OCR AS Eng Lit: Unseen model for Dystopia

The June 2016 paper included a passage from Ayn Rand’s Anthem as a source for the question: Discuss ways in which Orwell explores the threat to individuality in 1984.  I have encouraged students to focus on contexts -AO3 is the dominant AO – and not to stray from Orwell himself and the period around his creation of the novel with no reference to other writers.  Since we are teaching with the eventual A level in mind, this is confusing for the students – it almost feels as though they have to go backwards a little. Still, I think it is preferable to having to engage with wider reading and exploration in Year 13 alone.

Here goes: timer on…. 15 mins reading and notes for a 45 minute (maximum) writing period.

IDEAS: 

Respond to the question without the source:

Names – identity lost as unperson, 6079Smith

Identity lost in uniforms and 2 mins hate, also in common living and shared activities

totalitarian regimes scared of individuals – all reflect ideas of the Party – Katherine and anti-sex league vs Julia

writing as source of identity – thought police

Homogenised history/past…

Language

CONTEXTS:

Stalin/Hitler regimes and control

Orwell against fascism in 1930s Spain

Orwell aware of poor living conditions and proles lives from earlier writings.,

Orwell at BBC propaganda unit controlling thought and therefore reducing individual responses

Ideas explored in Animal Farm

RAND:

Equity 7-2521

Home of the street sweepers – collective living

We

need to write for ‘no ears but our own’ – thoughts forbidden (curse)

bracelets

Unable to resist the urge to rebel…

Orwell’s 1948 novel, 1984, is a warning to humanity about the dangers of a totalitarian state. Written after the defeat of Hitler and in the time of the emerging Cold War, the focus seems to be clearly Stalin’s Russia, though Orwell, who had fought against Franco in the 1930s and who had worked for the BBC propaganda unit in the Second World War is able to reflect the shift from Nazism to Communism as a focus with the ever-shifting background of alliances observed in his novel.

At a human level, such regimes seek to destroy individuality and this is explored in this pair of novels. Rand’s protagonist, Equality 7-2521 seems to have lost all individuality and become absorbed into a kind of ‘hive mind’, even to the extent of thinking of himself in the first person plural – ‘We’. Winston Smith has not yet descended to this level at the start of 1984 though he keeps jis name solely because of his status at work, where he is known as 6079Smith. Orwell has given him the blandest and most common English surname of the time as a step towards the loss of his identity and the replacement of his proud forename Winston again suggests a wish to remove his personality. Winston, recalling Churchill, suggests determination to fight on against impossible odds. The regime will not wish to engage with this idea. Individuality is further lost at the end of the novel when Winston becomes becomes an ‘unperson’. The negative prefix of this Newsspeak construct reinforces the idea of a removed identity – the fate of all who fall foul of the Party and its way of life – much ion the same way as Stalin’s victims sent to the Gulags lost all identity and rights as citizens, living out their lives in a hidden half-world at the Arctic Circle.

Identity is also seen in the way one dresses. In Rand’s text we learn that all men wear an ‘Iron Bracelet’ as an identity marker. In Orwell’s text the work force -the ‘Outer Party’ workers are required to wear blue overalls and to lose all sense of individuality in their clothing. This sense of commonality can then be seen in their behaviours – all required ot take part in the 2 minute hate and all chanting ‘B-B’ in homage of Big Brother regardless of any personal feeling. It is only in the highest echelons of the Party and in the ‘Golden Country’ that people can dress as individuals. The hypocrisy of the senior party members seen here is reminiscent of the enormous freedoms to accumulate wealth and material goods seen in Soviet Russia while the ordinary people starved.  In both texts there is an evident hand-to-mouth existence for the ordinary workers – Equity steals candles and Winston soap – everyday necessities.

In Rand’s text, the protagonist is aware of the need ot write -to explore his thoughts for ‘no ears but our own’. He is writing in his customary 1st person plural and referring solely to himself, just as Winston, when writing in his diary is driven to explore the thoughts which can never be spoken aloud: @I hate Big Brother’. For both there is a clear fear of reprisal for ‘thoughts which are forbidden’. In 1984 the constant awareness of the telescreen and the activities of the Thought Police result in those thought to be harbouring thoughts which do not suit the Party being taken away to the Ministry of Love. The euphemistic name, just as in Rand’s Palace of Corrective Detention – suggests a location in which people are helped rather than tortured. In this  Orwell departs from his Soviet model. Though clearly modelled on the Lubianka, no one in Soviet Russia would view the headquarters of the KGB in any way other than its grim reality.  Orwell is using his experience in the BBC propaganda department to show the power of controlling public expectation.

The final paragraph of Rand’s extract hints at the idea that in all men there is an urge to rebel – to recognise the moral issues in a situation and to stand up for the ‘right’. This ties in with Winston. He is not an heroic stereotype – downtrodden and frightened, hampered by his varicose leg he finds it in himself to rebel first as a lover as he is able to reject the attitude of his wife Katherine and the anti-sex league to find his own individuality in love with Julia (who ‘adores sex’) although this will eventually be his undoing, and then in his ill-fated attempts to subvert the Party system.

He has been spotted as a rebel without needing to be ‘six feet tall’. He has been played by O’Brien and will pay for his individuality in Room 101 and in his subsequent reincarnation as an unperson. He has lost his individuality since the Party cannot allow independent thought – it must have control of the Past, the Present and the Future.

 

43 minutes. I’d love some feedback if anyone reads this – where would you mark it in OCR AS marks schemes – and why?

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Filed under OCR A level, OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature

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