Thursday, December 15, 2016
“Sylvia and Aki” by Winifred Conkling is the true story of two American girls of different cultural backgrounds who grew up in the 1940s in the United States of America.
The narrative is attuned to their joys, fears, dreams and loving families, and it reveals how their happy childhoods were disrupted by the evils of segregation, discrimination and social injustice. Unexpected challenges and hardship threatened the well-being of their families and their future.
There is an afterword that gleans relevant historical facts and relates them to the lives of the characters. We can learn a lot from history; literature offers us unique opportunities to do so.
I highly recommend “Sylvia and Aki”. It is a book that invites us to honor friendship, learn about history and spend quality time with our children.
Saturday, December 3, 2016
‘1984’ is a dystopian novel about a country called
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
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:
-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.”