Nineteen Eighty-Four


1984, by George Orwell, is a grim look at our past, present, and future.

“For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable—what then?” 

Like Feed1984 is scarily possible and very real. 1984 was written around the time of WWII. 1984 is like Animal Farm in that it is trying to caricaturize communism and the power of propaganda. In this book, the main character, Winston Smith, goes from a person who is barely more than a figure in the lines of people of the community, to an active participant in rebelling against the totalitarian regime under which he lives. By “totalitarian,” I mean that there is a dictator; but this dictator is totally in control. There are no more individuals. There are just masses, swayed very easily by propaganda. The government controls the past, so it also controls the future, and the present. When nothing can be trusted but your mind, what is real? Is it possible to have a minority of one?

1984 paints a really grim picture, of bleak, desolate grayness and “Sameness.” When you wipe out the individual, you are left with nothingness upon nothingness.

Plot

The plot of 1984 is vague, because it’s not the point of the book. Winston meets Julia, another main character, and slips in and out of reality. He can’t trust any document, propaganda, or words from another’s mouth. Everything is erased and rewritten so many times that the words left at the end cannot be read anymore. I found it a little hard to follow along when the narrator barely even trusted himself. However, the point of this book is not the plot. It’s the look at this society, one the author felt we were too close to touching. 4/5

Character Depth/Development

The characters in this book were very weak. Winston himself, the main character, had very little motivation, strong emotion, or real connection with the reader. That’s because, like I said before, the characters weren’t the point of the novel. George Orwell did not want me to walk away thinking, Gee, that Winston guy was really annoying, or Winston Smith was amazing; I’ll remember him forever. He wanted the reader to walk away with chills. He wanted to leave the reader thinking about himself, and counting the reasons he had to live, and realizing that if the world continued along the path this novel prophecies, all of those reasons will be obliterated.

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” 

In fact, this part of 1984 was beyond don’t concentrate on the characters; it wasin this society the characters don’t matter. There was no individuality, no dramatic deviations from the status norm. There weren’t strong emotions or passions. How could Winston have them, if society didn’t allow the idea of them to exist? A whole language was being created so that the citizens could not express even in their own heads what made them different from their neighbors and friends, what made them special, what made them an individual.

It raises an important question: what is equality? As small children, maybe you, too, made a fuss when your sibling got more of something than you did, and it wasn’t fair. If we’re all treated exactly the same from birth, we still won’t end up with true equality, because we each have special needs of our own. The only way to have perfect equality is to make everyone exactly the same. So what we want isn’t equality; it’s justice and fairness. It’s each person having exactly what he needs.

Writing

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” 

In 1984, every single person was brainwashed. For example, the slogans of the three main bodies of government were:

“War is peace. 
Freedom is slavery. 
Ignorance is strength.” 

Society was built on a lie, but it was also built on the knowledge that the lie was actually a truth. It didn’t make any sense, and yet it made perfect sense. It was really hard to see through, because it was hard to tell where the confusion stopped, and whether what was behind it was in fact solid. The purpose of the society here was to squash: to squash the individuality out of the people and the people out of the community, until what was left was a general idea that everyone followed, because they were all the same.

The writing of 1984 was harsh and grim and rhythmic. It followed strict rules to the letter. Not a word was wasted or too long. This style fit the book exactly as it should have; it, however, made memories of the book gray and steel-like: hard and cold with straight, heavy lines. 4/5

Je Ne C’est Quois

This book was not a pleasant place in which to dwell. That was the point. It left me with an unpleasant feeling. It left me disturbed and slightly hopeless. Looking at the way the world has moved on, perhaps this is not hopeless so much as hopeful, but this book will haunt me.… 1/5

One thing that really struck me about 1984 was the first line. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” This seems a weird thing to focus on, especially as it makes perfect sense. However, when I first saw it I thought, But clocks don’t have 13. Almost positively the author was simply referring to 1:00 in the afternoon, military time. If he wasn’t, though, it would have made a brilliant opening statement.

All in all, this is a very dark look at specific aspects of society, but I do not believe that it is a realistic one. People, as a collective, are passive, true; we saw that in Feed as well. But there are always those who will be active, and those are the ones on whom progress relies. Be active. Drag the world along behind you. Shove 1984 a little bit farther away.

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Lord of the Flies


Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, is a disturbing and somewhat horrifying look at humanity.

You’ve probably heard the summaries. Boys are in a plane when it crashes and end up alone on a desert island (by which I’m referring to the dictionary.com definition of “a small remote tropical island,” not a literal island that is a desert; I am also making a subtle pun on “deserted island”), and start to lose every ounce of civility they might once have owned.

Lord of the Flies is a startling, terrifying book. What happens when there are no rules? At the beginning, despite the fact that they are alone, the island is a sort of paradise. There are no adults to boss the boys around. They can do whatever they want. They can sleep whenever they want, say whatever they want, go wherever they want. They think they’re mature…capable. They think they can be in charge of themselves.

They are wrong.

Writing

The writing of Lord of the Flies is incredible. “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 []’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, []’s dead body moved out towards the open sea.”

The descriptions are incredible. More than that, the boys’ words and the narrator’s (since it’s a third-person perspective, what I mean by “the narrator’s words” is William Golding’s descriptions) are very clearly different, giving the boys shape as real people distinct from the world, which can be interpreted as you wish. They talk like real people.

Each paragraph has tension, beauty, or strong emotion. My breath caught from one page to the next. 6/5.

Plot

The plot of Lord of the Flies starts out rather slowly and gradually picks up the pace until it’s racing along, one major event after another. The world of the book is brought to the brink of disaster and back again multiple times. The words are riveting and terrifying. This is a terrifying plot. It’s a startling and frightening look at each other and ourselves. It is scary, and the most chilling thought is that it could be true. 5/5

Character Depth/Development

In Lord of the Flies, people develop dramatically to the point of monstrosity. There is the question, is this too much development?, but that’s a dissection question, for classroom analysis. Meanwhile your eye moves fluidly across the page and follows the boys downwards and inwards. Some of the boys blend into each other, because there are a few distinct main characters and the rest don’t really matter, but it’s okay because the few that are important are very clear, and they are each very different. I honestly could not give this book a low score for character depth or development even if I felt that the other boys should have had more depth. This is a psychological novel, a look at human nature; how could the characters not have depth? I think it’s just that the depth that they have can be so disturbing we don’t want it to be true. So, 5/5.

Je Ne C’est Quois

This is definitely a place you want to leave behind. When I first read this book, the only parts of it that disturbed me were the especially graphic scenes, such as a particular scene with flies and rotting flesh. These aren’t all too frequent, although there is a perpetual air of death hanging over the island near the end. However, almost as soon as I put it down, it was sending chills down my back to think about. What if? What if this is true? What if the stretch it seems to be making on reality is not so much of a stretch at all? What if we are as terrible as this book quietly claims for us to be?

I think I’ll give this book a low Je Ne C’est Quois rating, because I was not left with a “warm ache”—to the contrary, I was left with a cold ache—and the only part of this book that feels special in that sort of way is the delicacy of the prose. The book is special, make no mistake, but in a way too cold to offer itself for Je Ne C’est Quois. Nevertheless, this is a book that will stay with me, so 2/5.

 

Lord of the Flies leaves a lot of questions, and it leaves a lot of answers. I don’t know whether they’re true, and I certainly do not want to find out.


Feed


Feed, by M.T. Anderson, took me completely by surprise.

“An eerie futuristic novel.…Kids’ brains are wired into the television and other entertainment media from birth, making them totally driven by consumer marketing. This is fiction?” —Boston Globe

“Nightmarish.…Like those in a funhouse mirror, the reflections the novel shows us may be ugly and distorted, but they are undeniably ourselves.” —The Horn Book (starred review)

In Feed, everybody is connected to the Internet through the feed, a chip in their brain. This means that you’re never alone. You’re always up to date, instantly. You’re at the height of everything. The feed knows what you want before you do; it advertises nonstop.

“What we wish for, is ours. It is the age of oneiric culture. And we, America, we are the nation of dreams.

In Feed, the global government is a complex place, but nobody really cares. The main character, Titus, receives brief snippets of worldwide news through the feed, but he barely even registers their existence, even when it might involve him, personally. America has become a place of consumers and suppliers, citizens and corporations. These corporations control the feed, so they basically know everything possible to know about you; they live in your head.

“We went to the moon to have funbut the moon turned out to completely suck.

Feed opens with Titus and his friends on the moon. They went there for vacation, but it turned out that the moon wasn’t what it had been last time they were there, and they were bored. They roamed around and found this girl named Violet, who Titus immediately found fascinating. Violet accompanies them to a place where a hacker malfunctions their feeds, and they end up in a hospital, feedless.

This is a strange experience. They don’t have anything to do but talk, and Titus falls in love with Violet.

When their feeds are fixed, they go home, and Titus and Violet spend more and more time together. Violet is a fresh perspective. She’s always new; she’s slightly disjointed, slightly at an angle to society that Titus has never really thought about before. She always has something interesting to say to him. But, inevitably for someone with this sort of opinion in a society such as this one, Violet’s conversation turns steadily darker—as the book does exactly the same thing.

…It’s like a spiral: They keep making everything more basic so it will appeal to everyone. And gradually, everyone gets used to everything being basic, so we get less and less varied as people, more simple. So the corps make everything even simpler. And it goes on and on.

This book has so many different layers of depth that I don’t even know where to start. There is so much symbolism—so many semi-pithy statements that may or may not have originally been intended by the characters to result that way, but that are hard to understand. This book deserves at least a second reading, probably even a third. This is a book group book—a discussion book—a dissection book. This is book is a classic, an explanation of How We Got This Way. Like Brave New World, this book shows the dangers of life today, and it can only get more relevant, unless humanity—consumers—stop being so passive and start looking at who is actually controlling their lives, consciously and subconsciously.

You’re the only one of them that uses metaphor.

Titus is an interesting main character to pick. He seems to have slightly more depth than the others. He speaks—thinks—with far more poetry than is demonstrated by any other character: “She rubbed my head, and she went, ‘You’re the only one of them that uses metaphor.’ She was staring at me, and I was staring at her, and I moved toward her, and we kissed. The vines beat against each other out in the gray, dead garden, they were all writhing against the spine of the Milky Way on its edge, and for the first time, I felt her spine, too, each knuckle of it, with my fingers, while the air leaked and the plants whacked each other near the silent stars.”

However, he is still incredibly shallow. At the beginning of the book, I didn’t mind him, because he was an example of the time the book takes place—as, being the main character, he should have been rightfully. As the book progressed, I began to like him more and more the more time he spent with Violet. However, the last fourth or so of the book I began to despise him. He seemed to give up, like he’d almost reached some sort of epiphany about life or something, and then he just said, “Whatever” and walked away. I didn’t really understand what happened near the end. It all just sort of fell apart.

Writing

Everything in this book was from Titus’ first-person perspective, which is really difficult at times, because that means that the book has to be written roughly how the character talks. In this case, everybody in Feed used a unique jargon. Every sentence was splattered with slang. In most books, this is OK because you figure out the basic idea of what the words mean but, in this case, I really ended up just skipping over certain words. A couple of words I’d think I got and then they’d be used in a different context. It’s not that you can’t understand what anyone’s saying, it’s just that sometimes you have to think. There are also lots of random question marks, sentence fragments, and loss of description, because as a flighty teenager Titus probably isn’t paying attention to that much. There are also a ton of swears.

I’m going to give a 4/5. This type of writing was necessary to the story. It really helped it and wouldn’t have been as good without it. However, it was still difficult to ignore and at times distracting.

Plot

Nothing incredibly surprising happens. In fact, there’s not that much of a plot at all. It’s one of those stories that just traces someone’s day-to-day life, so plots are difficult to work in. There is a Violet arc, but not much else really changes. This doesn’t detract from the book, though, so I’m going to give 4/5.

Character Depth/Development

Another hard one. None of the characters are especially deep. If they were, that would sort of defeat the purpose. Violet has some depth, but I think it’s hard for Titus to notice these things. None of the characters develop, either, except for Violet—a little, although it’s mostly that more and more of her personality and history is revealed throughout the book—and Titus, but he sort of goes into relapse. I think 3/5.

Je Ne C’est Quois

This isn’t a world you’d really want to live in—a world where everything belongs to the rich and if they can’t map you, they don’t want you, and if they (the corporations) don’t want you, that’s it. That’s it. It’s a world of dreams, but sometimes dreams aren’t enough. If your birthday came every day, it wouldn’t be special anymore.

As the feed tells Titus,

“…First, in the deserts and veldts arose oral culture….

But we have entered a new age. We are a new people. It is now the age of oneiric culture, the culture of dreams.

And we are the nation of dreams. We are seers. We are wizards. We speak in visions. Our letters are like flocks of doves, released from under our hats. We have only to stretch out our hand and desire, and what we wish for settles like a kerchief in our palm. We are a race of sorcerers, enchanters. We are Atlantis. We are the wizard-isle of Mu.

What we wish for, is ours.”

Nevertheless, there is something about this book. Its deep sadness. Its many layers. It isn’t so much the world, or the characters. It’s that you’ve grasped the edge of something, and you don’t want to let it go. 4/5.

Seeing all of these “meh” ratings might make you wonder, Okay, so why did she like this book? Firstly, it’s funny. For example, Titus’ brother’s name is not mentioned once throughout the entire book. When forced to refer to him, Titus calls him “Smell Factor.” The closest you get to seeing his brother’s name is when Titus’ dad says, “Your brother has a name,” and a scene when Violet is over for dinner: “[Titus’ brother singing loudly]

‘Smell Factor!’ [said Titus]

‘That’s not his name,’ said my mother.

[Titus’ brother singing loudly]

‘Hey!’ yelled my mother. ‘Hey, you! We don’t sing at the table!'”

But it’s not just funny. It’s an obscenely charicatured image of society as it is today. It is usbut more. That’s what Feed is about—life, but more. Stuff, but more. All the suppliers want to do is sell, and all the consumers want to do is buy, and meanwhile, suburbs are disappearing, America has annexed the moon, the Global Alliance is declaring war on us, the forests have been cut down for air factories, and the moon completely sucks. And the truffle is totally undervalued.

It’s also just so ridiculously stupid—the feed tells Titus, “It’s dance. It’s dance, dance, dance. That’s fun. Fun’s fun, and fun’s what you can have…” “…craziest prime-time comedy yet. What happens when two normal guys and two normal girls meet in their favorite health-food restaurant? Lots of ABnormal laughs, served with sprouts on the side, is what!”, and his brother watches a show called Top Quark“Cap’n Top Quark, that whole planet is so sad that I think they’ll need a whole lot of good thoughts and hugging!

That’s why, lickety-split, we’re on our way. Charm Quark, prepare the Friend Cannon. Boson, turn out biggest, orangest sails toward Cryos, on the planet Sadalia.

Aye, aye, sir! You’ve made me one happy particle, sir!”

“Yeah, we’ll sing a song for you! It’s a happy, zappy song, full of chuckles and chortles.”

Words like “um,” “like,” and “thing” are grossly overused. The President says “um” in most of his speeches that Titus (unintentionally) hears. The adults use the same level of “stupid language”—unprofessional sounding words such as the ones previously mentioned—and this perfectly captures what the book is trying to say. Nobody can really read, because there’s no point; nobody writes. Everybody rich enough lives in a bubble—literally—where he can control the weather and the season and the time of day. Nothing is real in Feed: not the Earth; not life (people are conceived in conceptionariums and designed by their parents); not the pretense of government; not society’s view of itself; not even the clouds. Is it better to be free or to be fake?