Tag: foreign


Module 11: Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

November 14th, 2012 — 10:48am

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow is an informative book by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. In it, she has researched the Hitler Youth and details the lives of several teenagers growing up in Nazi Germany.

SUMMARY

The book follows the timeline of the formation of the Hitler Youth, starting with Hitler’s appointment as chancellor and ending with the aftermath of World War II and the unification of East and West Germany as a democratic state in 1990. Within the information, the author uses the examples of several members of the Hitler Youth. Membership in the Hitler Youth (called Hitlerjugend for boys and Bund Deutscher Madel for girls) was compulsory for the young people of Germany. Many of the youth believed that what they were doing was for the betterment of Germany because that was what they had been taught and told for years. However, some teenagers disagreed with what was required of them and what Hitler was doing and put up active resistance, printing and distributing pamphlets telling about Hitler’s lies and the true work of the Nazis and the concentration camps. The author used both diaries and personal interviews to share the experiences of the variety of young people in Germany in the 1940s.

The book focuses solely on the events of WWII as it pertains to the Hitler Youth. It paints a grisly portrait of youth taken advantage of by their government and their leader. Hitler said about his Youth, “I begin with the young…We older ones are used up…But my magnificent youngsters! Are there finer ones anywhere in the world? Look at all these men and boys! What material! With them I can make a new world.”

IMPRESSIONS

The Hitler Youth was a topic that I’d never explored; I’m pretty sure I only knew they existed from watching Swing Kids. But this book was fascinating. I saw parallels between then and now — I’ve often wondered how young people in our society can be closed-minded and prejudiced, and this book showed that children are especially susceptible to propaganda and the direction and influence of adults. I say adults and not their parents because in a few instances, the youth were so entranced with Hitler that they turned in their parents to the Nazis for saying “unpatriotic” or disparaging things about Hitler or the Nazi Party. It was very 1984, where adults feared their children.

The inclusion of the interviews and personal anecdotes made the book read more like a narration and less like a textbook. It was very well put together, though at times I lost track of the timeline of the events and what was happening elsewhere in the world. The chronology was loose in the book, but it didn’t keep the information from being effective. There was also a plethora of pictures — pretty much one or two on every page — which also distracted from the chronology of the story.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Hitler’s plans for the future of Germany relied significantly on its young people, and this excellent history shows how he attempted to carry out his mission with the establishment of the Hitler Youth, or Hitlerjugend, in 1926. With a focus on the years between 1933 and the end of the war in 1945, Bartoletti explains the roles that millions of boys and girls unwittingly played in the horrors of the Third Reich. The book is structured around 12 young individuals and their experiences, which clearly demonstrate how they were victims of leaders who took advantage of their innocence and enthusiasm for evil means. Their stories evolve from patriotic devotion to Hitler and zeal to join, to doubt, confusion, and disillusion. (An epilogue adds a powerful what-became-of-them relevance.) The large period photographs are a primary component and they include Nazi propaganda showing happy and healthy teens as well as the reality of concentration camps and young people with large guns. The final chapter superbly summarizes the weighty significance of this part of the 20th century and challenges young readers to prevent history from repeating itself. Bartoletti lets many of the subjects’ words, emotions, and deeds speak for themselves, bringing them together clearly to tell this story unlike anyone else has.
School Library Journal

What was it like to be a teenager in Germany under Hitler? Bartoletti draws on oral histories, diaries, letters, and her own extensive interviews with Holocaust survivors, Hitler Youth, resisters, and bystanders to tell the history from the viewpoints of people who were there. Most of the accounts and photos bring close the experiences of those who followed Hitler and fought for the Nazis, revealing why they joined, how Hitler used them, what it was like. Henry Mentelmann, for example, talks about Kristallnacht, when Hitler Youth and Storm Troopers wrecked Jewish homes and stores, and remembers thinking that the victims deserved what they got. The stirring photos tell more of the story. One particularly moving picture shows young Germans undergoing de-Nazification by watching images of people in the camps. The handsome book design, with black-and-white historical photos on every double-page spread, will draw in readers and help spark deep discussion, which will extend beyond the Holocaust curriculum. The extensive back matter is a part of the gripping narrative.
Booklist

LIBRARY USES

This, like Between Shades of Gray, would be well used for Holcoaust Memorial Day. It would also be a good booktalk for middle school students. In a school library setting, this would be a good companion piece to a class reading The Diary of Anne Frank; reading excerpts from this book and showing the pictures would help pique interest in the era.

REFERENCES

Bartoletti, S. C. (2005). Hitler youth: Growing up in hitler’s shadow. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Medlar, A. (2005, May 30). Book of the week: Hitler youth by susan campbell bartoletti. School Library Journal, 176. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA604629.html

Rochman, H. (2005, April 15). Hitler youth: Growing up in hitler’s shadow. Booklist. Retrieved from http://www.booklistonline.com/ProductInfo.aspx?pid=1180952&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

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Module 10: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

November 14th, 2012 — 8:15am

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is historical fiction about Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of the Baltic region during World War II. It is narrated by Lina, a 15 year old Lithuanian girl, as she and her family are deported to Siberia.

SUMMARY

The novel opens with men from the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, taking Lina, her mother, and her brother, Jonas, from their homes on June 14, 1941. Her father, provost at the university, has already been taken. They’re loaded on a truck with some of their neighbors and a few people they don’t recognize. They’re horrified that the next stop is at the hospital, as one of the people they are scheduled to take is a woman who is at that moment giving birth; they load her and her newborn baby into the truck as she’s bleeding onto her hospital gown.

Lina’s father, Kostas Vilkas, helped his brother and his family escape Lithuania to Germany, which put him on the black list as an accessory. Lina’s mother, Elena, speaks fluent Russian, which allows her to communicate with the NKVD. He is taken to a different camp from the rest of the family. They are stuffed into a train with even more prisoners, including the Andrius Arvydas and his mother, the son and wife of an officer in the Lithuanian army. The conditions in the train are horrible and they’re travelling through Europe for three weeks without stopping. On the train, the young woman’s baby dies and she is shot by an officer when she’s overcome by grief.

The train finally stops in Siberia, at a camp where they are assigned to live in shacks and work as beet and potato farmers. They stay there for a while, and Lina finds solace in her art. She has always been an artist and she’s particularly drawn to the work of Edward Munch. She decides to draw pictures of people and events so that she can send them to her father in hopes that he will find them.

While they’re at the camp, Andrius and his mother live in the officers house, where they are fed and treated better than the others. Lina is upset with this special treatment, but when she confronts Andrius about it, he reveals that his mother is prostituting herself to the officers to keep the officers from killing him. She’s horrified by this and distraught with his anger, which makes her realize that she’s falling in love with Andrius; when they reconcile, it’s shown that Andrius has similar feelings. He gives her a special stone to bring her luck and to remind her of him.

The NKVD tries to force the prisoners to sign papers saying that they are criminals and acknowledging that they’re being sentenced to twenty-five years of hard labor and that they will pay a war tax of two hundred rubles per person, which most of them refuse to sign. Jonas becomes sick with scurvy from the lack of vegetables in his diet and almost dies until Andrius steals a can of tomatoes from the officers house. Soon after he heals, the prisoners hear that some of them will be transported to a different location. Some people are fools enough to think they’re being transported to America, but Lina knows better.

The prisoners, which now include prisoners from other camps, are taken farther north in Siberia. The NKVD take them to an empty field and tell them that they will have to build their own shelter, and quickly, as the arctic chill begins in September. They suffer through the cold temperatures and hypothermia. It is here that Lina discovers why they’ve been deported and that she is being punished because her beloved cousin and best friend, Joana, was able to escape — she is dying to allow Joana to live. It also here that a guard reveals to them that Lina’s father has been killed in prison. Lina’s mother takes sick and she dies in the shack.

Lina and Jonas are able to hide her body from the officers so they can bury her properly. The other prisoners help them, as a testament to how much they have become a family within themselves — they need each other to survive and Lina’s mother in particular was a unifying force due to her calm demeanor and peaceful spirit. Lina paints a map to her mother’s grave so that she will never forget where it is. Lina is determined to survive the camp and now cares for Jonas.

The other prisoners all take their turns with illness — scurvy, dysentery, typhus, hypothermia. They’re dying more and more every day. Jonas becomes very ill and just when Lina is afraid that he won’t be able to survive the night, an inspection officer, a doctor, appears at the shack. Dr. Samodurov is to inspect all of the prisons to report that everything is fine and the prisoners are being treated fairly, but he tells Lina that is not going to submit false reports. He spends ten days at the prison; he helps the prisoners store fish for the upcoming storms and plot a burial yard for the dead. The doctor tells her that it’s possible that her father hasn’t died; the guards have told prisoners before that people have died, only to be found living somewhere.

Lina is determined to live to reunite with Andrius. When they left each other, they promised that they would meet again, and when Lina closes her eyes, she can imagine that they are together as she holds the stone.

The novel ends with an epilogue from 1995 in Lithuania. A construction crew has discovered a wooden box int he ground that contains a glass jar full of papers. The papers contain drawings and a letter:

Dear Friend,

The writings and drawings you hold in your hands were buried in the year 1954, after returning from Siberia with my brother, where we were imprisoned for twelve years. There are many thousands of us, nearly all dead. Those alive cannot speak. Though we committed no offense, we are viewed as criminals. Even now, speaking of the terrors we have experienced would result in our death. So we put our trust in you, the person who discovers this capsule of memories somewhere in the future. We trust you with truth, for contained herein is exactly that — the truth.

My husband, Andrius, says that evil will rule until good men or women choose to act. I believe him. This testimony was written to create an absolute record, to speak in a world where our voices have been extinguished. These writings may shock or horrify you, but that is not my intention. It is my greatest hope that the pages in this jar stir your deepest well of human compassion. I hope they prompt you to do something, to tell someone. Only then can we ensure that this kind of evil is never allowed to repeat itself.

Sincerely,
Mrs. Lina Arvydas
9th day of July, 1954 — Kaunas

IMPRESSIONS

This book was incredibly moving. This was a side of the Holocaust that I wasn’t very familiar with, but it was equally as horrifying — in fact, one of the characters in the book points out the similarities between Stalin and Hitler. The horrors that people can commit to others, blindly, without cause or reason, is stunning. I’ll never fail to be amazed by the deplorable ways that people treat others.

That being said, the story was effective for several reasons. Lina’s story is told through flashbacks to events in her family, adding a dimension to the story of her relationships and her life before they were taken. I enjoyed Andrius’s character because he had his own experience that added to the plot; it didn’t feel like he was added solely for a romantic element. There were so many descriptions of Lina drawing that I began to wish that there had been reproductions of drawings to add just one more realistic element to the story. The epilogue was great, because I was a little disappointed in the ending that left Lina in the camp, so knowing that they survived and she and Andrius married was cathartic.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Sepetys’ first novel offers a harrowing and horrifying account of the forcible relocation of countless Lithuanians in the wake of the Russian invasion of their country in 1939. In the case of 16-year-old Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, this means deportation to a forced-labor camp in Siberia, where conditions are all too painfully similar to those of Nazi concentration camps. Lina’s great hope is that somehow her father, who has already been arrested by the Soviet secret police, might find and rescue them. A gifted artist, she begins secretly creating pictures that can-she hopes-be surreptitiously sent to him in his own prison camp. Whether or not this will be possible, it is her art that will be her salvation, helping her to retain her identity, her dignity, and her increasingly tenuous hold on hope for the future. Many others are not so fortunate. Sepetys, the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, estimates that the Baltic States lost more than one-third of their populations during the Russian genocide. Though many continue to deny this happened, Sepetys’ beautifully written and deeply felt novel proves the reality is otherwise. Hers is an important book that deserves the widest possible readership.
Booklist

This bitterly sad, fluidly written historical novel tackles a topic woefully underdiscussed in English-language children’s fiction: Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror. On June 14th, 1941, Soviet officers arrest 15-year-old Lina, her younger brother and her mother and deport them from Lithuania to Siberia. Their crammed-full boxcar is labeled, ludicrously, “Thieves and Prostitutes.” They work at a frigid gulag for eight months-hungry, filthy and brutalized by Soviet officers-before being taken to the Siberian Arctic and left without shelter. Lina doesn’t know the breadth of Stalin’s mass deportations of Baltic citizens, but she hears scraps of discussion about politics and World War II. Cold, starvation, exhaustion and disease (scurvy, dysentery, typhus) claim countless victims. Lina sketches urgently, passing her drawings along to other deportees, hoping they’ll reach Papa in a Soviet prison. Brief flashbacks, seamlessly interwoven, illuminate Lina’s sweet old life in Kaunas like flashes of light, eventually helping to reveal why the repressive, deadly regime targeted this family. Sepetys’ flowing prose gently carries readers through the crushing tragedy of this tale that needs telling.
Kirkus Reviews

LIBRARY USES

This book would be an excellent vehicle for a book talk. I would also recommend it be used in a display for Holocaust Memorial Day on May 8; it is important that the story of the genocide in the Soviet Union be told as well as the atrocities committed by Hitler.

REFERENCES

Between shades of gray. (2011). Kirkus Reviews, 79(2), 138.

Cart, M. (2011). Between shades of gray. Booklist, 107(11), 68. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/58626231/between-shades-gray

Sepetys, R. (2011). Between shades of gray. New York, NY: Philomel Books.

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Module 5: Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

October 15th, 2012 — 6:21pm

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan is a children’s book that details the life of Esperanza Ortega, a 13 year old girl growing up in post-Revolutionary Mexico. It won the Pura Belpre award in 2002.

SUMMARY

Esperanza Ortega is the daughter of a ranch owner; her father, Sixto, owns El Rancho de las Rosas and produces grapes. However, Mexico after the revolution is unsafe and Esperanza’s father is murdered by bandits and robbers the night before Esperanza’s thirteenth birthday. Esperanza’s uncle, who is the mayor of their town, offers to marry her mother to save them from poverty — when her mother hesitates on the offer, a fire mysteriously burns down their house. In order to escape the marriage, Esperanza and her mother travel to California with a few of their friends, who also served as their servants on the ranch. Esperanza is devastated, not only to leave her life and the land that knew her father (Esperanza and her father could both hear music in the land by lying down on the ground; at one point, Esperanza feels herself physically rising while listening to the hum of the earth), but because they have to leave her grandmother, Abeulita, behind.

It’s difficult for Esperanza to acclimate to the her new station in life. The first time she goes to bathe, she prepares the way she’d been used to — for Hortensia to undress and bathe her. However, she quickly becomes aware that she has to get used to her new life; her mother falls ill with “Valley Fever,” a lung infection that afflicts workers in dusty environments. In order to pay for her mother’s hospital stay, Esperanza has to work in the fields. She works for her mother and grandmother — she is putting away money to send for her grandmother back in Mexico.

Some of the workers on the farms talk about striking. The conditions, while not abysmal, are not fair to all of the workers — even among migrant workers, there’s racism and unfair treatment. Esperanza and her friends and family avoid the strikers, and eventually immigration forces come in and wipe out the striking Mexican workers.

Esperanza reveals to Miguel, the son of her family’s servants and friends, that she has been saving money to bring her grandmother to them and is devastated when she wakes up one morning and discovers that Miguel and her money are gone. Her mother is released from the hospital and Miguel arrives on the train; he took Esperanza’s money and went to Mexico to bring Abeulita to her.

IMPRESSIONS

This book won the Pura Belpre award, which is awarded to Latin American authors whose work portrays and celebrates the Latin American culture. This book is wonderful in presenting the Mexican side of the Great Depression and migrant farmers in America. Before reading this book, my sole literary encounter with this era was Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” Esperanza is a wonderful character (and was actually based partially on Pam Munoz Ryan’s grandmother, Esperanza) because she is childlike without being naive. The “rising” of the title is a metaphor for the rising she accomplishes from difficult circumstances, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. My only disappointment was that I wanted to know more about Esperanza’s life (mainly because I really wanted Esperanza to marry Miguel).

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Moving from a Mexican ranch to the company labor camps of California, Ryan’s lyrical novel manages the contradictory: a story of migration and movement deeply rooted in the earth. When 14-year-old Esperanza’s father is killed, she and her mother must emigrate to the U.S., where a family of former ranch workers has helped them find jobs in the agricultural labor camps. Coming from such privilege, Esperanza is ill prepared for the hard work and difficult conditions she now faces. She quickly learns household chores, though, and when her mother falls ill, she works packing produce until she makes enough money to bring her beloved abuelita to the U.S.. Set during the Great Depression, the story weaves cultural, economic, and political unrest into Esperanza’s poignant tale of growing up: she witnesses strikes, government sweeps, and deep injustice while finding strength and love in her family and romance with a childhood friend. The symbolism is heavy-handed, as when Esperanza ominously pricks her finger on a rose thorne just before her father is killed. But Ryan writes movingly in clear, poetic language that children will sink into, and the books offers excellent opportunities for discussion and curriculum support.
Booklist

Ryan uses the experiences of her own Mexican grandmother as the basis for this compelling story of immigration and assimilation, not only to a new country but also into a different social class. Esperanza’s expectation that her 13th birthday will be celebrated with all the material pleasures and folk elements of her previous years is shattered when her father is murdered by bandits. His powerful stepbrothers then hold her mother as a social and economic hostage, wanting to force her remarriage to one of them, and go so far as to burn down the family home. Esperanza’s mother then decides to join the cook and gardener and their son as they move to the United States and work in California’s agricultural industry. They embark on a new way of life, away from the uncles, and Esperanza unwillingly enters a world where she is no longer a princess but a worker. Set against the multiethnic, labor-organizing era of the Depression, the story of Esperanza remaking herself is satisfyingly complete, including dire illness and a difficult romance. Except for the evil uncles, all of the characters are rounded, their motives genuine, with class issues honestly portrayed. Easy to booktalk, useful in classroom discussions, and accessible as pleasure reading, this well-written novel belongs in all collections.
School Library Journal

LIBRARY USES

This would be a great introduction for Hispanic Heritage Month or in an introduction for a unit on the Dust Bowl and migrant workers. The book cover is bold and vivid and would make a great display.

REFERENCES

Engberg, G. (2000). Books for youth: Books for middle readers. Booklist, 97(7), 708. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/3840940/books-youth-books-middle-readers

Goldsmith, F. (2000). Esperanza rising (book review). School Library Journal, 46(10), 171. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/3646672/esperanza-rising-book-review

Ryan, P. M. (2000). Esperanza rising. New York: Scholastic.

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Module 3: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

September 24th, 2012 — 8:36pm

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick is a 527 page book that is told with both text and illustration. It tells the story of Hugo, a boy who lives in a Paris train station. It won the Caldecott medal in 2008; the movie version, “Hugo”, was directed by Martin Scorsese and was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 2012.

SUMMARY

Hugo Cabret lives in a Paris train station in the 1930s. He is an orphan; he had been living with a drunken uncle, who kept the clocks at the train station, but he disappeared and Hugo presumes he is dead. In order to keep from being evicted from the train station, Hugo keeps the clocks going in his uncle’s absence. Hugo’s father was a watchmaker and passed on his love of machinery and invention to Hugo. Before his death in a fire, Hugo’s father had found an automaton (a mechanical man) and was working on fixing it up when he died. Hugo has taken over his father’s fixation on the man and is trying to get the machine to work by using his father’s old notebook.

There is a toy shop in the train station that Hugo is fascinated by — it’s run by an older man and occasionally a girl about his age. Hugo occasionally steals parts for his automaton from the toy shop, until one day he’s caught by the man. The man takes Hugo’s notebook, with the drawings of the automaton, and refuses to give it back, much to Hugo’s horror. Hugo hesitantly befriends the girl, the man’s goddaughter, Isabelle. Isabelle loves movies and sneaks in with the help of a worker there, Etienne — she has to sneak in because her godfather won’t pay for her movie tickets. Etienne is a film student and loves films.

Hugo gets the automaton built but it is missing a heart shape in the back. Hugo recognizes the heart shape in a key that Isabelle wears around her neck, so he surreptitiously steals it. She confronts him about stealing it and follows him to the clocks, where he stays and together they turn the key in the back of the automaton and it draws an image of an object hitting the moon, surrounded by stars and clouds. It’s a scene that Hugo’s father had described to him as part of his favorite movie, “A Trip to the Moon.” The automaton then signs a name on the image — Georges Melies.

Georges Melies was an illusionist turned filmmaker at the turn of the 20th century. Georges Melies is also the name of Isabelle’s godfather. They are the same person!!!!! Crazy.

Etienne tells them that he’s learned all about Georges Melies, that his teacher, Rene Tabard, is a huge fan, and Isabelle invites them to their apartment to see some of Georges’s movies, as they are rumored to all have been destroyed. Unfortunately, she didn’t get permission from Papa Georges or Mama Jeanne. Jeanne is hesitant to allow them to stay, as Georges is sensitive to any discussion of his former glory, but Rene tells her thathe has discovered an old movie of his and they sit down to watch it. When the film is over, Georges has emerged from his room and has been watching with them, with tears in his eyes. He takes the projector they had brought and locks himself in his room — when Isabelle and Hugo pick the lock, they discover Georges going through trunks of his old movie paraphernalia.

Hugo reveals to Georges that he has the automaton working and Georges tells him to go to the train station to fetch it. Unfortunately, when he gets there, the Station Inspector is after him — Hugo’s uncles body has been found and Hugo has been discovered living there, as well as the petty theft of food he’s been committing; the Station Inspector chases him through the station, finally catching him when Hugo is almost hit by an oncoming train.

He is saved from being taken to an orphanage by Georges and Isabelle, who have grown suspicious when it took Hugo so long to return. Georges accepts responsibility for Hugo, enveloping him in his cape as he leads Hugo and Isabelle out of the station.

Six months later, Hugo, Isabelle, and the Melieses are attending a French Film Academy celebration of the films of Georges Melies. When the showing of his films are over, Georges tells Hugo that he fully expects Hugo to take over as Professor Alcofrisbas, a character from Georges’ films who could turn anything into gold. It is then revealed that Hugo has indeed done just that — through the words and pictures of the book.

IMPRESSIONS

This book is incredible. It’s not a novel, but not a picture book; not a graphic novel either, but a completely original creation and interpretation of storytelling. The pictures told as much of the story as the words did. Though, as a reader, I found it mildly frustrating to be engrossed in the story and suddenly have the narration turn into a series of pictures, the addition of the stills of Georges Melies’ movies were incredible. The illustrations added an element to the story that pure description and imagery would not have been able to accomplish.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Selznick’s “novel in words and pictures,” an intriguing mystery set in 1930s Paris about an orphan, a salvaged clockwork invention, and a celebrated filmmaker, resuscitates an anemic genre-the illustrated novel-and takes it to a whole new level. The result is somewhat similar to a graphic novel, but experiencing its mix of silvery pencil drawings and narrative interludes is ultimately more akin to watching a silent film. Indeed, movies and the wonder they inspire, “like seeing dreams in the middle of the day,” are central to the story, and Selznick expresses an obvious passion for cinema in ways both visual (successive pictures, set against black frames as if projected on a darkened screen, mimic slow zooms and dramatic cuts) and thematic (the convoluted plot involves director Georges M’eli’es, particularly his fanciful 1902 masterpiece, A Trip to the Moon .) This hybrid creation, which also includes movie stills and archival photographs, is surprising and often lovely, but the orphan’s story is overshadowed by the book’s artistic and historical concerns (the heady extent of which are revealed in concluding notes about Selznick’s inspirations, from the Lumi’ere brothers to Fran’eois Truffaut). Nonetheless, bookmaking this ambitious demands and deserves attention-which it will surely receive from children attracted by a novel in which a complex narrative is equally advanced by things both read and seen.
Booklist

Here is a true masterpiece—an artful blending of narrative, illustration and cinematic technique, for a story as tantalizing as it is touching.Twelve-year-old orphan Hugo lives in the walls of a Paris train station at the turn of the 20th century, where he tends to the clocks and filches what he needs to survive. Hugo’s recently deceased father, a clockmaker, worked in a museum where he discovered an automaton: a human-like figure seated at a desk, pen in hand, as if ready to deliver a message. After his father showed Hugo the robot, the boy became just as obsessed with getting the automaton to function as his father had been, and the man gave his son one of the notebooks he used to record the automaton’s inner workings. The plot grows as intricate as the robot’s gears and mechanisms […] To Selznick’s credit, the coincidences all feel carefully orchestrated; epiphany after epiphany occurs before the book comes to its sumptuous, glorious end. Selznick hints at the toymaker’s hidden identity […] through impressive use of meticulous charcoal drawings that grow or shrink against black backdrops, in pages-long sequences. They display the same item in increasingly tight focus or pan across scenes the way a camera might. The plot ultimately has much to do with the history of the movies, and Selznick’s genius lies in his expert use of such a visual style to spotlight the role of this highly visual media. A standout achievement.
Publisher’s Weekly

LIBRARY USES

This book lends itself easily to be a book used in a book club for young teens — it would be easy to have kids read this book and come to see the movie for a teen movie night.

REFERENCES

Mattson, J. (2007). The invention of hugo cabret. School Library Journal, 103(9/10), 97. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/23776855/invention-hugo-cabret

Publisher’s Weekly. (2007). Children’s review: The invention of hugo cabret. Publisher’s Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-439-81378-5

Selznick, B. (2007). The invention of hugo cabret. New York: Scholastic.

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Module 3: Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema

September 23rd, 2012 — 9:33am

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears: A West African Tale is a children’s book written by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. A cause and effect story to illustrate the power and danger of lies, it won the Caldecott Medal in 1976 for its vivid illustrations.

SUMMARY

The story takes place in a West African countryside and begins with a gossipy mosquito who tells an inane piece of gossip to an iguana. The iguana is annoyed by the mosquito because he is a such a tremendous liar, so he puts sticks in his ears so he doesn’t have to listen. However, the sticks mean that he can’t hear any of the other animals talking to him; the python says hello and when iguana ignores him, he assumes that the iguana is mad at him and tries to hide in a hole and, by doing so, scares the rabbit, who runs away, which causes the crow to assume that there’s some danger, so the monkey runs to warn the other animals and in his haste he lands on an owl nest and accidentally kills an owlet.

When the owl discovers one of her children is dead, she mourns so much that she doesn’t hoot to wake up the sun. The other animals hold a meeting to determine what happened and by investigating each animal, find out that the mosquito is the true culprit. The animals call to punish the mosquito, and it’s told that the mosquito has a guilty conscience and that “to this day she goes about whining in people’s ears: ‘Zeee! Is everyone still angry at me?'”

IMPRESSIONS

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears won the Caldecott Medal, which is awarded for illustrations in childrens books. It won with good reason. The illustrations are bright and vibrant and propel both the characters and the plot forward. The art was made using watercolors applied with an airbrush, pastels rubbed on by hand, and india ink. The cut-out effect was acheived by actually cutting the shapes out of vellum and frisket masks at several different stages (Aardema 1975). The story is a good one for children; the dangers of gossip and lying. The text also uses onomatopoeia that will resonate with kids: the iguana goes “mek, mek, mek, mek” through the reeds, the rabbit bounds “krik, krik, krik” across a clearing, the crow calls “kaa, kaa, kaa!” The mosquito meets his final punishment with a “KPAO!” at the end of the book, which is both foreign enough to be African and familiar enough to a south Texas audience.

I really enjoyed this book. It has a very good lesson on both gossip and perception — the illustrations when the animals are telling what they thought happened were very vivid and added an element that wasn’t expressed by the plot; for example, the rabbit telling about the snake invading her hole was incredibly frightening. I would have left the hole quickly, too.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

This tale from Africa is another of those cumulative goose chases except that instead of pursuing an object, the game here is fixing the blame for an overlong night. As King Lion summarizes the chain of events after it’s all straightened out, “”it was the mosquito who annoyed the iguana, who frightened the python, who scared the rabbit, who startled the crow, who alarmed the monkey, who killed the owlet-and now Mother Owl won’t wake the sun so that the day can come.”” Not one of your indispensable kernels of folk wisdom, but it is the kind of brisk go-round that can pick up a lagging story hour group. And though the stunning illustrations are not our favorite Dillons-they don’t generate much life or involvement-their crisp cut paper look commands attention.
Kirkus Reviews 1975

“In this Caldecott Medal winner, Mosquito tells a story that causes a jungle disaster. “Elegance has become the Dillons’ hallmark. . . . Matching the art is Aardema’s uniquely onomatopoeic text . . . An impressive showpiece.”
Booklist, starred review.

LIBRARY USE
Living in south Texas, mosquitoes are an every day sight, which would make this book very easily understood by children — I’m not sure you’d be able to find a kid in south Texas who couldn’t detail the particular annoyance of a mosquito buzzing in your ear. I would choose this book to identify the dangers of gossip and the literary element of cause and effect. A good opener to reading this story would be to play a game of “Telephone” to show just how difficult it is to determine the truth when the story has gone through several people.

REFERENCES

Aardema, Verna. (1975). Why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears : a west african tale. New York, NY: Dial Press.

Booklist. (n.d.) [Review of the book “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears”]. “Booklist.” Retrieved from http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780803760899,00.html

Kirkus’ Reviews. (1975). “Why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears.” Kirkus Book Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/verna-aardema-4/why-mosquitoes-buzz-in-peoples-ears/#review

1 comment » | SLIS5420

79. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

April 27th, 2011 — 8:37am

A Room with a View was published in 1908 by E.M. Forster. It tells the story of Lucy Honeychurch, a young English woman who is navigating through the delicate social circles of the early 20th century, both on vacation in Italy and back home in England. It is a critique of the social hierarchy, prejudice between the classes, and the sexual repression and hypocrisy of English society. The novel is split into Part I, which takes place in Italy, and Part II, which takes place in England.

Lucy Honeychurch and her cousin/chaperone Charlotte Bartlett are vacationing in Florence, Italy. They have arrived at their hotel, the Bertolini, and the opening scene has them complaining about the hotel. They were promised a “room with a view” of the river Arno, but instead have been assigned rooms that have a view of the hotel courtyard. This is the first introduction of the repressive Edwardian English society: Lucy has Charlotte, who is older and unmarried, accompanying her on the vacation and chaperoning her propriety. Everything that Charlotte complains about has a thinly veiled contemptuous undertone and implies that as the unmarried woman she doesn’t deserve such grandeur. For example, in complaining about the room without a view: “Any nook does for me,” Miss Bartlett continued, “but it does seem hard that you shouldn’t have a view.” You know, because unmarried women are dead inside and don’t deserve a view. Or something.

The women are talking in the common eating room and one of the other guests at the hotel, a man, interrupts their conversation to tell the ladies that his room has a view and he and his son, George, will gladly exchange their rooms with Lucy and Miss Bartlett. Miss Bartlett is startled and recognizes the man, a Mr. Emerson, as “ill-bred.” She declines the offer and he insists, loudly and attracting the attention of the other well-bred tourists, to Miss Bartlett’s extreme embarrassment. Mr. Emerson refuses to take no for an answer and here is the first class clash of the novel:

“But why?” he persisted. “Women like looking at a view; men don’t.” And he thumped with his fists like a naughty child, and turned to his son, saying, “George, persuade them!”

“It’s so obvious they should have the rooms,” said the son. “There’s nothing else to say.”

He did not look at the ladies as he spoke, but his voice was perplexed and sorrowful. Lucy, too, was perplexed; but she saw that they were in for what is known as “quite a scene,” and she had an odd feeling that whenever these ill-bred tourists spoke the contest widened and deepened till it dealt, not with rooms and views, but with—well, with something quite different, whose existence she had not realized before. Now the old man attacked Miss Bartlett almost violently: Why should she not change? What possible objection had she? They would clear out in half an hour.

Miss Bartlett, though skilled in the delicacies of conversation, was powerless in the presence of brutality. It was impossible to snub any one so gross. Her face reddened with displeasure. She looked around as much as to say, “Are you all like this?” And two little old ladies, who were sitting further up the table, with shawls hanging over the backs of the chairs, looked back, clearly indicating “We are not; we are genteel.”

George Emerson, it must be said, is putting off a Mr. Darcy vibe and I love it. I see you pretending you’re not interested and don’t care, George. I see you.

Lucy recognizes one of the other tourists, a clergyman named Mr. Beebe who was the preacher at an Anglican church that Lucy and her family had attended. Mr. Beebe convinces Miss Bartlett that Mr. Emerson’s intentions are innocent and explains why he may seem strange:

“He is rather a peculiar man.” Again he hesitated, and then said gently: “I think he would not take advantage of your acceptance, nor expect you to show gratitude. He has the merit—if it is one—of saying exactly what he means. He has rooms he does not value, and he thinks you would value them. He no more thought of putting you under an obligation than he thought of being polite. It is so difficult—at least, I find it difficult—to understand people who speak the truth.”

Lucy was pleased, and said: “I was hoping that he was nice; I do so always hope that people will be nice.”

“I think he is; nice and tiresome. I differ from him on almost every point of any importance, and so, I expect—I may say I hope—you will differ. But his is a type one disagrees with rather than deplores. When he first came here he not unnaturally put people’s backs up. He has no tact and no manners—I don’t mean by that that he has bad manners—and he will not keep his opinions to himself. We nearly complained about him to our depressing Signora, but I am glad to say we thought better of it.”

The next day, when it comes time to go exploring Florence, Miss Bartlett is tired but hates to inconvenience poor Lucy. Miss Lavish, a novelist who is also vacationing at the Bertolini, offers to take Lucy and her trusty Baedeker guidebook on a tour of Florence. Miss Lavish takes her through the back streets to Santa Croce and Miss Lavish forbids Lucy to look at her Baedeker and takes it from her; rather than keep her nose in the guidebook, they will simply “drift” through town. Because wandering through an unfamiliar town in a foreign country always ends well.

Sure enough, Miss Lavish runs off to talk to someone (her “local colour-box”, whatever that means) and she and Lucy are separated in the crowd. Luckily she runs into the Emersons when she decides to continue exploring by herself. She decides that, although they are deemed socially awkward by the other guests, she likes the Emersons and their eccentric manners. Mr. Emerson speaks his mind and he and George are very intelligent, and they take her with them on a tour of Santa Croce. While in the church, George complains that his father means well, but always offends everyone. Mr. Emerson tells Lucy that his son needs her in order to overcome his youthful melancholy. But no pressure.

The next day consists of a rainy afternoon and Lucy passes the time buy playing the piano. Lucy is a passionate piano player and seems to transform through her playing:

It so happened that Lucy, who found daily life rather chaotic, entered a more solid world when she opened the piano. She was then no longer either deferential or patronizing; no longer either a rebel or a slave. The kingdom of music is not the kingdom of this world; it will accept those whom breeding and intellect and culture have alike rejected. The commonplace person begins to play, and shoots into the empyrean without effort, whilst we look up, marvelling how he has escaped us, and thinking how we could worship him and love him, would he but translate his visions into human words, and his experiences into human actions. Perhaps he cannot; certainly he does not, or does so very seldom. Lucy had done so never.

She was no dazzling executante; her runs were not at all like strings of pearls, and she struck no more right notes than was suitable for one of her age and situation. Nor was she the passionate young lady, who performs so tragically on a summer’s evening with the window open. Passion was there, but it could not be easily labelled; it slipped between love and hatred and jealousy, and all the furniture of the pictorial style. And she was tragical only in the sense that she was great, for she loved to play on the side of Victory. Victory of what and over what—that is more than the words of daily life can tell us. But that some sonatas of Beethoven are written tragic no one can gainsay; yet they can triumph or despair as the player decides, and Lucy had decided that they should triumph.

A very wet afternoon at the Bertolini permitted her to do the thing she really liked, and after lunch she opened the little draped piano. A few people lingered round and praised her playing, but finding that she made no reply, dispersed to their rooms to write up their diaries or to sleep. She took no notice of Mr. Emerson looking for his son, nor of Miss Bartlett looking for Miss Lavish, nor of Miss Lavish looking for her cigarette-case. Like every true performer, she was intoxicated by the mere feel of the notes: they were fingers caressing her own; and by touch, not by sound alone, did she come to her desire.

Mr. Beebe sits and listens and remembers a time when he heard her playing at a performance at church. He remarked at the time, and tells her now, “If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her.”

After playing, Lucy is in the mood for something big and exciting to do, a sensation that conversation just doesn’t satisfy. She decides that she wants to go to the electric tram, but she has some trepidation:

Conversation was tedious; she wanted something big, and she believed that it would have come to her on the wind-swept platform of an electric tram. This she might not attempt. It was unladylike. Why? Why were most big things unladylike? Charlotte had once explained to her why. It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves. Indirectly, by means of tact and a spotless name, a lady could accomplish much. But if she rushed into the fray herself she would be first censured, then despised, and finally ignored. Poems had been written to illustrate this point.

So many things to say. So many.

Lucy decides that though she wants to do something rebellious, she doesn’t want to get in trouble for rebelling, so rather than go to the electric tram she goes to Alinari’s shop in town to look at and buy postcards of paintings. She still feels restless and that nothing exciting happens to her. But then someone gets stabbed by a fountain in the square and suddenly life gets a lot more interesting. She sees George Emerson through the crowd of people as she faints.

When she comes to, George is holding her — he had carried her away from the crowd. He goes back to the fountain to retrieve her photographs and when he returns they begin walking back to the hotel. As they’re walking, George throws something in the river; when Lucy inquires, he admits that he threw her photographs in the river because they were covered in blood and he didn’t want her to see them. His admission of his protective instinct towards her warms her heart. Nothing like murder to bring people together.

The next day is business as usual. Mr. Beebe invites Miss Bartlett and Lucy to go out with him and the Emersons, but Lucy insteads opts to go shopping with Miss Bartlett. She is afraid of her blossoming feelings for George, so what better thing to do than to avoid him, am I right, ladies? Their shopping excursion takes them by the fountain where the previous day’s excitement took place, where they run into Miss Lavish, who has come to investigate the murder site for her new book. Everyone is very interested in Lucy’s abridged version of the event (she left out the fainting and coming to in George’s arms, that dirty slut). They also run into Mr. Eager, a chaplain who is also staying at the hotel and who is sort of a jerk. He invites the ladies on an outing later in the week. Lucy quickly becomes jaded with her company:

This successful morning left no pleasant impressions on Lucy. She had been a little frightened, both by Miss Lavish and by Mr. Eager, she knew not why. And as they frightened her, she had, strangely enough, ceased to respect them. She doubted that Miss Lavish was a great artist. She doubted that Mr. Eager was as full of spirituality and culture as she had been led to suppose. They were tried by some new test, and they were found wanting. As for Charlotte—as for Charlotte she was exactly the same. It might be possible to be nice to her; it was impossible to love her.

This is one of the first occasions where the social hierarchy is challenged; just because you are a civilized and intelligent person doesn’t make you enjoyable to be around. Of course, this observation of her companions is juxtaposed with a conversation about the Emersons. Miss Bartlett talks about their working class background and how Mr. Emerson must have had an “advantageous marriage” but Mr. Eager confides that the marriage wasn’t all that advantageous because Mr. Emerson murdered his wife. What.

Lucy doesn’t believe Mr. Eager and the gossip doesn’t keep them from all going for a drive out in the country. The title of the chapter about the drive is Chapter VI: The Reverend Arthur Beebe, the Reverend Cuthbert Eager, Mr. Emerson, Mr. George Emerson, Miss Eleanor Lavish, Miss Charlotte Bartlett, and Miss Lucy Honeychurch Drive Out in Carriages to See a View; Italians Drive Them. Forster doesn’t leave much to the imagination.

There is a lot of talking on the carriages, mostly pretentious babble from Mr. Eager and Miss Lavish; Lucy has made sure that she is in a separate carriage from George, as she is still confused about her feelings for him. The driver of their carriage has a girl with him, whom he tries to kiss while he’s driving, which I’m sure Oprah would have thing or two to say about. This outrages Mr. Eager, who demands that the girl switch to the other carriage, and his outrage outrages Mr. Emerson, who sees harm in denying people of their happiness.

When they arrive and are exploring the wood, Lucy wanders off by herself, chaperone-less. And you know what happens when girls don’t have their chaperones:

From her feet the ground sloped sharply into view, and violets ran down in rivulets and streams and cataracts, irrigating the hillside with blue, eddying round the tree stems collecting into pools in the hollows, covering the grass with spots of azure foam. But never again were they in such profusion; this terrace was the well-head, the primal source whence beauty gushed out to water the earth.

Standing at its brink, like a swimmer who prepares, was the good man. But he was not the good man that she had expected, and he was alone.

George had turned at the sound of her arrival. For a moment he contemplated her, as one who had fallen out of heaven. He saw radiant joy in her face, he saw the flowers beat against her dress in blue waves. The bushes above them closed. He stepped quickly forward and kissed her.

Before she could speak, almost before she could feel, a voice called, “Lucy! Lucy! Lucy!” The silence of life had been broken by Miss Bartlett who stood brown against the view.

Oh. Snap.

George and Lucy in the meadow in the 1985 movie.

On the carriage ride back, Lucy and Miss Bartlett discuss the meadow; Lucy says that she was overwhelmed by the beauty of the moment and had mistaken George in the field of violets for a hero in a book. Ooookay.

When they get back to their room (the one with the view, if you remember), Miss Bartlett asks Lucy “what is to be done” about the George situation. Miss Bartlett is convinced that George is unrefined and will talk about what happened; based on a conversation George had with another of the hotel patrons, one can assume that he is one of those young men who has kissed more than one girl. That cad! Miss Bartlett speaks of the kiss as an “insult” that Lucy needs to be defended against. Because she fears that George will talk and ruin Lucy’s reputation, Miss Bartlett decides that they will leave the next morning for Rome, to meet up with the Vyses, acquaintances of the Honeychurch family. Lucy promises Miss Bartlett that she won’t tell her mother about what happened, because Miss Bartlett is afraid that she will be blamed. They left for Rome the following morning; Lucy was unable to say goodbye to George.

Part II opens with Mrs. Honeychurch, Lucy’s mother, and Freddy, Lucy’s brother, in their home in England, awaiting the arrival of the Vyse family. While in Rome, Cecil Vyse, the son, proposed to Lucy twice and she rejected him both times. However, Cecil travels to Windy Corner and proposes a third time, which Lucy accepts.

Cecil is described as “medieval.” It is meant to describe his physical appearance, which is also like a “gothic statue,” but it describes his personality, as well. If George is portrayed as being passionate then Cecil is pretentious. He is from London and looks down upon people in the country. He doesn’t even seem to be overly fond of Lucy, but more like an idea of her:

He had known Lucy for several years, but only as a commonplace girl who happened to be musical. He could still remember his depression that afternoon at Rome, when she and her terrible cousin fell on him out of the blue, and demanded to be taken to St. Peter’s. That day she had seemed a typical tourist—shrill, crude, and gaunt with travel. But Italy worked some marvel in her. It gave her light, and—which he held more precious—it gave her shadow. Soon he detected in her a wonderful reticence. She was like a woman of Leonardo da Vinci’s, whom we love not so much for herself as for the things that she will not tell us, The things are assuredly not of this life; no woman of Leonardo’s could have anything so vulgar as a “story.” She did develop most wonderfully day by day.

So it happened that from patronizing civility he had slowly passed if not to passion, at least to a profound uneasiness. Already at Rome he had hinted to her that they might be suitable for each other. It had touched him greatly that she had not broken away at the suggestion.

Be still my beating heart.

Mr. Beebe stops by the house in time to hear the good news of the engagement of Lucy and Cecil, which he takes as a joke at first. Freddy refers to Cecil as her “fiasco” instead of “fiancé,” and I don’t know how anyone missed that portentous bit of foreshadowing. Mr. Beebe mentions that he has heard that a nearby cottage has been bought and will be rented by a Sir Harry Ottway — it’s supposed to be torn down, but he will rent it instead.

If you didn’t guess that the Emersons would be renting the cottage, you need to forget about books and watch a Real Housewives marathon. The plotlines there may be more your style.

It turns out Cecil ran into Mr. Emerson and George at a museum and he figured that they would annoy Sir Ottway, as Cecil considers him to be a snob, so he recommended they rent to cottage. Ah, how droll! When Lucy protests and yells at him for inviting “his friends,” he assumes that she objects because they are of a lower class socially. As he tells her:

No, Lucy, the classes ought to mix, and before long you’ll agree with me. There ought to be intermarriage—all sorts of things.

Be careful what you wish for, Cecil.

Lucy and Cecil go to London to visit Mrs. Vyse, Cecil’s mother, while the Emersons move in. Freddy, Lucy’s brother, meets George through Mr. Beebe and becomes friends, playing tennis and going for swims in ponds and other generally frowned upon activities. When Lucy returns to Windy Corners (their house), she discovers that her mother has invited Miss Bartlett to stay with them while the plumbing in her house is repaired.

Freddy invites the Emersons over for lunch and tennis on a Sunday when Cecil is in a particularly vile mood. While Freddy and George play tennis and the others are watching, Cecil goes on and on about the novel he’s reading. The novel is set in Florence and there’s a murder, and Lucy quickly realizes that it’s written by Miss Lavish, who was at the Bertolini with them. Cecil decides to read a passage aloud:

“‘Leonora,'” he read, “‘sat pensive and alone. Before her lay the rich champaign of Tuscany, dotted over with many a smiling village. The season was spring.'”

Miss Lavish knew, somehow, and had printed the past in draggled prose, for Cecil to read and for George to hear.

“‘A golden haze,'” he read. He read: “‘Afar off the towers of Florence, while the bank on which she sat was carpeted with violets. All unobserved Antonio stole up behind her—'”

Lest Cecil should see her face she turned to George and saw his face.

He read: “‘There came from his lips no wordy protestation such as formal lovers use. No eloquence was his, nor did he suffer from the lack of it. He simply enfolded her in his manly arms.'”

“This isn’t the passage I wanted,” he informed them, “there is another much funnier, further on.” He turned over the leaves.

“Should we go in to tea?” said Lucy, whose voice remained steady.

She led the way up the garden, Cecil following her, George last. She thought a disaster was averted. But when they entered the shrubbery it came. The book, as if it had not worked mischief enough, had been forgotten, and Cecil must go back for it; and George, who loved passionately, must blunder against her in the narrow path.

“No—” she gasped, and, for the second time, was kissed by him.

As if no more was possible, he slipped back; Cecil rejoined her; they reached the upper lawn alone.

OH. SNAP.

Later that afternoon, when they’re all preparing for supper, Lucy confronts George in the dining-room. She tells him to leave or she will have to call Cecil and George is incredulous to realize that she is engaged to marry Cecil. (Now it’s getting good. Get your popcorn. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.)

Then his words rose gravely over hers: “You cannot live with Vyse. He’s only for an acquaintance. He is for society and cultivated talk. He should know no one intimately, least of all a woman.”

It was a new light on Cecil’s character.

“Have you ever talked to Vyse without feeling tired?”

“I can scarcely discuss—”

“No, but have you ever? He is the sort who are all right so long as they keep to things—books, pictures—but kill when they come to people. That’s why I’ll speak out through all this muddle even now. It’s shocking enough to lose you in any case, but generally a man must deny himself joy, and I would have held back if your Cecil had been a different person. I would never have let myself go. But I saw him first in the National Gallery, when he winced because my father mispronounced the names of great painters. Then he brings us here, and we find it is to play some silly trick on a kind neighbour. That is the man all over—playing tricks on people, on the most sacred form of life that he can find. Next, I meet you together, and find him protecting and teaching you and your mother to be shocked, when it was for YOU to settle whether you were shocked or no. Cecil all over again. He daren’t let a woman decide. He’s the type who’s kept Europe back for a thousand years. Every moment of his life he’s forming you, telling you what’s charming or amusing or ladylike, telling you what a man thinks womanly; and you, you of all women, listen to his voice instead of to your own. So it was at the Rectory, when I met you both again; so it has been the whole of this afternoon. Therefore—not ‘therefore I kissed you,’ because the book made me do that, and I wish to goodness I had more self-control. I’m not ashamed. I don’t apologize. But it has frightened you, and you may not have noticed that I love you. Or would you have told me to go, and dealt with a tremendous thing so lightly? But therefore—therefore I settled to fight him.”

Oh, swoon.

George storms off, passing Miss Bartlett, who of course has been lurking in the doorway, snooping her heart out. The two women join the rest of the group. When Freddy hears that George has left, he asks Cecil to join him for a game of tennis. When Cecil declines, Lucy realizes that he is intolerable and breaks her engagement that night. It is only when she is breaking up with him does Cecil finally see her as a “living woman” rather than a trophy wife and has a difficult time letting go.

“You don’t love me, evidently. I dare say you are right not to. But it would hurt a little less if I knew why.”

“Because”—a phrase came to her, and she accepted it—”you’re the sort who can’t know any one intimately.”

A horrified look came into his eyes.

“I don’t mean exactly that. But you will question me, though I beg you not to, and I must say something. It is that, more or less. When we were only acquaintances, you let me be myself, but now you’re always protecting me.” Her voice swelled. “I won’t be protected. I will choose for myself what is ladylike and right. To shield me is an insult. Can’t I be trusted to face the truth but I must get it second-hand through you? A woman’s place! You despise my mother—I know you do—because she’s conventional and bothers over puddings; but, oh goodness!”—she rose to her feet—”conventional, Cecil, you’re that, for you may understand beautiful things, but you don’t know how to use them; and you wrap yourself up in art and books and music, and would try to wrap up me. I won’t be stifled, not by the most glorious music, for people are more glorious, and you hide them from me. That’s why I break off my engagement. You were all right as long as you kept to things, but when you came to people—” She stopped.

The clash between Cecil and Lucy is the clash between the old and new ways of thinking. The Victorian/Edwardian age had rigid social classes, but even more so was the rigid gender structures. Lucy is seeing herself no longer as a woman but as a person who is capable of making her own decisions and choices. Welcome to the new millenium, Lucy.

Unfortunately, she feels that this new realization means that she will never marry and will join her cousin in a life of spinsterhood and cat lady-hood, especially as she tries to convince herself that she doesn’t love George.

Lucy receives a letter from the Miss Alans, the spinster sisters from the Bertolini, who write to tell her about their upcoming trip to Greece. Lucy decides that she simply must go along with them and her mother reluctantly agrees. She also convinces everyone not to announce her broken engagement to Cecil, but to let divulge it once she is safely out of England — the secret reason behind this being that she doesn’t want George to be able to do the “told you so” dance.

She goes to visit Mr. Beebe before she leaves and Mr. Emerson is in the sitting room. George has told him that he loves Lucy and tells her that George has “gone under” — George is so full of passion that he can become overwhelmed by them, and he has become overwhelmed by his love of Lucy and is resembling Romeo in love with Rosaline. He tells Lucy that George can no longer bear to be there and that they are going back to London. When Lucy reveals that she is headed to Greece — without Cecil — Mr. Emerson forces her to admit that she loves George.

Then he burst out excitedly; “That’s it; that’s what I mean. You love George!” And after his long preamble, the three words burst against Lucy like waves from the open sea.

“But you do,” he went on, not waiting for contradiction. “You love the boy body and soul, plainly, directly, as he loves you, and no other word expresses it. You won’t marry the other man for his sake.”

“How dare you!” gasped Lucy, with the roaring of waters in her ears. “Oh, how like a man!—I mean, to suppose that a woman is always thinking about a man.”

“But you are.”

She summoned physical disgust.

“You’re shocked, but I mean to shock you. It’s the only hope at times. I can reach you no other way. You must marry, or your life will be wasted. You have gone too far to retreat. I have no time for the tenderness, and the comradeship, and the poetry, and the things that really matter, and for which you marry. I know that, with George, you will find them, and that you love him. Then be his wife. He is already part of you. Though you fly to Greece, and never see him again, or forget his very name, George will work in your thoughts till you die. It isn’t possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.”

The next chapter opens with the Miss Alans in Greece by themselves. George and Lucy are back at the Bertolini; they have eloped to Italy, and, even though they may have alienated Mrs. Honeychurch in the process, they are living happily with each other and committed to their life of love.

Happily -- and sexily -- ever after.

In the end, Lucy is able to choose her own life and decide who she wants to marry, though her mother disapproves. The thought of marrying for position and social status is challenged in this novel — though there is a man of sufficient birth available, he is boring and stuck-up and utterly unappealing, yet the person who is exciting and interesting is of middle class (and works as a porter for a railway, how plebian!) .

There is an appendix that was added to some of the later publications of the book, where Forster elaborated on what happened to Lucy and George in the later years, but I choose not to read that part. I prefer my romances to end happily and without children and World War II, thank you very much. In my view of A Room with a View, George and Lucy remain at the Bertolini forever. Or at least they only emerge for food and sustenance, and possibly the occasional citrus fruit to prevent scurvy.

Comment » | classic books

41. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

April 13th, 2011 — 2:53pm

Nothing scares me more than evil children. Any movie that is advertised as featuring a possessed child, or a creepy child, or a murderous child will not be getting my popcorn and jujubee money. So just the summary of Lord of the Flies gives me the creeps: “British schoolchildren survive a plane crash on a desert island and have to form their own society, but their island utopia soon turns to chaos.” No good can come of British schoolchildren being stranded on a deserted island. No good.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding was published in 1954, in the midst of the Cold War. The beginning of the novel explains that the plane is evacuating the students from Britain; there is a subtle nod to a nuclear-esque war going on and the plane has been shot down by a nameless enemy. Two of the children (who range in age from about 6 to 14) are the first characters on the beach — Ralph and the unfortunately named Piggy, who is chubby and has asthma and glasses. Poor Piggy doesn’t stand a chance on the playground, much less on a deserted island.

Ralph and Piggy find a conch shell on the beach and blow it to alert any other survivors to their whereabouts. Kids start coming towards them from all directions, including a large group of kids in identical choir robes. The head of the choirboys, Jack, makes himself known pretty quickly and he and Ralph discuss the need for an organized plan. Jack makes the argument for himself in possibly one of my favorite election speeches ever:

“I ought to be chief,” said Jack with simple arrogance, “because I’m chapter chorister and head boy. I can sing C sharp.”

Somehow the boys are unconvinced that the ability to sing C sharp is a valuable life skill for getting rescued off an island, and they vote Ralph to be the leader. Ralph, in order to keep the choir boys from performing a mutiny, suggests that Jack and the Choir Boys work as an army and hunt for the group — maybe not the best idea, in hindsight.

Ralph, Jack, and a boy named Simon walk around and determine that they’re on an island and that there are no discernible signs of human civilization; they find tracks in the sand, but they’re animal tracks, there is no village smoke or boats on the shore. They find a piglet that they catch and Jack attempts to kill it with a knife; however, once he raises his arm in the air to stab it, he hesitates over the enormity of the act of killing a living creature and the pig gets away. In typical boy fashion, Jack promises that the next time there will be no mercy on whatever animal is under his knife.

When they get back to the others, they make their rules of the island — have fun and try to be rescued. They start a fire using Piggy’s glasses and maintaining the fire becomes the number one priority. They also establish a rule that when they are meeting together, whoever is holding the conch shell is the one who gets to talk. The conch comes to represent the attempts at civilization and order.

As the novel goes on, the Big Three of Ralph, Jack, and Simon begin to take over different roles of leadership; Jack takes the choir boys and becomes in charge of hunting the pigs on the island for meat, and Simon takes control of building shelters, as well as defending and protecting the younger boys. Piggy becomes an outcast; the older boys don’t take him seriously, even though (and probably because) he is a voice a reason, and the younger kids follow suit and make fun of him.

Several things happen to the boys that threatens their fragile civilization. The initial fire that they build by focusing sunlight through Piggy’s glasses is ignored while the kids play on the beach, and the fire gets out of control and burns all of their firewood. After the fire, one of the “littluns” disappears after the fire and is never seen again, presumably burned to death from the fire. On another occasion, Jack and the Choir Boys go off to hunt when they’re supposed to be watching the signal fire. Ralph and Piggy are on the beach, and they see a ship pass by, but when they get back to the fire to make a smoke signal, the fire has died out. Ralph accuses Jack, who has just returned triumphantly with a killed pig whose throat he slit, of letting the fire die. Jack and the Choir Boys, with face paint on their faces and blood still on the knife, are too preoccupied with the excitement and adrenaline rush of their first kill, and they put on a frenzied, crazed recreation of the hunt. Piggy tells Jack that he shouldn’t have left the fire and Jack punches Piggy in the stomach and then slaps him in the face hard enough to make Piggy’s glasses fly off and break one of the lenses.

Ralph calls an assembly to try to get their heads in the game and focus on their main goal: keeping the fire up so they can be rescued. At the meeting, the littluns start talking about their fear of a beast living on the island. Jack, with his usual sensitive nature, states that there is no beast, and he should know, as he’d covered every inch of the island during their hunts. Piggy brings up the point that there is no beast on the island and no reason to fear anything other than people (enter ominous music here). The littluns insist that there’s a beast; some say that it comes out of the sea, some say that it lurks in the caves, and they all agree that it comes out at night. Jack, in a moment that brings chaos to the meeting, speaks without holding the conch and declares that if there’s a beast, he and his boys will hunt it down. At this, the meeting splinters, with boys running away in all directions, leaving Ralph, Piggy, and Simon watching after them fearfully, discussing what “the grownups would think” if they could see how quick to violence and chaos the boys all are.

That night, there is an air battle over them, and a parachutist falls to the ground while the boys are all asleep. Two of the boys, twins who are interchangeable and are therefore known collectively as “SamnEric”, wake up and see the parachute fluttering; they panic, convinced that the beast has come in from the air. Ralph, Jack, and some of the hunters agree to go and look for the beast. On the search, they come across a wild boar and they try to catch it. When it gets away, they make a pretend hunting circle, enclosing on one of the boys, Robert, and pretend that they’re hunting him. They engage in their hunting ritual, which includes a chant:

“Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in!”

Creepy kids. Not okay.

The hunters from the 1990 movie. Aka, the best form of birth control available. Do not want these evil children.

Ralph and Jack go up the mountain and see what looks like “a great ape” asleep in one of the trees. They run back to the other boys and report back that they found the beast. While they’re discussing what to do, Jack declares that he’s no longer going to follow Ralph; Ralph is too preoccupied with his precious little fire and he’s a coward, so he’s going to take his hunters and kill the beast. When the other boys don’t elect to remove Ralph’s power, Jack calls his hunters and they run off to the beach. Ralph gets the other boys to help him rebuild the fire, but by the time they’ve finished, most of the boys have defected and joined Jack’s tribe. Ralph notices that Simon is gone as well, to which Piggy replies, “He’s cracked.”

Simon has gone off on his own to look for the beast. He finds a gift for the beast that Jack and the Choir Boys made, which is the head of one of the pigs killed by Jack that they impaled on a stick; it is covered in flies, and Simon thinks of it as “Lord of the Flies.” He has indeed cracked. The Lord of the Flies begins to talk to him and it is the creepiest thing yet:

“You are a silly little boy,” said the Lord of the Flies, “just an ignorant, silly little boy.”

Simon moved his swollen tongue but said nothing.

“Don’t you agree?” said the Lord of the Flies. “Aren’t you just a silly little boy?”

Simon answered him in the same silent voice.

“Well then,” said the Lord of the Flies,” you’d better run off and play with the others. They think you’re batty. You don’t want Ralph to think you’re batty, do you? You like Ralph a lot, don’t you? And Piggy, and Jack?”

Simon’s head was tilted slightly up. His eyes could not break away and the Lord of the Flies hung in space before him.

“What are you doing out here all alone? Aren’t you afraid of me?”

Simon shook.

“There isn’t anyone to help you. Only me. And I’m the Beast.”

Simon’s mouth labored, brought forth audible words.

“Pig’s head on a stick.”

“Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! You knew, didn’t you?” said the head. For a moment or two the forest and all the other dimly appreciated places echoed with the parody of laughter. “You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?”

And then Simon faints. Thank god. I don’t know how much more of that conversation I could take.

When he wakes up, he sees that the flies have moved to a different spot. He sees that it’s the body of the parachutist that became tangled in the tree and realizes that the dead body is what Ralph and Jack thought was the beast. He rushes back to the other boys to tell them that it’s harmless and that they’re mistaken.

Meanwhile, Ralph and Piggy have gone to find Jack and the others, seeing as how there are no boys left in Ralph’s tribe. They find them on the beach, painted with face paint and looking dirty and wild. And crazy. When it starts to rain, they form a circle and do their weird little hunting game, pretending that the boy Roger is a pig. Ralph and Piggy find themselves unable to resist the game and join in. The boys start chanting:

“Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!”

Simon bursts through the woods, shouting to them about the man in the trees, and the boys, in their bloodlust and mob mentality, mistake him for the beast. They form a new circle around “the beast.” Simon stumbles on the beach, and they attack and kill him with their bare hands and teeth. Then the mob breaks up and the boys all wander away, leaving Simon’s body bleeding and dead in the rain. As it rains, the tide rises and washes Simon’s body off the beach and into the ocean.

Ralph and Piggy, now that the spell of the mob has broken, are horrified that they took part in the murder of Simon. Jack, on the other hand, is not so upset. He and his tribe have taken solace in a place they call Castle Rock, where he is holding court like a dictator. Jack has decided that his tribe deserves a fire, so they are going to sneak to Ralph and Piggy’s camp and steal Piggy’s glasses. All that is left of Ralph’s tribe is Ralph, Piggy, and the twins Sam and Eric, so the security on the place is rather subpar. The boys pretend to be the beast and attack them, stealing the glasses in the chaos. Once the glasses are stolen, Ralph plans to steal them back.

Ralph, Piggy, Sam, and Eric go to Jack’s tribe and Ralph accuses Jack of being a thief. Apparently even on a deserted island this is a disrespect that will not be tolerated, as Jack calls for Sam and Eric to be tied up in order to show Ralph that he can basically do whatever he wants; his “painted savages” are completely loyal to him. One of the boys, Roger, was up on the rock and was dropping stones on them. Piggy, frustrated with all of this foolishness, grabs the conch and appeals to the boys:

“I got this to say. You’re acting like a crowd of kids.”

The booing rose and died again as Piggy lifted the white, magic shell.

“Which is better — to be a pack of painted Indians like you are, or to be sensible like Ralph is?”

A great clamor rose among the savages. Piggy shouted again.

“Which is better — to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?”

The boys decided that yeah, hunting is better than law, as they cornered Ralph and Piggy and readied themselves for an attack. Roger intensified his rock throwing and caused a boulder to fall down on top of them.

Ralph heard the great rock long before he saw it. He was aware of a jolt in the earth that came to him through the soles of his feet, and the breaking sound of stones at the top of the cliff. Then the monstrous red thing bounded across the neck and he flung himself flat while the tribe shrieked.

The rock struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee; the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist. Piggy, saying nothing, with no time for even a grunt, travelled through the air sideways from the rock, turning over as he went. The rock bounded twice and was lost in the forest. Piggy fell forty feet and landed on his back across that square, red rock in the sea. His head opened and stuff came out and turned red. Piggy’s arms and legs twitched a bit, like a pig’s after it has been killed. Then the sea breathed again in a long, slow sigh, the water boiled white and pink over the rock; and when it went, sucking back again, the body of Piggy was gone.

This time the silence was complete. Ralph’s lips formed a word but no sound came.

With the shattering of the conch and Piggy’s death comes the total loss of any shred of humanity that Jack and the boys might have still had. Ralph barely escapes as they hurl spears at him. The boys, namely Roger, torture Sam and Eric for not joining their tribe in the first place. Ralph hides all night and day while the boys hunt him like an animal. He runs into Sam and Eric on the beach, and they tell him that the boys forced them to join the tribe and for Ralph to get away while he can. Apparently Roger has sharpened a stick at both ends and it has Ralph’s name on it. Ralph hides in the forest and Jack decides to smoke him out; he has the boys set the trees on fire. Ralph is driven to the beach by screaming savages with spears. He falls to the sand and covers himself with his arms to try to protect himself.

When he gets to his feet, a British naval officer is standing on the beach, staring at Ralph with a “what the hell is going on here?” look. They saw the smoke from the burning forest and came to the island to investigate. A group of the tribe, “their bodies streaked with colored clay, sharp sticks in their hands,” emerged from the forest, and the officer asks if they’ve been having “fun and games.” When Ralph tells him that two of the boys have been killed, the officer replies that he would have thought better of a pack of British boys.

Ralph looked at him dumbly. For a moment he had a fleeting picture of the strange glamour that had once invested the beaches. But the island was scorched up like dead wood — Simon was dead — and Jack had…

The tears began to flow and sobs shook him. He gave himself up to them now for the first time on the island; great, shuddering spasms of grief that seemed to wrench his whole body. His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the island; and infected by that emotion, the other little boys began to shake and sob too. And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.

The officer, surrounded by these noises, was moved and a little embarrassed. He turned away to give them time to pull themselves together; and waited, allowing his eyes to rest on the trim cruiser in the distance.

This book is an interesting argument for society — how long does it take civilization to fall apart, what does power or the lack of power do to a person, how does mob mentality influence people to do horrible things, where does the line between emotional and rational responses break down.

Ralph has good intentions for the group and is described as having natural leadership, even if his ideas aren’t always implemented well. He is nonviolent in contrast to Jack’s violence. He takes the leadership role very seriously and tries to set rules and procedures in order; the use of the conch shell during their assemblies, for example.

Piggy is the scientific mind of the group, very logical and rational. He is also the most set on having a civilization; he takes the conch shell with them on the raid of Jack’s tribe and insists on using it to speak to the savage boys. He acts as Ralph’s adviser, as he is the one with the ideas but no sense of leadership and none of the boys take him seriously. He demands order and has an adult sense of reason; he finds it hard to believe that the savage boys of Jack’s tribe would rather hunt and kill rather than be rescued and have order. His death signifies the final spiral into chaos.

Jack is the epitome of human nature when exposed to anarchy and chaos. Though he rather begrudgingly agrees to Ralph as the leader, he slowly takes over more and more power as the leader of the hunting choir boys. He also primal and masculine qualities that aren’t apparent in the other boys, which might be due to his being one of the older boys — when he is unable to kill the first pig they find, due to the potential trauma of ending a life, he feels shame and compensates by vowing to hunt until he kills something, even going so far as to abandoning the fire in order to hunt. His blood lust gets more intense and irrational. He and the hunters begin to paint themselves with body paint, shedding their humanity as they shed their clothes. As more of the boys give over to their primal natures, they leave Ralph’s tribe and join Jack.

Simon represents peace and humanity (see: Jesus figure). Simon takes care and calms the younger children when they’re having their nightmares and he keeps the older kids from teasing them. He is in tune with nature and the ocean, and that is why he has such an adverse reaction to seeing the pig’s head and hallucinates the Lord of the Flies (which happens to be the English translation of “Beelzebub,” a demon synonymous with Satan). His hallucination reveals the truth of the beast to him, and when he tries to explain it to the others, he’s savagely murdered, bringing about the loss of the truth and the boys’ innocence.

The arrival of the naval officer represents the adult authoritative influence on children: what was once a savage hunt and murder is reduced to “fun and games.” As the boys are crying, the officer looks away from the boys and towards his own battleship, juxtaposing the brutality of the children’s experiences on the island with the brutality of the adults’ experiences in war.

Whenever people talk about possibly lowering the drinking age or giving kids more responsibility, Lord of the Flies is immediately what I think of. Kids are not to be trusted with anything other than stuffed animals and need to have good solid role models that will teach them to not to try to kill each other with sharp sticks. I’m looking at you, Kid Nation.

All in all, this book is a study in why I will never have children. The possibility of the kids mutinying and chasing after me with sticks and face paint? No thank you.

4 comments » | modern

13. 1984 by George Orwell

February 10th, 2011 — 10:38am

1984 was published in 1949 by George Orwell (a pseudonym for Eric Blair). It is a dystopian novel, which means that it showcases a negative view of a future society; dystopian novels usually have characters who live with extreme poverty, oppression, or extreme government control. It is commonly thought to be a criticism of the Communism and Fascism seen in the Soviet Union at the time (Orwell is not a stranger to using literature to criticize Papa Joe Stalin), but Orwell said in a later essay that “[Nineteen Eighty-Four] is NOT intended as an attack on Socialism or on the British Labour Party (of which I am a supporter), but as a show-up of the perversions . . . which have already been partly realized in Communism and Fascism. . . . The scene of the book is laid in Britain in order to emphasize that the English-speaking races are not innately better than anyone else, and that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere.”

So do with that what you will. I personally think that our boy George is full of it.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

The novel follows Winston Smith, a citizen of the country Oceania, in what he believes to be the year 1984. The countries of Europe have integrated into three intercontinental countries after a global war following WWII (the United Kingdom became Oceania, the USSR became Eurasia, and the East and Southeast Asian region became Eastasia). The three superstates fight a perpetual war for the remaining unconquered lands of the world; each of the countries is constantly at war with one and at peace and allied with the other, but the allegiances change constantly.

The government of Oceania is run by Big Brother, an omniscient, omnipresent figure who is broadcast over the television and radios to give his messages to the people. Big Brother is ostensibly always watching, as the ubiquitous posters around town proclaim — it is presumed that all good citizens will report any ungood actions of their comrades to the proper authorities, which means that Big Brother is in everyone and is indeed always watching.

Big Brother is Watching.

The social breakdown of Oceania is the Inner Party (upper class), the Outer Party (middle class), and the Proles (short for proletariat, the working class). The Proles make up about 85% of the population yet have the least amount of rights in the society. The Proles don’t seem to realize that their rights are being repressed.

So long as the Proles continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance. Left to themselves, like cattle turned loose upon the plains of Argentina, they had reverted to a style of life that appeared to be natural to them, a sort of ancestral pattern…Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.

The Party (the government, which consists of Inner and Outer Party members) controls the citizens (or comrades) through four different govenment agencies: the Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Plenty, Ministry of Love, and the Ministry of Truth. They have the slogans “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.”

The Ministry of Peace is the militant part of the government. They are in charge of the armed forces, mostly the navy and army. Considering that Oceania is constantly at war with either Eurasia or Eastasia, this ministry is seen as very important. They produce the propaganda that instructs the comrades to hate the opposing country, which focuses the comrades’ rage and frustration with the enemy rather than with their own system.

The Ministry of Plenty oversees the economy. They control the food supplies, and goods, as well as the rationing of the goods to the people. They maintain shortages in the economy, as the government believes that a weak population is easier to govern than a wealthy, strong population. However, they produce reports that advertise the flourishing economy that Big Brother has provided, typically by just making up figures. In one scene in the novel, there is an announcement that the ration for chocolate is being increased to twenty grams. All of the people around Winston cheer and celebrate, but Winston realizes that twenty grams is actually a decrease from the ration the day before.

The Ministry of Love enforces the love and loyalty to Big Brother. They do this through fear, repression, and brainwashing. The building that houses the Ministry of Love has no windows, barbed wire, and steel doors and is surrounded by snipers with machine guns and guards with electrified truncheons. Inside it is illuminated by florescent lights that never go out. They produce the videos and propaganda supporting Big Brother and prosecute the criminals of “thoughtcrime.” They control the people entirely, though their importance is played down by the Party.

The Ministry of Truth is where Winston Smith (a member of the Outer Party) works as an editor. Editors revise historical records to change the past to make it agree with the contemporary party line, considering that it changes daily. It involves anything from changing records of Big Brother’s speeches to erasing citizens that have become “unpersons” — people who have been executed by the state and therefore have any proof of their existence removed from record. This is done by taking them out of any books, public documents, or pictures, under the belief that their existence will be forgotten if there is no proof that they existed.

The language of the world has also been changed. Oceania doesn’t speak the King’s English, but has created a new language called Newspeak. It has removed the extremities of language and left only the basic forms (good and bad, pleasure and pain, happy and sad, etc). Many words can be used as nouns and verbs; because “think” exists as a noun, it can be used as a verb, which means that the word “thought” is unnecessary. It also utilizes pronouns and suffixes and attempts to use short, monosyllabic words. For example, because “good” exists as a word, there is no reason to have an additional word (“bad”) to mean the opposite when one can simply say “ungood.” If something is horrible, it is “doubleplusungood”.

Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.

That brings me to thoughtcrime. Not only was it illegal to do certain things, but it was also illegal to think certain things. The Thought Police use surveillance methods to observe the comrades — Big Brother is Watching. The telescreens are everywhere, in every home, office, building, wall, basically if it will stand still, the Party has a telescreen on it. Not only are the telescreens used to broadcast messages from Big Brother and other Party-esque programs, but they also serve as recording devices to watch every citizen in their homes for evidence of thoughtcrime; there is a team (a nameless, faceless “they”) that analyzes every movement, reflex, facial tic, what have you. They sometimes even talk through the telescreen — during the morning exercises, the woman on screen tells Winston that he needs to work harder and keep his knees up. Winston writes of thoughtcrime in his journal, “”Thoughtcrime does not entail death. Thoughtcrime IS death.”

Winston Smith is a man of about thirty-nine — he isn’t quite sure of his actual age because he isn’t quite sure of the actual year. He lives in a squalid apartment and works at the Ministry of Truth. However, revising the history of Oceania makes Winston curious about what has actually happened in history. Big Brother tells the citizens of Oceania to hate Emmanuel Goldstein, who is the leader of an opposing political party and is therefore the Devil Incarnate, and whichever country they’re at war with at the time — at this moment, it’s Eurasia. Winston goes through the motions, but his small apartment is blessed with a corner that is hidden from the telescreen’s cameras. He keeps a secret diary in which he writes down all of his misgivings about society and his hate for Big Brother and the Party. Maaaajor thoughtcrime going on.

Winston works with a man named O’Brien, who Winston thinks shares his views; at one of the Two Minute Hate sessions, where all of the people crowd around a telescreen and are shown propaganda videos to promote hating the enemy, Winston catches O’Brien’s eye and sees the same hatred for Big Brother that he feels.

One day at work, during the Two Minute Hate, he notices a dark-haired girl and hates her because he is attracted to her but she is wearing a sash denoting that she’s a member of the Party’s Anti-Sex League. The Party has a hatred of sex, it seems; Winston figures that the goal is to remove pleasure from the sexual act, so that it becomes merely a duty to the Party, a way of producing new Party members. Winston’s former wife Katherine hated sex, and as soon as they realized they would never have children, they separated. Winston desperately wants to have an enjoyable sexual affair, which he sees as the ultimate act of rebellion.

A few days later, he notices the dark-haired girl with her arm in a sling. She stumbles in the hallway at work and when Winston helps her up, she slips him a note that says “I love you.” Winston is understandably confused. Not only does he think that she’s a political spy who is watching him, but there’s also the thing where they’ve never talked and he doesn’t even know her name. A small hiccup in the relationship. However, Winston is desperate and sees the note as a reason to live. At least long enough to find out her name.

They avoid each other for a few days and then manage to sit at the same lunch table together; however, they don’t talk, so as not to alert the Thought Police that their thoughts need to be washed with a strong cleanser. They plan a meeting at the execution of Eurasian prisoners (very romantic), where the crowd and the Party will be distracted and they’ll be able to talk without being watched by Big Brother. While in the crowd, they plan to meet at a train station and go out to the country where they can truly be alone.

They go to the country, he finds out her name is Julia and she’s not a spy, and they have sex. It turns out that Julia is just as rebellious as Winston, as this is not her first tryst in the country. She wears the Anti-Sex League sash in order to comply with the Party and not attract any suspicion, but she’s really sort of slutty; Winston comments that she’s only a rebel from the waist down. Winston sees this as a good thing, as it means that other Party members are committing crimes. Julia has less ambitious ideas about the Party — she doesn’t really care about a widespread rebellion, she just likes enjoying herself and sticking it to the man.

They return to their Party lives. Once they get back to the city, Winston rents a room from a man named Mr. Charrington to conduct his affair with Julia. When they return to work, Winston discovers that a man he knows, Syme, who was working on a Newspeak dictionary, has vanished; Winston sort of knew this was coming, because Syme was too intelligent for his own good. The Party is gearing up for Hate Week, a fun-filled celebration of hate.

O’Brien talks to Winston in the hallway of the Ministry of Truth, and casually mentions that he can see a Newspeak dictionary if he comes to his house. I’m sure he also has candy in his van if Winston is interested in that, too. Winston takes this as a sign that O’Brien is indeed a like-minded rebel, and decides to go to his house, even though he’s pretty sure that his new life path will eventually end him in the Ministry of Love.

Winston has dreams about his family and his childhood; his father left them and he, his mother, and his baby sister struggled to survive without him. The Party attempts to repress emotions and memories by telling people revised versions of the past, and Winston is sick of it. He talks to Julia after a vivid dream that he killed his own mother and they talk about the Party. The Party attempts to control the people by eliminating human emotions, at least in Party members, to the point where they are no longer human.

Winston and Julia go to O’Brien’s house together, where he shocks them by turning off his telescreen. Winston, thinking that Big Brother is no longer watching, declares that he and Julia wish to join the Brotherhood and follow Goldstein. O’Brien gives them a copy of Goldstein’s book, teaches them a rebel song for initiation, and they drink wine and toast to the past. O’Brien and Winston make plans to meet “in the place with no darkness,” and when he and Julia leave, O’Brien turns the telescreen back on.

Winston begins to read Goldstein’s book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. In it, he learns about the geographical makeup of Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia and how they were formed. The countries are in a perpetual state of war, Goldstein writes, in order to preserve power among the high class society, or the Inner Party; if the lower classes are preoccupied with war, it’s easier for them to be controlled. The war never advances because it’s impossible for one of the superpowers to gain the upper hand on the other as they’re all relatively equal in power. The point of the war isn’t to win, but to control their own citizens. Hence the Party slogan WAR IS PEACE; having a common enemy keeps the people united. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, Goldstein writes, because the Party figures that independence is doomed to fail; only the will of the collective will flourish. If the Party provides everything that the people need or want, then they are free from all those pesky choices that so often plague us and bring societies to their knees. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH because when the people are ignorant of the totalitarian regime, it strengthens the Party.

The day after reading the book, Winston and Julia stand at the window of their love nest and see a prole woman. They talk about how the proles, though discounted and made weak by the Party, are actually the key to the future — they truly have the power because there are so many of them and if they evolve to become conscious of that, the Party is in trouble. They begin to talk about the futility of their life, especially now that they’ve gone down the road to rebellion. Winston says, “We are dead.” To which a nameless, faceless voice replies, “You are dead.”

Oh. Snap.

It turns out that there was a hidden telescreen behind a picture on the wall. The house is suddenly surrounded by Thought Police. They smash the window and a stream of black-clad men enter. The troops beat Winston and Julia and restrain them. Mr. Charrington, the landlord, enters the room and begins instructing the troops. Winston realizes that it was his voice coming from the telescreen, and that Mr. Charrington is actually a member of the Thought Police.

Winston is taken to a brightly lit cell in the Ministry of Love (“the place where there is no darkness”, see what they did there?) and is with a few other prisoners, including a poet who left the word “God” in a Rudyard Kipling poem and a man who was turned in to the Thought Police by his own children. Winston fears that, if he is beaten severely, he will confess and betray Julia. One of the prisoners is taken to Room 101, which frightens everyone; no one knows exactly what is in Room 101, but it’s the mystery and horror that is so frightening.

O’Brien enters the cell, to which Winston thinks that O’Brien has been captured. O’Brien tells him, “They got me long ago.” It turns out that O’Brien is an operative for the Ministry of Love. You just can’t trust anyone these days. O’Brien oversees the torture of Winston, which is excrutiating. His official crime is refusing to accept the Party’s control of history and his memory of past events. As the torture goes on, Winston tells O’Brien anything he wants to hear — O’Brien holds up four fingers and tells him he’s holding up five and Winston agrees. His mind is affected by the pain; he begins to love O’Brien because he is one who stops the pain. I’m not sure how that makes sense, but there you go. O’Brien tells Winston that the pain is going to cure him of his insanity, which is what they convince him is the problem. He also tells Winston that Julia gave him right away, that bitch.

We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards 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. When we are omnipotent there will be no need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always—do not forget this Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.

After weeks of interrogation and torture, O’Brien tells Winston about the Party’s motives. Winston speculates that the Party rules the proles for their own good. O’Brien tortures him for this answer, saying that the Party’s only goal is absolute, endless, and limitless power. Winston argues that the Party cannot alter the stars or the universe; O’Brien answers that it could if it needed to because the only reality that matters is in the human mind, which the Party controls.

The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. 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.

Yikes.

O’Brien forces Winston to look in a mirror; he has completely deteriorated and looks gray and skeletal. Winston begins to weep and blames O’Brien for his condition. O’Brien acknowledges that Winston has held out by not betraying Julia, and Winston feels overwhelmed with love and gratitude toward O’Brien for recognizing his strength. However, O’Brien tells Winston not to worry, as he will soon be cured; not that it matters since everyone is shot anyway.

Winston is moved to a more comfortable room and his torture eases. He begins to think that maybe he was a bit hasty in opposing the Party on his own, and maybe they’re not such bad fellows after all. He tries to make himself believe in the Party slogans, but he just can’t shake his deep rooted resentment against the Party. So back to hating it is. He thinks, “To die hating them, that was freedom.” But he opens his big mouth and tells O’Brien that he still hates Big Brother. To which O’Brien responds by sending him to Room 101.

In Room 101, O’Brien straps Winston to a chair and completely secures him so that he can’t move. O’Brien reminds Winston of his worst nightmare—a dream Wisnton had of being in a dark place with something terrible on the other side of the wall—and informs him that rats are on the other side of the wall. Winston’s one major fear in life is rats. How convenient. O’Brien picks up a cage full of enormous, squirming rats and places it near Winston. He says that when he presses a lever, the door will slide up and the rats will leap onto Winston’s face and eat it. (I remember reading this book in 10th grade and being completely and utterly horrified at this part. NOT THE FACE, ANYTHING BUT THE FACE, WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN.)

With the writhing, starving rats just inches away, Winston cracks. He screams that he wants O’Brien to subject Julia to this torture instead of him. O’Brien, satisfied by this betrayal, removes the cage.

Cut to Winston enjoying his freedom at a small cafe, complete with his face intact. He is watching the telescreen and accepts wholeheartedly everything the Party stands for and everything they do. He hasn’t completely forgotten his stay at the Ministry of Love; sometimes he can still smell the rats. He thinks about meeting Julia randomly on a street a few months ago. They talk about Room 101 and admit that they both betrayed each other. Only after they wished the pain and torture on the other person did the Party know that they were broken and were no longer a threat. Winston also remembers a memory of his mother and sister, but thinks that this is just a false memory or a dream. He watches a telescreen with a news report from Big Brother and feels happy and at peace.

He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

The beautiful thing about 1984 is that it is still scary in 2011. People are still afraid of the government and technology (2001’s Patriot Act comes to mind) and 1984 and Big Brother have come to stand for rising up against oppression and government control.

Unless it’s standing for selling Apple computers or reality shows. In which case Orwell’s warning of totalitarianism is sort of forgotten.

Comment » | classic books

4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

January 31st, 2011 — 12:31am

Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov was published in New York in 1958. It has been controversial and debated ever since.

The book is about a man, Humbert Humbert (a pseudonym he has chosen for himself), who is obsessed with nymphets, or sexually precocious girls. He blames this obsession on the death of his childhood sweetheart, Annabel Leigh. Because he was in love with her and she died at a young age, he subconciously searches for her to love again, and instead finds young girls who remind him of her. Humbert rents a house from Charlotte Haze, who just happens to have a 12 year old daughter named Dolores. Humbert immediately becomes infatuated with Dolores (who is also called also known as Dolly, Lolita, Lola, Lo, and L throughout the novel, try to keep up), and remains in the house to be near her.

Meanwhile, Charlotte, Lolita’s mother, begins to fall in love with Humbert. While Lolita is away at summer camp, she tells him that he has to either marry her or move out of the house. He agrees to marry Charlotte, even though he does not care for her and actually sort of pities her, so that he can remain close to Lolita. Charlotte remains unaware of Humbert’s creeper tendencies until she discovers his diary, in which he waxes poetic about his feelings for Lolita. Needless to say, she is horrified and makes plans to get her and her daughter as far away from Humbert as possible. Unfortunately, before she can do that or tell anyone what she’s discovered about Humbert, she’s hit by a car and killed.

Humbert picks up Lolita at camp; he tells the counselors that Charlotte is ill and is in the hospital. Once he has Lolita, he takes her to a hotel and attempts to give her sleeping pills in order to molest her more easily. The pills fail to work on her, but it’s okay! Because Lolita actually initiates sex with Humbert. It turns out that Lolita is already sexually active, as she had sex with a boy at her summer camp. And she’s still 12, by the way. Just saying.

Ignore the sunglasses and the lollipop. She is still 12.

Humbert finally tells Lolita that her mother is dead, and she realizes that there’s not really much else to do other than to accept her new life with her “stepfather” (EW). While at the hotel, they meet a strange man who seems to know them. Humbert is nervous about this, and decides that they need to take their show on the road.

Humbert and Lolita create a new life as nomads; they travel around from motel to motel with Humbert keeping Lolita disciplined by equally threatening to send her away to reform school and bribing her with sexual favors, even though he knows that she doesn’t love him like she does. Gee, I wonder why. They finally settle down in New England and Lolita is enrolled in school with Humbert assuming the role of the overbearing strict parent; Lolita is not allowed to participate in extracurriculars at school or associate with boys. The neighbors see his rules as the sign of a strict and loving parent. If only they knew how loving.

Lolita convinces Humbert to allow her to be in a school play by granting him more sexual favors. The play is by a man named Clare Quilty, who says that he saw Lolita’s acting and was inspired to write the play. However, on opening night, Humbert and Lolita have a fight and Lolita says that she wants to leave town again. When they leave, Humbert feels like someone is following them; he’s suspicious that Lolita is conspiring against him to leave him. She claims that she’s ill and is taken to a hospital while Humbert stays in a nearby hotel. When he goes to visit her, the hospital staff tells him that Lolita’s uncle has checked her out.

Uh oh.

Years pass, and one day Humbert receives a letter from the now 17 year old Lolita. She writes that she’s married, pregnant, and in desperate need of money. He meets with her, and she tells him that Clare Quilty was an acquaintance of Charlotte’s, and he checked her out of the hospital and attempted to make her star in one of his pornographic films; when she refused, he threw her out. She worked odd jobs before meeting and marrying her husband. She claims that her new husband knows nothing about her past and she intends to keep it that way.

Humbert, always the lecher, asks Lolita to leave her husband and return to him. He promises that it’ll be different this time! We’ll have a good life together! She refuses, because she has at least half a brain. Humbert leaves Lolita and finds and kills Quilty at his mansion. He then is arrested for driving on the wrong side of the road and swerving.

The narrative closes with Humbert’s final words to Lolita in which he wishes her well, and reveals the novel has been the memoirs of his life, only to be published after he and Lolita have both died.

Lolita gets a bad rap. If you can look past the pedophilia (which most people can’t), it is a very good book, at least in a literary sense. Nabokov was fond of wordplay and intricate details, and he uses many double entendres, puns, anagrams, and invents words throughout this book (nymphet is one example). He uses allusions to other authors, specifically Edgar Allan Poe (the name of Humbert’s childhood love, the use of doppleganger that occurs with Humbert and Clare Quilty). Many literary critics and scholars have found deeper meanings in the work, including interpretations that the book represents totalitarianism from Nabokov’s native Russia or the idea that the novel is about discovering your own identity when it has been taken over by someone else.

Nabokov was also a synesthete. That has nothing to do with the book, but it’s interesting anyway.

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