My literature log:The evolution of literature and history through ages written by CHIARA MARTINO

It all starts with...George Orwell and the concepts of Utopia,Dystopia and Anti-Utopia: The word Dystopia is formed by the greek prefix "dys" (bad) and the word "topos" (the place you look forward to go) . It means "bad place" and it is used to indicate negative and unpleasant societies in the future, which are characterized or based on oppression,fear and sacrifice.Anti- utopia is a place that doesn't belong to you and Utopia is the opposite term of Dystopia, it is the place we all want to live in. Where democracy and justice reign undisturbed. Orwell's most famous novels are Animal farm and 1984. Both of them are dystopic novels. Let's have a look at both of them:

References to other subjects that deal with the theme of totalitarism and death

SPANISH: We studied a very important author during the romantic period and his name is Mariano José de Larra and we analised a piece of one of his works "Un reo de muerte" that means "somebody sentenced to death" and reading this excerpt (estratto) I noticed that in Spain during the romantic period people had fun watching a person being hanged and dying slowly, this is the same thing that we bumped into 1984 where Syme,one of the characters of the book talks about how funny it was seeing people struggling themselves to live and the thing that damaged me mostly was that an entire crowd wanted to see that horrible show as if the death of someone were something funny and the author emphasizes the fact that if there was a stranger who asked why there was this huge crowd? (maybe there was a celebration or something else),people would have told him that they were there to see another man dying

PHILOSOPHY: With Hegel we dealt with the theme of totalitarism connected with the individual and the state and which was more important in two different society at the time. In the open society the individual prevails over the state and the thought that prevails mostly is the liberal one, where progress and revolution were at the top, on the other side in the closed society,the state has its best on the individual and freedom of thought is forbidden, an example of totalitarism is the Prussian state (CONNECTED WITH HISTORY) or even communism in Russia in 1917

HISTORY: Colonialism and Imperialism meant conquests in other continents like Africa or Oceania, conquerors were not pacific people at all,they imposed their will with their strenght and obliged population to believe in their religion and to produce material for them and to buy even what they exported. When the population rebelled conquerors had the army by their sides and killed the opponents. This is another kind of violence mae by superior forces and you could not go against it or they would have killed you. ---MARX, defended the proletariat and was against the middle class,which was gaining power step by step. The workers were the fundamental part of the industry and the master,who can replace them as soon as possible,is the real enemy,who should be defeated

Mariano Jose de Larra,Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, colonialism explained in one picture...

Symilar dystopian novels: Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World", published in 1932 it's based on a story where planet Earth is under the control of ten "controllers" (Mustapha Mond is one of them and he plays the role of the "Big Brother" in western Europe) and human kind is controlled through scientific techniques that embrace things like birth control and even brain-washing (which can be already found in the orwellian novels). The title of the novels itself reminds us of somenthing ironic and sarcastic and this is striclty linked to a passage of "The Tempest" written by William Shakespeare: "O wonder! How many godly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, that has such people in't!"

All these novels deal with some simple key-words like: supremacy,control,life,death etc...

Here's a short interview to the creator of Brave New World ,who sustains the fact that the increase of the population will lead to a dystopian future. Why? because the masses can be easily controlled. When a tyran has the control over a population (from the youngest one to the oldest one) the game is over. The point of strength is and was the ignorance of people, there must be a kind of selfawareness before there can be a revolution and these are the words of one of the most famous men of the 19th century,Karl Marx. And what Marx says is the weak point of all powerful tyrans, therefore they try to submit the population with "modifications" of the language, of the way of "thinking", of lifestyle and so on... It has always been like this. Hitler did the same with the Jews, after the strong crysis that hit Germany during the last years of the '20s people were upset and they couldn't afford anything because money became worthless and when Hitler promised them "Bread and jobs" they really believed him, because they wanted to get out of that particular situation but they didn't know what there was underneath those "promises". When he finally took the power he accused the jews of being "too rich" and of stealing the jobs that the germans where entitled to have. And starting from 1933 there began to be the first racial laws against the Jews.

In these dystopian novels we can find the element of survival, the main characters try to survive after some kind of crisis in a determined part of the world and start fighting to gain power among the others. The place is always post-apocalyptic but the population changes in the three of them: in Fahrenheit 451,created by Ray Bradbury there is a lot of human presence, while in the other two novels it diminishes to a group of children (Lord of the Flies,written by William Golding) 'til two people carying for one another and being surrounded by enemies (The Road,written by Cormac McCarthy). We can even consider the fact that maybe there is the element of the species introduced by Charles Darwin, where only the strongest and the smartest one can survive, what is terrifying about it is that the loser must vanish and here comes the element of death still present in all the novels,were who opposes the power of the tyran is doomed to die. Even if it's not all tragedy, there is still a bit of hope,which is seen in future generations and in those who have a strong memory and use all their forces to establish democracy and freedom,of all forms,again. The saying "Homo homini lupus" by Thomas Hobbes has never been more true.

The Road ,written by Cormac McCarthy, is another example of dystopian novel. The place is a post apocalyptic world where the theory of "the strongest one" rules, that means that who survives and will survive is not only the person who has a sort of physical strength but also a kind of mental strength, where astuteness plays an important role. The Nature,in this case,doesn't help human beings, who must face the real cruelty of a world where nothing else remains.

Talking about society and its ways to control people, we must remember that what was done in the past was a source of inspiration for future events... A glimpse of this can be found during the Victorian age but this will be explained through the historical context and even through some authors like: Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde.

Queen Victoria. photograph by Alexander Bassano,1882

The Victorian age is known for being an age full of technological developments and social achievements, the fact is that places like the typical Victorian town weren't "different" than towns in the Middle age. Housing for the majority of the poor in Victorian cities was famous for its overcrowding and squalor,disease and crime. The working conditions were terrible, working-class people used to work 12/16 hours a day and the salaries were low and what these people could afford were food and a "roof on their heads". Working class people and the Aristocracy lived in two different places. The aristocracy used to live in the city centre and the working class people were "hidden" in the "ran down" part of the city (the suburbs) and they used to live in small apartments. One of the most important achievements during the Victorian age was the possibility for everybody to get an education. This was made to fight analphabetism and to let children get instructed instead of going to work in factories.

Working class family on the left and aristocratic family on the right

Authors of the Victorian age: a very important author, who will describe the period he lived in detail will be Charles Dickens. The author was born in Porthsmouth in 1812 and had an unhappy past. Later on he will work as an office boy at a lawyer's study and studied at night. He became famous thanks to the "Pickwick papers", which revealed Dicken's humoristic and satirical qualities. What gives us a full view of the Victorian age poverty was "Oliver Twist", which describes three different social levels: 1) The parochial world of the workhouses is revealed 2) The inhabitants of the middle-class, who think to be superior to lower classes and 3) the criminal world, where children played their role as well. In the extracts "Coketown" and "The definition of a horse" (both extracts belong to the novel "Hard Times"), there is the use of a vivid description and there is a moral ending to each story, plus the criticism of politics was a peculiarity that Charles Dickens made clear. In the world of "school" the object lesson was when children could learn directly from their experience. But why is Charles Dickens considered as the pioneer of education? Well,because he had the power to rescue the working class children from the brutality of idustrialisation and from the dangers that lurked in the sprawling city.

The British Empire: During the Victorian age Great Britain had an enormous number of conquests that could bring a contact with various cultures. The British Empire occupied an area of 4 million square miles and more than 400 million people were ruled over by the British Empire. The occupied countries by the British were: New Zealand,Australia, parts of China, and posessions in Africa and Southeast Asia. During this period a new expression of civic pride was born and there was the "belief" that the races of the world were divided by fundamental physical and intellectual differences. The "white man's burden" was imposed by God on the British to impose their superior way of life on native people in the world.

Oscar Wilde was one of Ireland's best famous writers. He wrote lots of novels and poems. His life was unfortunately changed because of love reasons. Oscar Wilde was one of the most brilliant intellectuals of his time, he brought a new concept of style and manners during his time like the figure of "the dandy"(a man, especially in the past, who dressed in expensive, fashionable clothes and was very interested in his own appearance:). In 1881 he went to the US, where he gave "voice" to the movement of Aestethicism and accepted and maintained the theory of "Art for Art's Sake". When he returned back to Europe he married Constance Lloyd and had two children with her,but what led him to two years of prison was his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie), an undergraduate at Oxford, son of the Marquess of Queensberry. Bosie's father accused Oscar Wilde of homosexuality and he was accused of gross indecency. He was sentenced two years of hard labour. This completely ruined Wilde's reputation in London and soon his wife and his children had to move to Switzerland and changed their family name. While Oscar Wilde was in prison he wrote one of his most famous literary works, The Profundis,which was published years after his death. Oscar Wilde died poor and ill in Paris in 1900.

Now we will move with the 20th century and the war poets of World War One...

The first world war was broke out after the murder of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, he was killed by the serbian ultranationalist Gavilo Princip. After some weeks the 29th of July of 1914 Austria declared war to Serbia, this series of events will be concatenated together (Russia will declare war to Austria,because Serbia was an ally and Germany will declare war to Russia,because Germany was allied with Austria) then other countries like France,England,US,Japan,Brasil and Italy will partecipate to this war. The main symbols of the war where the machine gun, which could eliminate more enemies in 100 meters, and then there was the barbed wire, which didn't let any enemy escape easily.

Lots of young men were obliged to go to the front and some of them were poets,who wrote poems and masterpieces about the war. The first poet is Rupert Brooke (1887-1915), a very handsome man who came from a wealthy family. The main characteristic of this poet is that he was of the idea that the war was "safe" and testified it as if it were something good. "The only thing that can suffer during the war,said Brooke,is the body". England turned him into an example to follow and in a "young romantic hero", who inspired patriotism.

Rupert Brooke

The second one is Wilfred Owen, who worked as a teacher of Englishin France and in March after serving one's time went to the Craiglockheart War Hospital, which was a special hospital where people recovered from Shell Shock, a post-traumatic stress disorder caused by war. There he met another poet, Sigfried Sassoon, who was born into a wealthy jewish family. Thanks to Sassoon, Owen learned other literary figures and was encouraged to continue to write. His poems are painful in the accurate accounts of gas casualties and he used assonance and alliteration extensively. On the other side Sassoon was already a very well known poet with an amazing reputation. He was against the war and denounced the political errors and insincerities that brought lots of men to death. He uses a particular language,where he expresses the bitter spontaneity of shocking and realistic detail.

Wilfred Owen and Sigfried Sassoon

Last but not least there is Isaac Rosenberg, he was born in a working-class jewish family and hoped to make his living as a portrait artist . He enlisted in 1916 and was killed at the front in 1918. He has a different writing style from the other war poets. His poems have a sort modernist technique. His vision was clearly unsentimental and less concerned with the pity of things, like the other poets he used a shocking and realistic language to impress and involve the reader into the atrocities of the war.

Isaac Rosenberg

A final argument about the consequences of war on the human being were above all psychological traumas like the already mentioned Shell Shock.The term 'shell shock' was coined in 1917 by a Medical Officer called Charles Myers. It was also known as "war neurosis", "combat stress" and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).At first shell shock was thought to be caused by soldiers being exposed to exploding shells.Medical staff started to realise that there were deeper causes. Doctors soon found that many men suffering the symptoms of shell shock without having even been in the front lines.Shell shock victims often couldn't eat or sleep, whilst others continued to suffer physical symptoms.

A final reflection about what I have studied 'till now is that the human kind is evolving and that literature and history will evolve with this one. I hope for human kind's sake that things that happened in the past won't repeat themselves again. There must be some kind of awareness that makes us keep our eyes open and that what has been written as a prediction of the future will just remain a "thought".


Created with images by ToGa Wanderings - "Big brother is watching you."

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