Big Brother is Watching You 1984 – George Orwell

1984 Gilmore Girls

LORELAI: I was just going through something, I thought you might be interested. It’s from 1984.
SOOKIE: The book?
LORELAI: No, the year.

Gilmore Girls Season 4 Episode 7 The Festival of Living Art

It’s 1984 in Oceania. Winston Smith is employed as a records editor at the Ministry of Truth. His main duty is to rewrite the history and documentation of the state in order to satisfy current Party policy and interpretation. The Party is a totalitarian superpower that controls and manipulates its citizens by making sure that they live a life without freedom. In Oceania, Big Brother is always watching.

The Party controls everything. They change history books, newspaper articles and government documents in order to make sure that their views are a reality in the past, present and the future. They even control who Oceania is at war with.

1984 cover

The novel starts with Winston on his way home with a diary. In Oceania citizens are not allowed to have a diary as their thoughts are not their own. Winston defies this by keeping a record of his thoughts and daily activities. This is the first step he takes in defying the Party.

SPOILERS

Winston soon meets Julia, a like-minded individual, with whom he has a secret love affair. Their affair, however, does not last long as they are discovered and arrested. What follows are horrific scenes of torture, as they are brainwashed to believe that they have betrayed themselves and the Party.

I had trouble relating to the characters. I feel like Winston was just going through the motions. He never took an active step to betray the Party, it just sort of happened, just like his affair with Julia. Winston was mechanical in his thinking and his love for Julia. I guess this could also have been a side-effect from being manipulated by the Party all his life. He didn’t know how to show love or affection. Even though Julia was more pro-active in getting what she wanted her main goal was to make her life as enjoyable as possible. She didn’t seem concerned about the destruction happening around her.

I wouldn’t say it’s an enjoyable novel to read, as I constantly felt worried and stressed that Winston and Julia would be caught. In the end when they were arrested, their worst fears were realised as they were tortured and starved. In a movie you can at least keep your eyes closed if there are parts you don’t want to see. Keeping my eyes closed would make reading a bit difficult but that is exactly what I wanted to do during the torture scenes. They were written in such detail that it actually made me feel sick to my stomach.

The ideas and concepts of propaganda, war, power and class divides in 1984 are timeless. It’s nerve-wrecking how relevant it still is today. In the end Winston was set free, if you can call it that. He was allowed to return to his apartment but he had been so manipulated and brainwashed that his mind once again belonged to the Party. I didn’t like the ending although I couldn’t really see it ending any other way. I still hoped that the Party might be defeated. But even that thought wasn’t very comforting as the Party was sure to be replaced by another government with the same principles.

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Aliens, Time Travel and War Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut

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Jess reading Slaughterhouse 5 after sneaking into class.
Gilmore Girls Season 2 Episode 19 Teach Me Tonight

Billy Pilgrim was a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany during the Second World War. The novel centres on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden. But the story about war is interjected with tales of Billy’s honeymoon, a horrible ski accident and the time he was taken prisoner by an alien race he calls the Tralfamadorians. Billy it seems has come unstuck in time and can move freely between any point of time in his life.

I have to be honest I didn’t know what to make of Slaughterhouse 5. I expected a book about war but Slaughterhouse 5 is something completely different. The few times the novel actually describes war situations are horrific. These scenes include dehydrated, bleeding horses and POWs unwittingly using soap and candles made from human bodies. These horrifying events are, however, countered by accounts of alien abduction and honeymooning in Cape Ann, Massachusetts.

slaughterhouse-5

Just as Billy would recall (or rather relive) these horrible events he would become unstuck in time and travel to a different point in his life. Mostly Billy would travel to where he was kept in an apartment like an animal in a zoo by the Tralfamadorians. The Tralfamadorians are a fictional alien race that kidnapped Billy in order to observe him.

The Tralfamadorians have an interesting outlook on life. They choose to ignore anything that is unpleasant. In the novel they know that a test pilot will press a button that destroys the Universe and yet they do nothing to stop him.

“He has always pressed it, and he always will. We always let him and we will always let him. The moment is structured that way.” Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5.

They seem to not take any responsibility for their actions. In the same way Billy seems to distance himself from the war. He seems to remind himself that there is nothing that he could have done to stop the bombing; the moment was simply structured that way. “So it goes”, is a saying that Billy uses throughout the novel whenever anyone dies. By repeating this whenever someone dies Billy seems to remind himself that it is simply how the world works and that there is nothing that could have been done. It seems to help Billy cope.

There are no spoilers in this review as it is not that kind of plot. The concept of chronology is rejected as the first and the last sentences of the novel are put next to each other in the first chapter:

“It begins like this: Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. It ends like this: Poo-tee-weet?” –Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5.

There is no tension in the novel as we know exactly how it is going to end. The first and the last chapter of the book are written in first person. Vonnegut starts the novel by stating: “All this happened more or less”. Throughout the rest of the novel Vonnegut takes an omniscient point of view but he also mentions that he was a prisoner of war alongside Billy Pilgrim. It would seem that a part of the novel is based on Vonnegut’s own experience as a POW.

Slaughterhouse 5 was just too strange for me. I found the timeline confusing. Maybe I’m missing something but I really didn’t enjoy it. I kept hoping that the ending would be different as to what was quoted in the first chapter and was disappointed that it ended exactly as Vonnegut said it would.

Even though I disagree with most of the things the Tralfamadorians believe, I did like this quote:

“That’s one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones.” Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse 5.

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To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

“LORELAI: But he’s our Boo Radley, and we don’t have a Boo Radley, unless you count the troubadour or Pete the pizza guy or the guy who talks to mailboxes. 

RORY: Well, I think the point is that every town needs as many Boo Radley’s as they can get.”                                                                         Gilmore Girls Season 3 Episode 6 – Take the Deviled Eggs.

to-kill-a-mockingbird-goodreads

The only thing I knew about To Kill a Mockingbird before reading the novel was that it involved a recluse named Boo Radley. To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the 1930s and the story is told by 6-year-old Scout Finch. Scout’s father Atticus Finch is defending Tom Robinson, a black man, accused of raping a young white woman in Maycomb County, Alabama. But the story is about so much more than that.

The novel begins when Scout recalls the events that led up to her brother’s arm being broken. From the narrative one gathers that Scout is now much older and looking back on the events of her childhood. Scout tells us that the story begins when Charles Baker Harris, better known as Dill, arrives in Maycomb to spend the summer. Scout and her brother Jem soon befriend Dill and the three of them have various adventures. Most of them involve the house across the street where the Radley family lives. Scout, Jem and Dill are fascinated by the youngest son of the Radley family. His name is Arthur Radley but the children refer to him as Boo as he has not been seen outside for many years. The three of them play games in which they try to get the enigmatic Boo to come outside but they have no luck.

Scout, Jem and Dill’s childhood games later become a thing of the past as the narrative focuses on the trial of Tom Robinson. At Christmas, Scout and Jem receive air rifles as presents from Atticus but he warns them:

“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Finch’s neighbour Miss Maudie Atkinson later explains that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird as they do no harm to anyone and that all they do is sing for the delight of those who hear them.

SPOILER ALERT

Figuratively in the novel Tom Robinson, Boo Radley, and Scout and Jem can all be seen as mockingbirds. Robinson is seen as a mockingbird as he is wrongfully accused of a crime he did not commit. Scout and Jem’s surname, Finch (which refers to a small, seed-eating songbird), alludes to the idea that they are also mockingbirds as their childhood innocence is lost during the course of the novel. Boo Radley is a mockingbird as the town has made up many stories about him which in the end turn out not to be true. Boo is wronged by the stereotypical views of society without having done anything to deserve it.

wingtip-314964_640Throughout the novel Atticus tries to teach his children to put themselves in other people’s shoes in order to see their point of view. Toward the end of the novel Scout and Jem are attacked by Bob Ewell the father of the young woman who accused Robinson of raping her. Jem’s arm is broken in the attack but the children are saved by Boo Radley. Scout later walks Boo home and as she leaves his porch she stops to look at Maycomb from Radley’s point of view.

The novel ends on a hopeful note with Atticus telling Scout that most people are nice when you finally see them. In the case of Boo Radley it meant when Scout literally saw him but figuratively Atticus was saying that most people are nice when you see things from their perspective. Even though Scout experiences many injustices during her childhood it has not diminished her believe in goodness.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I was captivated by the naïve account of events as Scout explains the events she experienced as she understood them at the time. The southern accent took some getting used to but once you’re accustomed to it, it’s easy enough. In the end I have to agree with Rory that every town needs as many Boo Radley’s as they can get.

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