturbing undertone, as if they do not truly understand, or care, of the full ramifications, and so use this more innocent sounding dialect.

Alas, I learned to let it go and I began to pick up certain words. While difficult to comprehend initially Alex’s colloquialisms begin to form an elegance that you can’t help but admire. It’s extremely clever and well-written, and the flow of the book is aided by the readers increasing knowledge and understanding of nadsat.

A crash course for the intrigued; droogs means friends, typically a group; cal is feces, aka shit; horrorshow means good or well, chelloveck or veck means man or person, krovvy is blood; smech is to laugh; tolchock is to hit, or a beating.

The book is split into three acts.

Act I

Act I is sheer violence – an introduction to Alex and to his crimes. He and his droogs (George, Peter and Dim) stalk the streets, presenting us to a frightening future where young adults roam to do what they please seemingly unpunished. Gang fights, rape, ultra-violence. Their gang frequent Korova milk bar where they drink drug-laced milk and discuss their condemnable plans of mischief for the evening ahead. They rob a store. They mug an elderly scholar. We discover Alex has a keen interest in classical musical – listening one night on his bed he imagines a violent orgy. He is irrationally aggressive; he deems himself the leader of the group and any challenge or dissent towards him he punishes. Young girls who mock him in a record store – he takes back to his house and sexually assaults them. Dim, whom he has a particular disliking to, gets a punch in the face when he interrupts a singer’s performance which had enchanted Alex. This is where the cracks start to appear in the gang, and in this world where the youth are so distant from the rest of society in their violence and lack of empathy, Alex takes ultra-violence to another level entirely. After stealing a car and driving through the countryside, the gang break into a writer’s house, trash the house and rape his wife. Alex notices the writer, F. Alexander, is in the process of writing a book called A Clockwork Orange. Following a botched home invasion which leaves a woman dead, Alex is betrayed by his fellow droogs who leave him to be arrested by the police and carted off to prison.

Act II

The narrative jumps forward two years, and the narrative focuses on Alex’s punishment and rehabilitation. Alex has been an inmate (no 6655321) at Staja 84F for two years now. He has kept his head down, reading passages of the bible for the prison chaplain, whom sometimes allows classical music to be played during these readings. The prisons are overcrowded, and Alex shares a cell with five other inmates. When another is crammed in amongst these reprobates, tensions run high and the group beat the new inmate to death, with Alex getting the blame. The government approve a radical behavioural treatment, an aversion therapy called the Ludovico Technique to be used for the first time in order to reintroduce a reformed Alex into society. They promise within two weeks, he will be free, and no longer capable of carrying out ultra-violence and rape. Initially he can’t believe his luck, but soon it dawns on him that the Ludovico Technique is a sinister form of association. Alex is drugged and strapped down to a chair, unable to move or even look away, while ultra-violence is played on a large screen. This makes Alex feel awful, sick, weak, and soon he associates all violent thoughts with this sickness. He can no longer cause harm, use violence or even fight back to protect himself. This goes on for two weeks, Alex screaming for the imagery of beatings, murder and rape to stop. Coincidentally, towards the end of his treatment a Beethoven symphony is played over the gruesome scenes, and through association and the crippling nausea that Alex experiences he is now unable to enjoy classical music as before.

“This must be a real horrorshow film if you're so keen on my viddying it.”

“This must be a real horrorshow film if you’re so keen on my viddying it.”

As promised, after his fortnight of this aversion therapy Alex is to be introduced back into society, but not before a demonstration in front of many important members of the community. They view Alex beaten and humiliated in staged examples and applaud at the apparent curing of this formerly troublesome delinquent. However the prison chaplain warns of the morality of stripping this young man, no matter how troubled, of his free will.

Act III

Alex struggles to reapply himself to the outside world. His parents have been forced to take a lodger Joe, who berates him for the way he has lived his life and treated his poor mum and dad. With nowhere to go, and unable to take part in any of his former pastimes without insufferable pain, he seeks a way to end his life painlessly at the library. Here he encounters an elderly scholar who remembers Alex from a violent mugging years ago. He berates and beats Alex, who is rescued by the police, among them his old friend Dim. The police have begun recruiting the violent youths that Alex once shared the same bloody streets with. They take him out to the countryside, violently beat him and leave him there. Injured and dazed he is taken in by a man in a country cottage. He realises this is F. Alexander, the man whose wife Alex raped in Act I, and it turns out the wife died as a result from her injuries. F. Alexander does not recognise Alex however, as the gang wore masks during their brutal attack. Alexander aims to use Alex has a political weapon against the government, as he strongly opposes their inhumane methods on which they have imposed on Alex. But Alex mistakenly reveals his past crimes to Alexander, who has arranged to take him to his flat in town. Alex is locked in, and loud classical musical is pumped into the flat. Excruciating, Alex sees the only way to end the pain to jump out the window and kill himself.

Alex awakes in hospital, his suicide attempt failed. Government officials are keen to get him on side, and offer him a well paid job. It appears that through sleep conditioning taken place while he was in a coma from the fall, the Ludovico Technique has been reversed. He agrees to support their campaign, and while paparazzi snap his picture as the officials leave, they kindly play his favourite Mozart track and Alex daydreams about sex and violence once more, before reflecting “I was cured, all right.”

A strong statement within A Clockwork Orange is that Alex isn’t truly reformed – he has no choice in behaving. He is literally unable to be violent because of the Ludovico Technique and the horror and pain he experiences when violence is used or seen.

And the final chapter – the idea that perhaps this rebellious streak (hugely overstated in the novel but obviously not quite as extreme in reality) is in us all, and it is something we will grow out of. Alex, towards the end, is growing bored. He has a new set of droogs to go out and cause trouble with but he doesn’t have the same passion or vigour for it. He even begins to contemplate later life; a stunning devotchka to settle down with, and starting to raise a family.

“Where do I come into all of this? Am I just some animal or dog?’ And that started them off govoreeting real loud and throwing slovos at me. So I creeched louder still, creeching: ‘Am I just to be like a clockwork orange?”

The title is peculiar but begins to make a lot more sense after reading the novel. Alex is like a clockwork orange. He is a living, organic organism, like an orange, but through the Ludovico Technique he loses the ability to make choices, and his decisions and actions become automated. Living on the outside, clockwork within.

“The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities.”

So this would point to the central theme of the novel (or one of them) is that free will, or the choice to be good or bad/evil is vital in any community, and fundamental to mankind. This can lead to a more troubled state, with crime and suffering, but is this of more value than a safer, peaceful state engineered by the government and with the choices and free will of the people removed? We see how easy the Government in the novel is willing to manipulate Alex for their own gain; at first carrying out the brutal Ludovico Technique to turn him into a choice-less robot, then quick to reverse the process at the end of the novel in order to use his support and keep him onside.

I found the most interesting aspect of the novel is Alex’s demand to be given a choice, to be human, even when he knows full well that his choices lead him to lead a life that causes suffering and pain to others. Alex is being almost hypocritical, demanding a choice, and to be human, when he knows his choice will lead to him carry out inhuman, despicably evil acts that will rob others of their humanity.

Burgess seems to suggest that the evil Alex is more human than a clockwork orange, a ‘clockwork Christian’, a robot, one who does good but has no choice in it. But in a society, what is really more desirable? One who can make a choice, but opts to do bad; or one who can do only good? Rather than good vs evil, the novel discuss forced good versus involuntary evil. It’s a fascinating question, and while I can’t agree with Burgess – I also can’t see a straight answer.

Written by Aldous Huxley and published in 1932, Brave New World presents us with a distant future. Utopian or dystopian? Huxley had a strong education in science and his passion for satirical work combined with his societal commentary led to this masterpiece. Brave New World will forever be compared with Orwell’s 1984 and for good reason; the parallels are obvious, with both dystopias predicting a reduction in individuality for the good of society. I couldn’t pick a favourite between the two (favourite might be the wrong word in this instance – it’s like choosing between the chair or the noose) but in terms of bleak, thought-provoking, eerily believable prophecies for the future these two novels are rightly at the top of the pile.

Huxley introduces the reader to the new world values by including us on a guided tour of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre with a group of school boys being shown around by the Director of the centre. In the year A.F.632 (After Ford, named after Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company. Ford is treated like a god, and shows that religion has almost been replaced by technology. A lifestyle mechanized by the efficient production that Ford pioneered) (A.D. 2540), The World State controls civilisation. Individuality and free will have been sacrificed, in order to promote happiness and consumerism for the good of society and civilisation. A totalitarian government which makes the rules, all the decisions purely for the benefit of society with the help of science and technology.

Life is created on a conveyor belt, eggs and sperm fused to create children which are ‘decanted’ and raised in the hatchery; basically assisted reproduction, with babies being ‘made’ in high-tech test tubes. Each fetus is predeterminately allocated into one of five ‘castes’; alpha, beta, gamma, delta and epsilon. Alpha and beta are developed naturally along with stimulants, and generally become the more intelligent and attractive members of society. Gamma, delta and epsilon development cycles are deliberately interfered with to cause slightly lower intelligence and physical growth. They are effectively created to become working class – standard office work to repetitive factory or cleaning work (‘epsilon work’). And so every foetus, baby, child, is perfectly made to their role in society. Teaching is done through conditioning and hypnopaedic processes such as messages spoken aloud to them in their sleep that seeps into their subconscious. Citizens are never unhappy or unfulfilled with their role in society, as they have been ‘conditioned’ to be satisfied with their position.

So artificial reproduction has fully replaced natural reproduction as we know it now, in fact the natural method is verging on taboo – an almost unbelievable joke, an antiquated disgusting practice and contraception is mandatory. This is seen as a good thing, as sex and sexual promiscuity is actively encouraged, and from a young age. Partners are not taken, one is free to procreate with whoever they want, whenever they want and everyone belongs to everyone else.

Everyone is created for a role, and everyone is happy with this role – they don’t know any differently. Everyone is happy.

3976368333_e5c31d3a63_b

Well, nearly everyone. Bernard Marx is an alpha who is discontented with the World State. He has physical imperfections (for example, he is slightly shorter than the average alpha) that mean he is not as desirable as others. So in this world of promiscuity and recreational sex, he does not feel fulfilled. To make matters worse he feels love and attachment, to a beautiful woman named Lenina Crowne. He hears two of his colleagues talking about how they have ‘had’ Lenina, angering him that she is being treated like a piece of meat when in fact Bernard is the strange one – in the World State everyone belongs to everyone else. State organised ‘orgy-porgy’ is a biweekly event and people spend their free time on expensive dates, having casual sex with many different people while high on soma.

What’s more, Bernard is outspoken of his dissatisfaction of life in the World State. He openly criticizes soma, the government created and approved legal drug that allows the population to safely cope with anything unpleasant or upsetting. There are no side-effects, no health related problems; a hallucinogenic with no sign of a hangover. They have created a drug with no ill-effects, and so the population can use it whenever they are feeling down. Bernard however, would prefer real unhappiness than a fake happiness.

Bernard’s only true friend is another misfit, a man named Helmholtz. Like Bernard, he is unhappy with the control The World State has on its citizens. The difference is Helmholtz is physically perfect and handsome. He has to turn down offers of foursomes and various invites to prestigious dinners as they bore him. In a way, Bernard is disillusioned because, as an alpha he is too weak; Helmholtz because he is overpowered. He feels sympathy for Bernard – whereas Helmholtz can somewhat get away with his grumbles, Bernard’s inferiority makes him a target for rumours and ridicule (many within Bernard’s office speculate that alcohol was spilled during his incubation process as a foetus).

Lenina finds Bernard strange but intriguing, and agrees to visit a Savage Reservation with him. The Reservations are areas which for various geographical and economical reasons were not viable locations to ‘civilise’, like the rest of the world. So they remain as a reminder of what primitive life used to be like. Upon witnessing several old-world traditions (religious ceremonies, boys being beaten, old age, sickness and disease), Lenina is disgusted and severely disturbed whereas Bernard a twisted voyeur observes, fascinated. They are introduced to John, a white male with fair hair, in contrast to the dark skinned indigenous population, and his mother Linda, an overweight ‘disgusting’ alcoholic. We find out that the Director visited the Reservation some years ago with Linda and due to a storm Linda was stranded and abandoned to live the rest of her life in the Reservation. This hit her hard; having grown up in the World State, she was punished and outcast due to her conditioning, for instance having sex with the married men in the tribe.

John has suffered in the Reservation for being so different and therefore feels isolated and lonely. And when offered by Bernard a chance to see this ‘brave new world’ he jumps at the chance. Bernard may have an agenda however; knowing that the Director has planned to ship him away upon his return, realises a chance for blackmail against the Director by bringing back both John and Linda – the Director’s son along with John’s birth mother. The embarrassment this would cause; natural birth of course being utterly laughable, a hilarious awkward joke from the strange old world ways.

While Lenina, forcibly moved by the horrors she has witnessed, takes enough soma to knock her out for eighteen hours, Bernard gets permission from Mustapha Mond himself to bring John and Linda back, as a ‘social experiment’.

And so the narrative changes somewhat to accommodate John in this new environment, and he becomes the main protagonist. Rejected by both the ‘savage’ culture and alienated by the unfamiliar and strange ‘civilized’ World State, he is a true outsider. We as readers are interested and highly sympathetic towards him, eager to observe how he adapts. But Linda decides she has suffered enough and wants nothing more than to spend the rest of her days in a soma-induced coma, despite knowing this will shorten her life significantly. So it is with John, along with Bernard and Lenina, to experience modern civilisation. As you might expect it does not go well. For John, the words from Shakespeare’s Tempest O Brave New World…”, at first uttered in excitement and wonder at the thought of escaping the Malpais and travelling to the World State, soon return to haunt him as he repeatedly mutters them bitterly and ironically as he experiences the new world and civilisation for what it truly is.

For once in his life Bernard is wanted and relevant, achieving celebrity status for bringing back the ‘savage’. But in reality the citizens who desire his company are still revolted by him and soon desert him when John refuses to be used as a circus act in order to keep Bernard popular, and Bernard is brought back down to earth and reality instantly.

As the novel progresses he comes across as increasingly cowardly and pathetic. Yet the reader is still interested in him as a protagonist and can have some sympathy as he is so different to the rest, and wants for things he cannot have.

At the despair of a jealous Bernard, Helmholtz and John are very similar and instantly have a connection far deeper than Bernard and John manage; both love poetry, are intelligent and critical of civilisation and the World State. As you might expect however there are still extreme cultural differences. John was given The Works of William Shakespeare as a child and, as one of the only books available to him, became like a bible to him. He learnt to read and is well spoken as a result. Even when Helmholtz sees the genius in Shakespeare’s poetry, he cannot help but laugh at the mention of mothers, fathers, and marriage—concepts that are vulgar and ridiculous in the World State. The conversations between Helmholtz and John illustrate that even the most reflective and intelligent World State member is defined by the culture in which he has been raised.

In my opinion, the pièce de résistance of Brave New World comes during a tremendous discussion of freedom, science, happiness and the World State’s control over civilisation between Mond and John the Savage. This after John goes mad and starts a riot in a factory by throwing soma rations out of a window, crying “Free! Free! You’re men at last! You’re free!” Along with Bernard and Helmholtz, they are taken into custody and a meeting with Mustapha Mond.

The bottom line of Mond’s point and the reasoning for The World State’s stance is there is a complete and utter incompatibility between truth and happiness. Trying to pick quotes is tough as the whole chapter is riveting. Each side (Mond vs Helmholtz, John and a quiet and tame Bernard) have their merits.

Mond discusses soma with John. He tries to convince him that, in soma, the World State have created a method in which humanity can deal with unpleasant emotions.

“And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears—that’s what soma is.”

John rejects this notion of soma as too easy, too simple. There needs to be suffering.

John the 'Savage' nails it perfectly. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/369647081888235473/

John the ‘Savage’ nails it perfectly. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/369647081888235473/

“All right then,” said the savage defiantly, I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

(Mond) “Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat, the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.”

There was a long silence.

“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.”

Bernard and Helmholtz meet with John after he is dismissed by Mond, and he confesses.

“I ate civilization. It poisoned me; I was defiled. And then,” he added in a lower tone, “I ate my own wickedness.”

John realises ashamedly that he was wrong to initially show wonder and joy at some of the more superficial aspects of civilisation (and perhaps also, his encounter with Lenina, in which he very nearly gave into a lustrous urge and had sex with her – frowned upon in his culture but perfectly normal in the World State). Due to his learning and education leaning heavily on The Works of William Shakespeare during his youth, he struggles to cope with the lack of humanity and traditional values in The World State.

Eventually Mond decides to exile Bernard and Helmholtz from the World State to separate islands where some of the old world values remain, and which he somewhat envies as they will spend the rest of their lives free with like minded people. Mond had revealed that he was at one time a scientist and a free thinker, and was given the choice of exile or to step up into the World State and serve ‘happiness’.

John however is denied the punishment of exile. Mond, almost sadistically informs John that he cannot leave so that this ‘experiment’ can continue. John, determined to exist outside of the hell of this new world, escapes the city and takes up residence in an abandoned lighthouse in the country. A delegation of journalists, tourists and intrigued onlookers continue to pester him, shocked and awed by his ritualistic self beatings, savage and . Their bloodlust causes a riot, where Lenina arrives to try and comfort the Savage. In a confused and hateful rage he begins to whip himself, then Lenina, and in a frenzy the crowd of excited civilians beat each other and themselves. Before long the scene is rife with writhing people, induced with soma and arousal and violence.

In the brutal final scene, John awakens, remembering the orgy that he unwillingly participated in the night before. Disgusted at his part played in the debauchery and unable to cope with this brave new world, John hangs himself in the lighthouse and his swaying body is found by a crowd anticipating another night of drugs and sex.

The fundamental conflict within John of his values, his learnings, all he has taught and experienced against the vastly different reality that is modern civilisation is too much for him to bear. An insanity which he could not adapt to.

The disturbing aspect is how logical this brave new world is. Forget freedom, everyone is happy. Everyone has a purpose. There is no unrest because people are conditioned to be happy with what they are ‘designed’ to do. As a society it’s efficient and a well oiled machine. It’s unnatural and automated…but ashamedly I can nearly see the sense behind it.

“Kill the pig. Slit his throat. Spill his blood.”

Cool book art I found on Pinterest by Levente Szabo. Check out his work http://www.goodillustration.com/portfolio/Levente-Szabo-178/

Cool book art I found on Pinterest by Levente Szabo. Check out his work http://www.goodillustration.com/portfolio/Levente-Szabo-178/

I guess Lord Of The Flies can be classed as a dystopian novel in a loose sense; it seemingly takes place in the midst of a future war where young boys are being transported to an unknown destination. There seem to be some obvious parallels with the widescale evacuations of many young children in the UK, out of the cities and into the country during the Second World War.

The plane crash lands, or is shot down. From the wreckage and the scar it causes in the uninhabited jungle, a group of boys emerge to discover they are stranded on an island, alone and away from the eyes of adults. Here they bond, they play, they laugh, they tease, they build, they survive, they hunt, they fight, they kill, they murder, they transform.

“He found himself understanding the wearisomeness of this life, where every path was an improvisation and a considerable part of one’s waking life was spent watching one’s feet.”

“We did everything adults would do. What went wrong?”

A brief synopsis yes, but Lord Of The Flies must be one of the most read pieces of literature in schools. In my secondary school it was not a part of our syllabus yet I always remember a poster that hung on the wall of our English department, depicting a group of scruffy dirty schoolboys in a jungle.

This is one of those books that have found their way onto my ‘to-read’ list not because I’m necessarily interested in the subject or plot, but because it is one of those books that is considered a classic – a must-read – and in fact a book that most people have read. As I am on a mission to drink up as much literature as I can, books like Lord Of The Flies seem like a no-brainer when trying to absorb the classics of the past century.

I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the book, rather it was one that I needed to get under my belt so that I could further enjoy novels that were more up my street. However I soon felt some regret at this viewpoint, as Lord Of The Flies quickly gripped me as its core themes are those which appeal to me greatly.

The prose is rich and vivid – vitally important when your characters, a group of schoolboys, and your setting, an uninhabited Pacific island covered in dense jungle, are so fundamentally different. Bringing these two worlds together, and how the boys initially react and then adapt to their surroundings is fascinating in its own right.

“Along the shoreward edge of the shallows the advancing clearness was full of strange, moonbeam-bodied creatures with fiery eyes. Here and there a larger pebble clung to its own air and was covered with a coat of pearls. The tide swelled in over the rain-pitted sand and smoothed everything with a layer of silver. Now it touched the first of the stains that seeped from the broken body and the creatures made a moving patch of light as they gathered at the edge. The water rose further and dressed Simon’s coarse hair with brightness. The line of his cheek silvered and the turn of his shoulder became sculptured marble. The strange, attendant creatures, with their fiery eyes and trailing vapours busied themselves round his head. The body lifted a fraction of an inch from the sand and a bubble of air escaped from the mouth with a wet plop. Then it turned gently in the water.

Somewhere over the darkened curve of the world the sun and moon were pulling; and the film of water on the earth planet was held, bulging slightly on one side while the solid core turned. The great wave of the tide moved further along the island and the water lifted. Softly, surrounded by a fringe of inquisitive bright creatures, itself a silver shape beneath the steadfast constellations, Simon’s dead body moved out towards the open sea.”

And then we are introduced to the mentality of certain boys. Friendships are begun, bullies are established, weaknesses are highlighted. Soon the setting could be anywhere – truthfully, it doesn’t matter. The difference is the lack of rules, the lack of guidance and morals.

“What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages?”

Stills from the 1963 move adaptation, credit to http://oldhollywood.tumblr.com/image/376794485

Stills from the 1963 move adaptation, credit to http://oldhollywood.tumblr.com/image/376794485

While the descent into savagery is a long-time coming, when it does arrive it is no less shocking, and positively terrifying in its childishness. The various putdowns, insults, scorns are delightfully powerful as we witness the victims blush and snarl and swear and cry as the group descends upon them, whether it be at a meeting or being the butt of a joke, to running through the jungle.

It appears that the plane that was shot down contained only children from all-boys schools. Golding made the decision to keep the children as boys on the island. I can see why; with girls and boys the subject of sexuality will eventually raise its head, and with the age of the children at little over ten and the tone of the content as it is it could have been a difficult and controversial task. But would the overall outcome have been any different with girls? It seems unlikely. I don’t think the boy’s descent into savagery is because they are boys. Golding strongly suggests that the human condition leans more towards savagery, violence and chaos, as we how the boys are swayed by fighting and fear of a beast that haunts their dreams.

“Maybe there is a beast…maybe it’s only us.”

The beast is nothing. It is driven by the fear and savagery present within the boys’ subconscious. But as night begins to fall with darkness looming, away from the safety of the daytime fear only grows stronger. The titular Lord Of The Flies (a literal translation of Beelzebub) is actually a severed pig’s head, which taunts Simon during a hallucination.

“There isn’t anyone to help you. Only me. And I’m the Beast.”

Simon’s mouth laboured , brought forth audible words. “Pig’s head on a stick.”

“Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!’ said the head. For a moment or two the forest and all the other dimly appreciated places echoed with laughter. “You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are the way they are?”

There are many conflicts and symbolism within the book and it’s very much an allegorical novel. Ralph is the protagonist, and wants order. Jack is the antagonist, and wants to hunt and fight. Their conflict can be seen as civilisation vs savagery, or leadership vs desire for power, or even good vs evil. The loss of innocence.

“The tears began to flow and sobs shook him. He gave himself up to them now for the first time on the island; great, shuddering spasms of grief that seemed to wrench his whole body. His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the islands; and infected by that emotion, the other little boys began to shake and sob too. And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.”

I’m glad I went back to visit Lord Of The Flies.

Recently added to my to-read list, Animal Farm and The Old Man And The Sea, some other scholarly books from my youth.