Tag Archives: unseens

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

Unseen Practice for A level: possible links.

 

This is a work in progress table to help OCR A level students prepare for the Unseen in Dystopian Literature.  The texts cited have either been used in part as unseen practice or have been read by the students.

Typicality and textual reference in unseens

Narrative voice 1st person: Handmaid, Delirium (Oliver), Divergent, Maze Runner

 

  3rd person: 1984, Station 11, The Road
Narrative tone Factual: We (Zamyatin), NLMG
  figurative: time  machine,
Setting:  
Future improved

 

Brave New World, we, Ender’s Game
Past  
Future degraded The Road, (anarchic, post-apocalyptic), I am legend, Station 11, Riddley Walker, The time machine, Delirium, F451
Location Earth?

 

Totalitarian/ police

 

1984, Fahrenheit 451, Handmaid, Delirium (?)

Hunger games, the dispossessed

Location elsewhere Ready Player 1,
Location town (protection) 1984, Handmaid, We, Hunger Games
Location country (to be feared or a sanctuary)  

1984, Station 11, The Road, I am legend, Logan’s Run (sanctuary)

Time of day  
Character types  
names Ofred (offered and belonging, (Regal), Winston Smith, anonymous so universal – The Road, F451 Guy Montag – new beginnings, August (Station 11) -power
jobs 1984/F451 – destruction of (written) language, mundane employment: 1984, We, Handmaid, F451(?), War of Worlds, Wyndham novels, Children of men: Lippiatt has a high status role, Station 11 – ‘the prophet’
skills In YA skills can be more evident-  Castniss
Action Passive Handmaid
Action Active Winston Smith
Past was better 1984 – Winston perceives past as better, official documents disagree. Handmaid. Delirium, Brave New World – reservations The Road, Riddley Walker, NLMG
Capitalist or Communist takeover F451, There will come soft rains, Body Snatchers – USA 1950s/60s, Animal Farm, 1984
Destroyed individuality NLMG,1984, We, Hrarison Bergeron, Cloud Atlas (Sonmi 451)
Control by state NLMG, 1984, BNW
Mankind corrupted The Road, Chaos Walking trilogy, F451, Handmaid, Time Machine, Maze Runner
Individual against corrupt society The Road- Man and child seek redemption
Class ‘warfare’ Hunger games, Time Machine, 1984, brave new world

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UNSEEN for discussion: The Time Machine. OCR A level

Another unseen for discussion…

Others:

unseen: Delirium

unseen: Brave New World

unseen: the Road
I found this one tricky for the reason that I know the text quite well and want to apply that knowledge to the scene described. Resist this temptation! Stick to the text as written. It is a setting (locale)- rich passage. I also struggled with literary context – I’m not sure that Star Wars is really valid… ideas please!

This passage is taken from the late 19th Century and is written by a man who must be seen as the originator of the genre of science-fiction Dystopias. Written at a time when Britain was an imperial power seeking to conquer and rule new lands and to attain new wealth from hostile territories such as South and Central Africa, it is no surprise that the plot line focuses on the discovery of new worlds and of a discussion of their socio-political make-up.

Here, the initial focus is on the narrator, who has evidently just arrived on the ‘shore’ of a new world. His impressions are carefully recorded as he looks at his new setting.

Wells uses colour to help his readers to visualize the scene. The contrast seems to be between ‘scarlet’ and shades of red and the ‘inky black’ of the Northern sky. The description of the sky : ‘scarlet, where cut by the horizon’ suggests a great wound which seems to be threatened by the ‘huge hull of the sun, red and motionless’. The sun is turned metaphorically into some form of ship – the colour may suggest a warship, which is mounting guard over what lies beneath. This landscape, a scene of ‘desolation’ is a possible inspiration for Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’, which moves the idea of the desolate and pained landscape from an alien world to a ruined Earth. Aside from the ‘harsh reddish’ rocks, the only colour seen on the ground is the ‘uniform poisonous-looking green’ of the moss-like substance which is growing. The landscape in terms of colour suggests other books by McCarthy such as No Country for Old Men in which McCarthy draws on the colouring of the hostile landscapes of New Mexico as well as writings about the planet Mars, such as his own War of the Worlds. Wells draws attention both to its uniformity and its ‘intensely green’ colour possibly suggesting an unnatural origin.

All can be seen under a sky which is both ‘Indian red’ in hue and also showing a darkness, creating a sense of ‘perpetual twighlight’. The use of the adjective ‘Indian’ is redolent of the time of Empire and would allow the reader to make links in their minds between this traveller and the first colonisers and rulers of the Indian subcontinent. The whole landscape is caught in ‘twighlight’ – a sinking down of the light – not yet fully dark, suggesting the possibility of hope and/or life being present, but on the wane.

Even the stars are described as ‘pale white’ and though they shine ‘brightly and steadily’ they do little to lift the ‘wan’ sky – the colour suggesting ill health and approaching death.

The final element added is the sea. In The Road, the sea is a symbol of hope – the focus of travel, here it is sinister –an ‘oily swell’ that takes on the personified elements of a living thing – ‘rising and falling as though breathing’ – and leaving it’s salt deposits along the shore – pink in the red light of twighlight. As in the science fiction writing of Asimov, the description works best because it is so little altered from our known reality – it unsettles but is not ludicrous.

In this setting, the presumably male protagonist, typical of the genre though not given a clear pronoun here, is seen as a careful and rational character. He stopped ‘ very gently’ and when under threat simply places his ‘hand on the lever and add{ed}s another month’ between himself and the monsters which threaten him. He does not panic under stress, a man of the Empire and the period, just as the hero of Wells’ The War of the Worlds will turn out to be. He has plenty to fear: he has mistaken giant crabs for large rocks and when they move towards him he realizes his mistake. The writing develops into longer sentences in paragraphs 4&5 as the tension mounts and action begins to replace description in the narrative. The crab is a ‘sinister apparition’ suggesting otherworldliness rather in the way that John Wyndham will write about mutated nature in The Day of The Triffids or The Kraken Wakes, it crawls towards him and the slow inevitability of its movement is powerful. Wells has slipped into the second person form of address as his narrator addresses the reader directly to increase the power of the description – ‘Can you imagine a crab as large as yonder table…?’ which suddenly places the threat in the same room as the reader and uses the imagination to turn a normal piece of household furniture into a hostile killing machine. It is ‘metallic’, like Wyndham’s Kraken and Wells is careful to use similes which will be easily recognized – antennae ‘like carters’ whips, suggesting both length and potential pain.

When he is touched by one of these antennae, the narrator describes the sensation as like a ‘fly’ landing – inconsequential- but when he tries to remove the antenna it is withdrawn and the focus moves to the mouth of the creature: ‘all alive with appetite’. The mouth is the focus now: the rest is forgotten. The claws’ descending upon me’ are the personified instruments by which the mouth will be fed.

The narrator calmly makes his escape but little has changed as he regards the same shore and the same crabs at a greater distance. He remains seated in or on his machine and makes no attempt to move away or to explore. There are now more crabs suggesting a greater threat and the sky remains red while the language has taken on a more apocalyptic tone – ‘desolation’, ‘Dead sea’ ‘poisonous-looking green’, ‘thin air’, ‘appalling effect’. There is a change however: a ‘curved pale line like a vast new moon’ has appeared in the Western Sky. On Earth in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun sets in the West and rises in the East. If this moon-line is an indicator of rising hope then Wells has neatly reversed the expected cyclical sequence – the moon suggests hope while the sun seems to aid the desolation of the world and the hope is rising in the West.

Wells was a life-long socialist and his views on colonization and treatment of a downtrodden workforce will not chime with the ruling establishment of Britain in 1895. His new world, an alien landscape, is one which seems to be in the thrall of powerful, unfeeling and cruel masters in the shape of the crabs, but which shows indications that there may be a weak force for the good, symbolized by the weal displays of light from the stars and the moon-line. It is a world redolent of George Lucas’ Star Wars films – evidently influenced by Wells description here – and of the landscape of Tatouine in particular.

The passage does not include any real suggestion of how the narrator will act from here on in the story.

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Filed under OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature, Paedagogy