Tag: science fiction

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

October 24th, 2013 — 10:05am

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley was published in 1818, when Shelley was 21 years old (if you want to feel awful about your life accomplishments). Shelley began writing the book, about scientist Victor Frankenstein and his horrific science experiment, after a dream she had and as the result of a competition between her, her husband Percy Shelley, John Polidori, and Lord Byron to determine who could write the best horror story. Best. Contest. Ever.


Frankenstein is written in the epistolary form through letters from Captain Walton to his sister. Captain Walton is sailing around the North Pole in hopes of acheiving fame. One day, he and his crew see a giant figure commanding a dog sled, and a few hours later, discover a frozen and malnourished man named Victor Frankenstein. The crew bring him onboard the ship and he stays with Captain Walton as he recovers. Victor tells Walton the story of his life as a warning against being overly ambitious and doing dangerous things in pursuit of academic fame.

As a child growing up in Geneva, young Victor is fascinated by science — at a young age, he witnesses lightning split a massive oak tree in half and becomes fixated on the power of electricity. He has two younger brothers, Ernest and William, and his parents take in an orphan, Elizabeth Lavenza, with whom Victor falls in love. Victor begins to study the science of natural wonders, and as he prepares to go to Germany to attend the University of Ingolstadt, Victor’s mother dies of scarlet fever.

When he gets to the university, Victor begins his studies and embarks on the experiment to create life. He visits graveyards to collect body parts and creates a human body; though it is an oversized body, as he decides to make the body eight feet tall in order to compensate for the minute body parts that are difficult to work with. He is disappointed that his creature, which he envisioned to be beautiful, is actually hideous — after bringing the body to life, Victor is repulsed and horrified by it and runs from the room. When he returns to the room later, the monster has disappeared.

His fear of the monster and the realization of what he has done overwhelms him and Victor falls ill. His childhood friend, Henry Clerval, nurses him back to health. After a four month recovery period, Victor is summoned home when his younger brother, William, is found murdered. William’s nanny, Justine, is found with William’s locket and is found guilty of his murder, though she and Victor maintain her innocence — Victor is convinced that his creature killed William. Justine is hanged for William’s murder.

Victor blames himself for both William and Justine’s deaths, and he goes camping in the mountains to reflect and keep harm from others. The creature finds him in the mountains and tells him what has happened to him since Victor left him abandoned in the science room. Victor is surprised to find that the creature is articulate and well-spoken, which is from his observations of humans.

When he left the laboratory, the creature was afraid of humans and found an abandoned cottage secluded from the surrounding village. A family, the DeLaceys, lived in a neighboring cottage, and the creature was drawn to them and became obsessed with watching them. He listened to them speak and found books and taught himself to read and speak. He eventually works up the courage to speak to the DeLaceys and begins with the old man who is blind. He speaks with him and gains his trust, but when the younger DeLaceys see him, they are repulsed and chase him away. The creature sees a reflection of himself and realizes that he doesn’t look like other humans that he has seen and is, in fact, monstrous in appearance. So he burns down the DeLaceys’ house. As you do.


The creature tells Victor that, as he is responsible for the existence of the creature, he is responsible for his happiness. He demands that Victor make a companion for him, so that they may live together away from other people and be happy. He tells Victor that if he makes a female companion for him, that they will go to South America and never bother him again.

Victor agrees out of fear for himself and his family. One night, Victor has a dream that when he creates the female creature, they breed creatures that take over mankind. He creates the female creature, but destroys her after he catches a glimpse of the creature watching him through a window.


The creature channels his inner mob boss and tells Victor that he had better spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder and vowing that he will be there on his wedding night, and not to enjoy a piece of wedding cake. The creature leaves and Victor, understandably shaken, goes to visit Henry Clerval; when Victor arrives on the Irish beach, he discovers Henry’s corpse and is accused of Henry’s murder. Victor is imprisoned for the murder and when he is acquitted, his father takes him back to Geneva to recover from his mental breakdown.

Elizabeth, the Frankensteins’ ward, marries Victor when he returns home. That night, Victor tells Elizabeth to stay in their room while he goes out to confront the creature, but he can’t find it. He returns to the house when he hears Elizabeth scream and he realizes that the creature did not intend to murder Victor at all. He sees the creature through the window and, as he approaches the window, the creature points at Elizabeth’s lifeless body.

At the shock of Elizabeth’s death, as well as the deaths of William, Justine, and Henry, Victor’s father dies. Victor has now lost everyone close to him and vows to devote the rest of his life to finding and destroying the monster. He follows him to the North Pole, which is where he was rescued by Captain Walton.

Walton next writes that he believes Victor’s tale and wishes that he had known him in his better days, as he is now a wreck of a man. A few days later, the ship is trapped in ice. Victor dies right before the ship is to head back to England and Walton hears a strange noise coming from Victor’s room. Investigating the noise, Walton is startled to find the monster, as hideous as Victor had described, weeping over his dead creator’s body. The monster begins to tell him of all his sufferings. He says that he deeply regrets having become an instrument of evil and that, with his creator dead, he is ready to die. He leaves the ship and departs into the darkness.

There have been many interpretations as to the meaning of Shelley’s work — is Frankenstein a commentary on the dangers of science or the importance of parenting? Mary Shelley had experienced a difficult miscarriage before writing this book, and would experience life-threatening marriages after its publication. Her husband/baby daddy, Percy Shelley, was not very sympathetic to her maternal woes, especially as he had several affairs (including an affair on his first wife with Mary, oops), leading scholars to believe that the purpose of Frankenstein was to highlight the importance of raising the children/monsters that you sire. There is a responsibility of parents to make sure that their children and fed, clothed, and not terrorizing villagers and setting their houses on fire.


The most famous of the movie adaptations is arguably the 1931 Boris Karloff movie, as well as it’s subsequent sequels, spin-offs, and parodies. While it is loosely adapted (Victor’s name is changed to Henry, the monster is given a criminal brain due to the incompetence of his assistant, the monster goes on a killing spree, including killing a little girl who’s throwing flowers into a lake or something, I don’t know, just a lot of killing and villagers storming the laboratory with pitchforks), it is what the general public thinks of when they think of Frankenstein — greenish skin, bolts on the neck, flattop haircut, lots of grunting. Also part of the pop culture — referring to the monster as Frankenstein. It’s wrong and you shouldn’t do it. I mean, you can do it, but you might be mocked and/or thrown into a lake.

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Module 9: Double Helix by Nancy Werlin

November 10th, 2012 — 12:40am

Double Helix by Nancy Werlin is a mystery novel for young adults. It was published in 2004.


Eli Samuels is a high school senior who is not going to college after graduation — instead, he has applied for a job at Wyatt Transgenics and is planning on working for a year before going to college. He has a girlfriend he adores, Viv, and a strained relationship with his father. His mother, Ava, was an economics professor at Harvard before becoming stricken with Huntington’s disease. Eli had found a letter from Dr. Wyatt, the head of Wyatt Transgenics, which inspired him to apply for the job.

In his job at Wyatt Transgenics, there a few things that strike him as odd — Dr. Wyatt takes a keen interest in him and invites him to his house to meet a young lady, Kayla Matheson. Transgenics is the act of transferring genes from one organism to the other, which this company is doing through proteins in rabbits milk. Or something, that part was confusing, but it’s Eli’s job to take care of the rabbits.

It turns out that Eli’s parents knew Dr. Wyatt because they went to him when they knew that Ava was a carrier for Huntington’s but they still wanted to have children. Dr. Wyatt harvested her eggs and performed gene therapy to be sure that Eli didn’t have Huntington’s. Unbeknownst to the Samuels, however, Dr. Wyatt kept the other eggs he harvested from Ava and had been performing genetic experiments on them; Eli finds out through seeing a picture of her mother as a teenager that one of those eggs grew up to be Kayla Matheson, and while Eli was bred specifically to be clear of Huntington’s, Kayla has not.

Eli and Kayla sneak into a basement office where Dr. Wyatt had been performing tests on the children he’d made from Ava’s eggs (the experiments were nothing of the Dr. Mengele variety, just checking their growth and how they were developing thanks to the genetic enhancements they had as zygotes). They steal all of his files and Dr. Wyatt mysteriously vanishes after Eli and Kayla call the FBI; the epilogue reveals that the company is now called General Transgenics and Eli is enrolling in school to become a bioethicist to insure that no one else can perform genetic experiments on eggs.


I did not particularly enjoy this book. I found the mystery aspects to be weak. The foreshadowing in the beginning is not a shadow as much as a fore-boulder that rolls through the town, smashing everything in its path. There is nothing subtle in the set-up. Eli was also a particularly unsympathetic character to the point that I wanted to stop reading the book before I was halfway finished. This is not one I’d recommend to my students, unless they were particularly interested in biology and genetics.


In this mesmerizing novel, Werlin (The Killer’s Cousin) adapts the medical mystery genre to explore the bewildering, complex issues surrounding experimental gene therapy. Narrator Eli Samuels, about to graduate from high school, has fired off an e-mail to Quincy Wyatt, a world-famous scientist and head of a genetics research corporation-stunningly, Wyatt summons Eli and offers him a job. Eli is thrilled, but the news horrifies his father, who, without explanation, asks Eli to turn it down (Eli takes it anyway). Eli’s father’s silence on the subject of Wyatt has many precedents within Eli’s home. Eli’s mother is rapidly deteriorating from Huntington’s disease, a hereditary illness. Eli has not told his girlfriend, Viv, about his mother nor even introduced Viv to his father. Eli has talents he hides, but somehow Wyatt knows of them and even takes pride in them. Meanwhile Eli knows that his father conceals other information-and that Wyatt has somehow been pivotal to his family. The characterizations feel somewhat incomplete, but the plot moves at a tantalizing clip, with secrets revealed in tiny increments, and hints and clues neatly planted. Werlin distills the scientific element to a manageable level, enough for readers to follow Eli as he ponders Wyatt’s work and his mother’s illness. As the author tackles bioethical issues, the story’s climax appeals to reason and love for humanity without resorting to easy answers. Brisk, intelligent and suspenseful all the way.
Publisher’s Weekly

Eighteen-year-old Eli Samuels, whose once-vibrant mother is losing her long battle with the ravages of Huntington’s disease, is hired at the Wyatt Transgenics Lab. Eli’s father is dead set against the job because of a secret he harbors concerning the lab’s owner, Dr. Quincy Wyatt, and Eli’s mother. Shortly after starting work, the teen meets Kayla Matheson, a beautiful girl who eerily reminds him of a photo of his mother when she was young. Slowly, Eli uncovers one layer after another of the shocking truth about Dr. Wyatt’s genetic-engineering experiments and their connection to his parents, Kayla, and himself. With the support of his longtime girlfriend and soul mate, he confronts Dr. Wyatt in a taut climax to the story. Werlin clearly and dramatically raises fundamental bioethical issues for teens to ponder. She also creates a riveting story with sharply etched characters and complex relationships that will stick with readers long after the book is closed. An essential purchase for YA collections.
School Library Journal


This book would be a good book for a book talk, perhaps with other science fiction/medical books (Frankenstein or Unwind come to mind) or cross-curricular to introduce a unit on genes in a biology class. It could lead to great discussion about medical ethics and whether parents should be able to decide what genes their children have.


DOUBLE HELIX (Book). (2004). Publishers Weekly, 251(7), 173.

Forman, J. (2004). Double Helix: A Novel (Book). School Library Journal, 50(3), 222.

Werlin, N. (2004). Double helix. New York, NY: Dial Books.

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Module 8: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

November 4th, 2012 — 11:12am

Unwind by Neal Shusterman is a science fiction book published in 2007. It takes place in a future America where a civil war has been fought over abortion and a compromise has been made — all pregnancies will lead in a child, but parents have the option to have undesirable children “unwound” between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. To be unwound meant that they would be harvested and their body parts would be used as organ donations and put in other people; because 100% of the children are being used, they’re still alive, so it’s technically not an abortion. The book follows a group of teenagers who are scheduled to be unwound but have run away and are attempting to survive.


Connor’s parents have signed the unwind papers because he is a rebellious teenager; Risa is from a state home orphanage and is being unwound due to a surplus of children and not enough money to support them; Lev is being unwound as a tithe, a sacrifice from his religious family to serve the society with organ donation.

Connor runs away before he is taken to a harvest camp, but in doing so, he causes Risa’s bus to crash and takes Lev as a hostage to prevent being shot by the Juvey-cop, so the three of them are thrust together. Connor also shoots the juvey-cop with his own tranquilizer gun, so Connor is even more on the run. Lev is initially resistant to the escape, as he has been conditioned to believe that it is his duty to be unwound. They escape to the next town and attempt to get on a school bus to pretend to be regular teenagers and not raise suspicion; however, as they’re getting on the bus, Connor is distracted by a baby who is being storked — part of the unwinding laws has given the society “storking,” which is legal abandonment by mothers who do not want to raise their children and would have gotten an abortion. The lack of abortion has not created unwanted babies, and as long as mothers aren’t caught, they can legally leave their baby on the doorstep of a house, which makes the baby the homeowners’ responsibility. Connor notices the baby, as he shares with Risa and Lev, because years before his family was storked, but rather than raise the baby, his parents re-storked it to a neighbor. Two weeks later, they were storked again, but to their horror, they realized it was the same baby; their neighbors have been passing the baby around from doorstep to doorstep for two weeks, and the baby is now sickly and dies when Connor’s parents take it to the hospital. Connor has unconsciously gone to the baby and picked it up as the owner of the house opens the door. Risa, Connor, and Lev now have a baby to care for.

When they get to the school, they hide in the bathroom. Unbeknownst to Connor and Risa, Lev slips out and tells the secretary of the school that two unwinds have taken him hostage. While Lev is in the office, he calls his parents and his pastor, Pastor Dan, answers the phone. Pastor Dan tells him that he’s kept his name out of the papers so Lev can get a new life — this goes against everything Lev has been taught to think about unwinding and tithes. He had grown up thinking that this was God’s plan, but now to hear that his pastor is telling him that unwinding is wrong, he doesn’t know what to think or do. Lev pulls the fire alarm to create havoc and help Connor and Risa escape the juvey-cops and to escape himself. A kind teacher helps them by directing them to a woman who is helping unwinds. There are a group of kids she’s hiding in her basement, including a big bully type named Roland.

Sonia, the woman who’s hiding them, keeps them until a man who drives an ice cream truck shows up to take them to their next destination. The teacher, Hannah, comes back to take the baby from Risa — she knows they won’t get far with a baby and she promises Risa and Connor that she’ll care for it. The kids are taken to their next holding area, a warehouse next to an airport.

Meanwhile, Lev has joined forces with a kid named Cyrus, who calls himself CyFi and nicknames Lev “Fry”, for small fry. Cyrus and Lev are on their way to Joplin for reasons Cyrus won’t reveal to Lev. On their way, Cyrus suddenly changes his demeanor and personality, until he steals something and freaks out. He reveals to Lev that 1/8th of his brain has been replaced by a brain from an unwind and that part of his brain sometimes takes over and makes him do terrible things. He’s on his way to Joplin to find out what it is the unwind wants him to do there and to see if he can understand him better. Cyrus teaches Lev some street smarts along the way, as Lev has been sheltered his entire life.

When they get to Joplin, Cyrus’s brain directs them to the unwind’s former house, where the unwind’s parents are very confused and scared. Cyrus starts digging in their backyard, revealing all of the things that the unwound kid stole before he was unwound. Lev escapes after he screams at the unwind’s parents to tell Cyrus (who is now being controlled by the unwind’s brain) that they forgive him.

Risa and Connor, as well as the other kids that are in hiding, have been packed into crates and taken by plane to a place called The Graveyard — it’s literally an airplane graveyard in the deserts of Arizona that a former Air Force admiral has taken over and is using as a refuge for unwinds. They’re sad to see that Roland survived the trip, as he has become more and more of a bully and influential with the other kids. Risa understands what Roland is doing and convinces Connor that he needs to not rise to Roland’s challenge — the story of Connor’s escape from the juvey-cops has become legend, and the unwinds are all telling the story of the “Akron AWOL”, who they don’t know is Connor. Roland indeed tries to challenge Connor when he corners Risa in the bathroom and attempts to rape her — Connor interrupts but remains calm, telling Roland that the two of them broke up. Connor later tells Risa that he barely managed to control his anger, and they realize that they have feelings for each other. Lev has also made it to the Graveyard, but his personality is almost unrecognizable to Risa and Connor — he’s angry and rebellious, nothing like the gentle tithe they knew.

The kids in the camp, however, are becoming more and more unsettled — Roland has been getting them against the Admiral, and they rebel, destroying things and trying to attack him. The Admiral, who was in the hospital wing with Risa, has a heart attack. Roland, Connor, and Risa fly the helicopter to take the Admiral to the hospital to try to save the Admiral. While they’re there, Roland turns in Connor, Risa, and himself; however, he barters with the cops for his life by turning in the kids at the Graveyard.

The cops raid the Graveyard and take all of the kids to a harvest camp. Risa’s musical talents grant her amnesty from immediate unwinding; the head of the camp has made a band of the talented kids so that they can play music on the roof of the unwinding facility so calm the kids. Roland is unwound, and a description is given in the book, and it’s horrifying. Just saying.

Connor is set to be unwound, and Risa recognizes him. Lev has joined with other kids to become a clapper, people who turn themselves into bombs by having explosive chemicals put in their bloodstreams that detonate when they clap. They plan to detonate the harvesting facility, but when Lev finds out that Connor is going to be unwound, he moves up the detonation time to save Connor.

Just as Connor is being taken into the harvesting facility, the two other kids that are clappers with Lev detonate themselves and the harvesting facility is destroyed. Lev intended to clap as well, but at the last minute changes his mind, determined to pull out unwound youth from the wreckage and save Connor. Connor, Lev, and Risa are all taken to the hospital — Connor’s injuries have made him the recipient of unwound parts, including, to Connor’s horror, and arm from Roland. The nurse at the hospital has given him the ID of a guard from the facility that had been killed, to keep Connor from being harvested himself. Risa, having been on the roof with the band when it collapsed, is now paralyzed from the waist down and is refusing treatment, which saves her from being unwound. Lev’s blood is still full of chemicals, and because he is the only one who did not clap, has become a sort of folk hero and media darling, as he chose to save people rather than destroy them.

The novel ends with a party at the Admiral’s house, celebrating the birthday of his son, who he and his wife unwittingly had unwound. All the people who received parts from his son attend, bringing him entirely there. Connor and Risa go back to the Graveyard, carrying on the Admiral’s work as he had refused a heart from an unwound and is now too weak to go back. They also reveal, however, that they will be seeking to destroy other harvesting facilities, so that unwinding will end completely.

Time for a sequel!


This book was amazing. The argument about abortion is very topical in today’s political climate. The writing and the narration, which switched between several points of view, kept it fresh and interesting — it was nice to get different perspectives to explain different parts of the society, like the clappers and the storking. The story was amazing and well executed; at no point did they have a new concept that wasn’t fleshed out and well explained.

I was reading this during the school week, and I had the book on my desk; when my students saw it, they all went craaaazy about wanting to talk with me about it. They all loved the book and were excited to discuss it. As soon as I finished it, I put the sequel on request at the library.


Following in the footsteps of Jonathan Swift, Shusterman uncorks a Modest Proposal of his own to solve a Pro-Life/Pro-Choice dilemma. Set in a future in which abortions are outlawed but parents have the option of signing over their 13- to 17-year-olds to be used as organ donors, the tale focuses on 16-year-old Connor, who falls in with other prospective Unwinds and finds a temporary refuge (thanks to a clandestine organization with its own peculiar agenda) before being captured and sent to Happy Jack Harvest Camp. Though laced with intrigue, betrayals, and narrow squeaks, the story is propelled less by the plot (which is largely a series of long set pieces) than by an ingeniously developed cast and premise. But even readers who gravitate more to plot-driven fiction will find this present-tense page-turner thrilling, though it’s guaranteed to leave some feeling decidedly queasy—despite the (improbable) happy ending.
Booklist 2007

What keeps “Unwind” moving are the creative and shocking details of Shusterman’s kid-mining dystopia. First, there are the Orwellian linguistic tricks. People who have been unwound are not “dead” — they are “in a divided state.” Then there are the rules and rituals. Before being unwound, Lev is honored with a lavish “tithing party,” which bears a strong resemblance to a bar mitzvah. The most terrifying scene is devoted to the unwinding itself. The author’s decision to describe the process is a questionable one — a book’s great unknown can leave the strongest impression on a reader — but he executes as precisely as the surgeons who perform the unwinding.

Ultimately, though, the power of the novel lies in what it doesn’t do: come down explicitly on one side or the other. After all, there are benefits to unwinding — children with fatal diseases can be saved by perfect transplants. And if the people of Jesusland can come to understand their countrymen in the United States of Canada — or vice versa — aren’t we all better off?
New York Times 2008


This book is begging to be used in a book talk for high school students. Begging.


Peters, J. (2007, October 15). Unwind by neal shusterman. Booklist. Retrieved from https://www.booklistonline.com/ProductInfo.aspx?pid=2120692&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

Shusterman, N. (2007). Unwind. New York, NY: Simon And Schuster.

Vizzini, N. (2008, March 16). Young and in the way. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/16/books/review/Vizzini-t.html?_r=2&

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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.


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.

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