Tag Archives: dystopia

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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More Dystopian Extracts for OCR A level

A booklet with 10 Dystopian extracts for unseen practice.  I think these are suited to OCR A level students and have included a short passage from Riddley Walker, not because I think it would appear in an examination, but because it is brilliant.

dystopian passages

 

Several linked pages of model responses, with passages attached:

OCR A Level Unseen: Wyndham -The Chrysalids

A level unseen: OCR. Never Let Me Go

UNSEEN for discussion: The Time Machine. OCR A level

Year 13 Dystopia Unseen

A level unseen: Dystopia (OCR)

 

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Unseen prep: OCR A level

This is my response to a passage from Lauren Oliver’s 2011 novel Delirium. The passage is found below the unseen.

The sound file of the lesson today in which we discussed the passage is included due top absences from the class.  It helps my Year 13 to keep up.

The passage is drawn from a 21st century novel aimed at Young Adults. Dystopia has proven to be a common genre for such writing with the exploration of totalitarian states in works such as The Hunger Games providing material for Hollywood blockbusters.

In this passage the contextual settings of era and the condition under which life is lived is clear and typical of the genre. The piece is set in a future world, one run by scientists and doctors who strive to control the emotions and feelings of the people. Such control has been a staple of this genre since works such as Zamyatin’s  We and Huxley’s Brave New World.  The passage opens with a clear statement that love has been “identified as a disease” by a ruling elite. Time is evidently important to the narrator –a teenage girl- and we are given information about the passage of “sixty four” years and also the countdown to the “ninety five days” before her maturity and the “operation”.  This narrative device – introducing a countdown to an important, yet unspecified event – is a key device in Patrick Ness’ novel The Knife of never letting go, in which the male protagonist is on the run in the days leading up to his birthday and entry to adulthood. Another typical device is the reference to the past as the “dark days”. In a Dystopian novel it is necessary for the “now” to be officially portrayed as the good times and for the “past” to be seen in a negative light.  We see this clearly in works such as Logan’s Run or Brave New World and here the narrator – a girl still in education seems to accept the official notion of a “dark” time which she is lucky to live outside. Her acceptance of the regime is signalled by her choice of “of course” as she opens paragraph Seven by seeming to accept the need for the operations to continue.

Her acceptance is, however , challenged by the two single sentence e paragraphs earlier in the passage. In the first she tells us that the sight of “uncureds” (reminiscent of Orwell’s manipulation of language) remind he of her “mother” and in the second that her life, however good, is marred by “pain”, whether physical or emotional is not clear,  and a possible lack of safety.  The narrator, a girl –a feature of 21st century and especially Young Adult Writing and a break from the stereotypically male protagonists in this genre from HG Wells until the emergence of writers such as Malorie Blackman in Noughts and Crosses made a conscious effort to engage a female readership, is clear in her opening statement. She presents information without embellishment and in a direct manner. Her sentences are simple and straightforward: “ Everyone else in my family has had the procedure already”. The lack of a proper noun for the “procedure” suggests the normality of the action and the level of acceptance  into everyday discourse, much as the clones in Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go refer ot element s of their treatment as ‘donations’ or ‘carers’. The build-up of the unexplained adoption of everyday terms is unsettling and helps to convey the sense of threat found in the new society. She is clear that ‘scientists’ have found a ‘cure’ for the disease ‘amor deliria nervosa’ and the language develops to present love – one of the finest and fullest emotions of a ‘normal’ contemporary world, as something to be feared and shunned.  Again, the idea of controlling emotion to ensure loyalty to a state is a feature of many texts such as 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World and so forth.

As she tells the reader about the process in the first paragraph her language becomes more descriptive and emotive: the list of 3 illnesses which can result and the use of a verb such as “writhing” to describe the sensation of love she currently feels suggest an emotional response which is not evident as she begins her narrative.  The descriptions of those who are diseased are graphic and unpleasant – ‘dragging their nails… their mouths dripping spit’. The reader notices first that it is only girls who are seen to be behaving in this way and may also infer that far from being uncured, these are the victims of some unspecified operation devised by ‘scientists’ devoid of feeling and emotion which has itself left the victims in this parlous state. It is reminiscent of the state in which Alex is left following his ‘cure’ in Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange.

Love is ‘cured’ and the narrator looks forward to being ‘paired with a boy’ in a world in which presumably pairing is needed for procreation but little else. She is supported by an older sister and an aunt – both given names- who seem to have convinced her that the process is a good thing. Her wedding dreams are another common convention – dreams tend to display a view of reality and the subconscious as seen in McCarthy’s The Road  – and the ‘blurs’ of the face of her husband hints at the lack of closeness that will be found between the couple.  This is accentuated by the onomatopoeic heart beat: ‘womp, womp, womp’ suggesting that there is no increase in emotion between the couple. Indeed the narrator seems proud of this fact, suggesting that he rheart does not ‘skip or jump or swirl or go faster’ – a list suggestive of happiness and freedom. This has no place in her new world.

An interesting feature of the passage is that the school system still teaches elements of the ‘old ways’.  The symbolism of the ‘dark days’ is clear – a time of threat and  a lack of clear vision, yet the narrator is aware that there was a time when love was viewed as ‘something to be celebrated or pursued’.  She drops into a second person narrative, speaking directly to the reader as though to a friend or confidant (‘It affects your mind…) and explores the problems which are contained in the ‘Book of SHHH’ and acronym derived from the tricolon title of the book outlining the rules and structure of the new world order, which suggests from its name that this is an area to be kept silent and not to be discussed.  The full title of the book, linking ‘safety’ with ‘happiness’, suggests a euphemistic approach to controlling the thought processes and practices of this society.

There are moments of the text in which the writer presents a surprising normality. I find it jarring to read of the United States, as though the geo-political order has not changed. Whilst Orwell or Zamyatin are at pains to remove the continental nomenclature familiar to their readers, writers such as Ishiguro or Steven King make no attempt to hide the location of their texts from their readers. Not only has the geopolitical system not changed, but neither has the counting of the months and years – the narrator has a birthday on ‘September 3’.  This tangible link to the world of the reader helps to make the narrative more accessible, perhaps, and creates a heightened horror when reading of the ‘invisible, sweeping tentacles’ with which a personified love is said to be ‘choking us’.  The writer uses the easily recognisable feelings associated with love: heart in the mouth, shortness of breath and so forth in a way to accentuate the negativity that has been gathered around the emotion in this passage. The descriptions of suicides – from the hyperbolic and graphic “tear their eyes out or try to impale themselves on the barbed –wire fences” ( the addition of the adjective “barbed” here raising the emotion significantly) to the girl who “dropped quickly” serve to intensify the feeling of entrapment felt by some members of this society.

It is clear that this society, whilst using television to ensure that the deaths are seen as a warning for all, cannot prevent people from taking the ultimate sanction. The feeling of being trapped in an unfeeling system is clear throughout the passage from the clinical descriptions of the ‘cure’ and the scientists by whom it will be delivered. Only at the end of the passage do we get under the cover of the emotions presented by the narrator. Her sentences become short and direct, almost desperate – ‘I’m nervous of course. … I want to get it over with’ both suggest the impending cure as a rite of passage which heralds adulthood.  Ultimately the narrator used an extremely short paragraph to draw attention to her feelings: ‘the deadliest of all deadly things: it kills you both when you have it and when you don’t’ suggests recognition of the cognitive dissonance of her situation.  She seems to crave love and yet also to crave its removal. The suggestion is of a lose/lose situation –an ideal choice for a dystopia.

delirium

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Year 13 Dystopia Unseen

This is another attempt at an unseen to provide discussion and critique for Y13 students studying the OCR A level (Dystopia). The passage is from Brave New World and is found beneath my attempt at writing a commentary. Again I have consciously used the SCASI layout I favour. Possibly the hardest thing to realise in an unseen is that there is no answer which will address everything.  Try to hit the mark scheme, work to a planned format and do not be afraid of your opinions, if they are supported from the text.

50 minutes.

The passage is drawn from Huxley’s 1931 novel ‘A Brave New World’. The novel deals with issues around a futuristic society which has replaced the human reproductive process with a mechanised and highly clinical process of cloning known as Bokanoskification. The novel explores ideas around determinism and scientific advances at a time when such topics were being explored in society, following the First World War.

From the outset of the passage there is a harshness to the setting. Described as ‘squat’, the building stands ‘only’ 34 stories – immediately unsettling the reader of the day for whom skyscrapers were still a rarity by the idea of such an immense building being viewed as short and fat. The sign on the faced of the building proclaims the coldness of the process being carried out – ‘hatchery and conditioning’ suggests not only the animal nature of the reproductive process but also the clinical process of preparing the embryos for their life ahead. Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, written in 2006 also deals with cloning and conditioning but the element of science fiction evident in this passage is not found in that novel which focuses more on the moral questions than on the actual process by which the embryos are created.

The ‘enormous’ room within continues to present a ‘harsh’ and sterile setting. The writing focuses attention on a cold and hostile environment: facing ‘north and with a light which ‘glared’ through the windows. The light within is described through a tricolon: ‘frozen, dead, a ghost’ which builds to the conclusion that there was once light in this place – such light is now a mere ghost of its former self. It seems as if the ‘soul’of the building, represented by the light, has been removed. This clinical coldness is perhaps derived from the buildings depicted in Zamyatin’s We (1922) rathe r than from the cosier laboratories found in HG Wells’ novels of the 19th century, such as ‘The Time Machine’.

The room is clearly built on an industrial scale and this is mirrored in the words of the Director when discussing the Bokanovskified egg-  from eight to ninety six buds, and every bud…perfectly formed embryo’. He develops the process over two stages in the writing – ‘buds’ is possibly the only remnant of the idea of beauty and wonder in the act of human fertilisation and it is here being used to describe an inhuman process, devised by an inventor with a name which is Russian in form, suggesting an awareness of the cold regimented life of the new Soviet block, as explored by both Zamyatin and by Orwell in his novel 1984 (1948).

The character of the Director – anonymous and cold, just like the setting, is presented through his speech and his description. His appearance: ‘tall, rather thin but upright, suggests a moral rectitude as well as stature and the students are clearly in awe of him – scribbling frantically as words come from the horse’s mouth. His facial description with the ‘rather prominent teeth and ‘floridly curved lips’ does seem to suggest the physiognomy of a horse -an unsettling image and also one of the few dashes of colour in the overwhelmingly pale interior of the Hatchery. He reveals the hatchery to his ‘boys’ in a manner reminiscent of a magician  –  a man whose dialogue suggests his pride in his achievements. There is none of the revulsion seen in the character of Madame in NLMG.

The worryingly single gender group of students are awe struck by his ‘menacing geniality’, possibly representing a society which can be kind to those who toe the line, reminiscent of so many totalitarian dystopias such as 1984, are singled out as ‘young, pink and callow. Again the colour, suggestive of beauty and fragility of youth is at odds with the harsh white surroundings in which workers pull on ‘corpse coloured’ gloves suggesting that this is what lies ahead for the youngsters – their life drained by the actions and the surroundings in which they work. The workers are ‘plunged’ into ‘scarcely breathing silence’ by the arrival of the Director suggestive of his power and the cowed nature of society, even of the society working in this kind of state sponsored (presumably) establishment.

Huxley presents the passage in a mixture of omnisicent narration and direct speech. The only voice heard is that of the Director and the narrator offers comment which seems possibly ironic when he adds a sentence to the end of one such speech: ‘Rams wrapped in thermogene beget no rams’. It is the narrator who equated the sperm donor to the process of AI in field animals and also the narrator who adds the possibly ironic ‘progress’ to the final paragraph extolling the wonders of science. This could be read as free indirect speech, suggesting the Director’s thoughts, and would be equally valid as a reading – highlighting the Director’s pride at what he does. Huxley also delivers ideas though the use of tricolon ideas such as ‘One egg,one embryo,one adult-normality’. The anaphora stresses the previous status quo – the adult normality of a single embryo from a single egg. The following passage eulogising the new world in which to live clearly stresses the idea of the Brave New World and its apparent progress.

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Miranda’s coining of the title of this book is used when she looks on the group of dissolute drunkards who have come ashore on her isl;and. That is the irony of the title: it is not an advancement at all. A Brave New World is a mistaken utopia. Consequently as we read Huxley’s novel we carry this intertextuality in our minds. Nothing is quite a wondrous as it seems at face value. Other ideas running through the text include a suggestion of a divided and controlled society.  The Director’s suggestion that all will get a ‘general idea’ is countered by the narrators comment that all would receive ‘as little of one, if they were to be good and happy members of society, as possible’ The slightly complex syntax draws attention to this statement and suggests a society eager to control access to knowledge and by granting the ‘privelege’ of occasional ‘generalities’ the populace is prevented from accessing a clear contextual knowledge of the world around them rather in the manner of the controlled environments in which the clones live in NLMG. They are allowed contact with the outside world, but never enough to feel that they are part of it. Indeed they show no signs of ambition to be part of it, just as the boys here respond with an unquestioning acceptance of all they are told.

bnw

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