Saturday, December 3, 2016

"1984" by George Orwell





  ‘1984’ is a dystopian novel about a country called Oceania that is constantly at war, but its citizens do not know why it is at war. They do support it, though, because anybody who is not a supporter is considered a traitor.
  Hatred and rage fuel the support of this endless war.

  Blind obedience to Big Brother is considered freedom. Anyone who dares to oppose the dictator’s ideas or think differently is vilified and will disappear. Those who work for the party are instructed to manipulate the truth as needed.  In fact, nobody really knows the truth and nobody cares to reflect on it because their lives would be at stake if they did. Physical movements and facial expressions are closely monitored by screens in people’s homes, political prisoners are treated worse than criminals and love does not exist; hatred and fear condition everybody’s behavior. Blind devotion to Big Brother is what matters. Torture and starvation await anybody who dares to challenge the system in any way.

  Another strategy of the ruling Party is to destroy words. “We’re cutting the language down to the bone. Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?” “There will be no thought as we understand it now. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”
  Winston is a thirty-nine year-old man who works for the Ministry of Truth. He helps to change the historical facts but, in reality, he is a free thinking person who would like to sabotage Big Brother’s dictatorship. He falls in love with a woman with whom he feels compelled to challenge the system by loving each other and having secret encounters that they must plan in advance.

 When Winston becomes a political prisoner a member of the inner Party confesses to him, “Our civilization is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy -everything. Already we have destroyed the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty toward the party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science”.
“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power”. “We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power”.

 The truth is distorted to satisfy the leader’s interests; conformity becomes the rule.
 The society in which the authoritarian regime thrives is designed carefully to disregard critical thinking and to believe blindly in their leader. His authority is not to be questioned, and those who dare do it are punished and labeled as enemies. George Orwell portrays the dynamics of this society with striking details.

 The features that make Big Brother powerful are the following:
-Fanaticism
-Repeated slogans
-Exacerbated nationalism
-Scapegoating
-The destruction of language
-Use of songs and ceremonies to venerate the leader


  The past becomes mutable. It only exists in the minds of the citizens, and the government can manipulate their minds by rewriting the historical facts and changing the data to keep the dictator in power because the omnipotence of the dictator can only be preserved through lies and irrationality.

  The Party claimed to have liberated “the proles”, but, in reality, the dictator does not care about them.
“So long as they continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance.”
“All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations”.
   Contradictions are at the heart of the regime. In ‘1984’ the Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture, and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation.

    The question that lingers in my mind is whether these totalitarian leaders succeed because of the ignorance of the masses or the conformism of the intellectuals. I think it is a combination of both. As Albert Einstein said, “Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.”



 

    

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Still I rise



You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room?

Just like moons and suns
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hope springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Digging in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou

Saturday, October 1, 2016

"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood



I’ve already described some of the outstanding qualities of Margaret Atwood’s oeuvre: ingenious satire and social insight along with well developed characters and plots.
 In "The Handmaid’s Tale" the United States of America is taken over by fundamentalist Christians. Under the new regime women are not allowed to read, work or think. They are only expected to obey  the rules that powerful men create. Women are forced to reproduce. The dissidents are severely punished.
  As part of this regime there is an underworld in which rich privileged men use women as a source of entertainment. When a woman is raped they say that she deserves it; it is God's plan.  Margaret Atwood wrote this book in the 1980s, yet it appears to be of relevance today.

  White women in America earn 75 % of what white men make; African American women make 63 %, even with the same level of education and experience; Latina women only make 54% of what white males earn. These figures show clearly that gender and ethnic discrimination go hand in hand.

 We all deserve the same respect, dignity and consideration. (And, by the way, if you don't like to hear a woman yelling, then don't excuse a man for doing so, even if he is white and American).

 If you want to understand how unconscious and conscious biases determine the way women are judged and treated differently I recommend the well researched book by Iris Bohnet: “What Works: gender equality by design.” In addition to exploring  the complexity and consequences of these biases through concrete examples, she proposes solutions to this important issue.





Friday, September 30, 2016

It will trickle down



This week I wrote my poem "It will trickle down", which was published by Leaves of Ink. You can read it here.
 I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Mr. Pimp


 After reading Nita Belles's book "In Our Backyard" I was inspired to write my poem "Mr. Pimp," which was published by the New York Literary Magazine. It is included in the "Winds of Time" Anthology. You can read it here.
  Nita Belles is a heroine to me. She rescues slaves in the United States of America. Her book  educates us on what we can do to end and prevent slavery.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"The Japanese Lover" by Isabel Allende



There are many love stories in this novel by Isabel Allende, but it was not the title that attracted me to it. The hook was the first chapter. It narrates the story of Irina, a young woman from Moldova who is hired to work at Lark House, an imaginary nursing home located in California.

  Irina bonds with the residents of Lark House because she is kind, sensitive and caring. After an unexpected turn of events, Irina is also hired to work a few hours a week for Alma, one of the residents.

  Both Irina and Alma harbor secrets that hold the suspense of the novel till the end.

 Even though they had different backgrounds, Alma and Irina had something in common: they’d both migrated to America under difficult circumstances.  Alma had moved to the United States from Poland at age seven when her Jewish parents, terrified by the rise of Nazism, sent her to live with her uncle and aunt in America. During her childhood she met Ichimei, a family friend with whom she fell in love.

   The story is narrated from an omniscient point of view. The present and past moments of their lives alternate and the writer paints the intimate landscapes of the characters’ thoughts and emotions. We also get to know the Japanese lover through the letters that he wrote to Alma.

 This novel encouraged me to learn more about American history. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese government in 1941 President Roosevelt declared war on Japan. On the West Coast of the United States of America thousands of American citizens of Japanese background were detained and sent to concentration camps for no other reason than their race. Their bank accounts and possessions were confiscated by the government.

The Japanese had to quickly sell off whatever they owned at knockdown prices, and to close their businesses. They soon discovered that their bank accounts had been frozen; they were ruined.”
“By August, more than a hundred and twenty thousand men, women and children would be evacuated, old people snatched from hospitals, babies from orphanages, and mental patients from asylums. They would be interned in ten concentration camps in isolated areas of the interior, while cities would be left with phantom neighborhoods full of empty homes and desolate streets, where abandoned pets and the confused spirit of the ancestors who had arrived in America with the immigrants wandered aimlessly.”

 I think this is a relevant reminder of how hate speeches fueled by fanaticism, racism and economic hardship do have consequences. Nevertheless, those consequences were presented under the veil of censorship.
It was a temporary solution and would be carried out in a humane fashion. This was the official line, but meanwhile the hate speech spread. ‘A snake is always a snake, wherever it lays its eggs. A Japanese-American born of Japanese parents, brought up in a Japanese tradition, living in an atmosphere transplanted from Japan, inevitably and with only rare exceptions grows up as Japanese and not American. They are all enemies.’ It was enough to have a great-grandfather born in Japan to be seen as a snake.”

  Another important subject that this novel touches is that of sex trafficking and forced prostitution. This cruel horrifying “business” is one of the most profitable in the world, and it makes me wonder why it has not been eradicated yet. Is it because there are many “customers” out there who are willing to pay for sex slaves? Is it because society is too busy slut-shaming victims instead of helping them?

    This novel is about love, friendship and trust, and what I enjoyed the most about it is that the author merged the political and social aspects of it with the personal lives of the characters. The end is bittersweet, a reflection on the timelessness and endurance of love.