Tag Archives: classics

Show vs. Book: 1984

19841984 on Broadway: We are Big Brother

by Samantha Holle

It was a humid, sweltering day in September, and the clocks were striking three. It was time for the Sunday matinee of 1984.

In case you evaded reading it in high school, 1984 is the story of Winston Smith, an average Joe living in a not-so-average world: after tremendous world-wide territorial battles, Earth has been split into three superstates that are perpetually at one another’s throats. Winston lives in Oceania (what used to be London) and works at a government agency called the Ministry of Truth. His job is to literally rewrite history: when a person has been “unpersoned” — erased from society for going against the government — it is Winston’s job to go back into the files of history and remove any mention of this person’s name. The goal is to keep up the idea that Big Brother, the entity which governs and controls everything in Oceania, is never wrong, is never defied, and always comes up victorious.

But when we meet Winston, he is growing tired of this life. He has seen proof in his work that people who were labeled “government enemies” were not where they were said to be nor were they doing the illegal acts for which they were vaporized. Winston hates Big Brother and the society that lives for war, destruction, and the beating down of the human spirit.

Then he meets Julia, a coworker who, on the outside, doesn’t seem to be Winston’s type: She is a diligent worker at the MiniTruth (as the Ministry of Truth is called in the new vernacular, Newspeak). She screams the loudest and with the most vigor during the Two Minutes Hate, a daily event in which everyone watches a televised murder of an enemy of the state by government officials. It comes as a complete surprise to Winston when Julia quietly reveals that she, too, hates Big Brother and wants to defy the government by feeling love and experiencing freedom.

But there are no secrets in Oceania. Television screens can watch you as you watch them. Neighbors listen at keyholes for any sounds of dissent. People throw one another to the wolves to save themselves. And Winston and Julia soon find themselves biting off far more than they can chew when they get involved in the underground resistance movement called The Brotherhood. Their relationship — and their secret opinions of Big Brother — become more than an act of rebellion. Soon they have to decide which is preferable: a difficult life of defiance and secrecy, or an easy life of love for only Big Brother.

The novel has recently gained popularity, and it’s not hard to see why: Phrases like “fake news” and “alternative facts” pervade our conversations. People communicate via screen more frequently than they communicate in person, and the concept of handheld devices monitoring one’s actions and locations is now a definitive reality. There is little room for intelligent conversation between people of differing opinions, as the ability to argue without screaming has almost entirely disappeared. In these times, it seems every day has a little bit of a Two-Minutes Hate.

It is a dark thought: are we living in the world Orwell imagined almost 70 years ago?

That is the question that Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan pose to their audiences through their stage adaptation of the novel. The two brought Orwell’s 1948 publication to life  in 2013 in the UK; the play was brought to the Big Apple for previews this past May. Just a little over a month later, it began to make serious headlines because people began to fall ill as they watched, especially during the extreme torture scenes at the end.

As an English teacher who has read the novel twice, I went into the play fully aware of this. How bad could it be if I already know that what I’m going to see is disturbing?

The answer to that question: no number of articles about the play or my understanding of the book could’ve prepared me for it. I left the theater uneasy, nauseous, and dizzy. It wasn’t the strobe lights and sound effects, or the fake blood, or the electrocution scene, or the revelation about what really happens when a dissenter is brought into room 101. It was the way some things hit close to home: the bastardization of the English language in order to reduce meaning (and thus kill meaningful conversation), the discomfort between people of varying opinions, the confusion of trying to balance what one feels is right and what everyone else is doing. Yes, 1984 takes place in a dystopian future, but there are present day elements. The lines between the fictional content and our reality blur.

Content and nausea aside, what made this play stand out from any I’d seen previously was the incorporation of media. The production utilizes overhead projectors and hand-held video cameras to capture action that the audience cannot see from their seats: Winston’s diary entries are projected onto a screen above his head as he writes; Julia and Winston’s secret trysts are recorded off stage in a secret room and played on this same screen. This allows the audience to feel like Big Brother in that we have access to people’s privacy, but it also creates sympathy for those being watched.

Ultimately, the novel comes to life in disturbing vividness on Broadway. There is no better indicator of this play’s construction of confusion than the opening scene: Winston is writing in his diary, questioning if the year is actually 1984 or if that’s just what he’s been told. He is interrupted by the sudden appearance of a group who are discussing “the book” and that the act of writing it is, in and of itself, a small act of rebellion. The group explains that without the book, we’d have no way of knowing how bad the past really was and how to avoid these mistakes in the future. It is, at first, unclear about whether or not they are talking about Winston’s diary. Later, the audience comes to understand that this group was the resistance, and they were discussing the book of Emmanuel Goldstein, public enemy number one of Big Brother and leader of the Brotherhood.

However, is it such a stretch to imagine that they might have been talking about Orwell’s book?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Movie vs. Book, Reviews

Review: Lord of the Flies

lordofthefliesbookcoverRecap: The age-old story of a group of people abandoned and trapped on a deserted island basically originated in the 1954 classic novel The Lord of the Flies. A plane crashes on an island, leaving just a group of young boys to fend for themselves without grownups. Their first goal is to be saved. But as time passes, their new goal is to survive, and it proves more difficult than they imagined. After just one day, one of the boys goes missing and is never seen or heard from again. Ralph declares himself the “chief” of the group from the start, using a conch shell as his loudspeaker to call meetings to order and to organize plans, rules and work groups. Piggy, though annoying, becomes his much more logical and intelligent sidekick — or thorn in his side as the case may be. And then there’s Jack, who initially competes with Piggy for Ralph’s attention and then later competes with Ralph for his title.

As time goes on, tensions rise. Ralph is trying to convince the group to bathe every day, go to the bathroom in designated areas and most importantly keep a fire going at the top of the mountain in the hopes a ship will someday see smoke and save the boys. Jack directs his focus in another way: hunting. He becomes obsessed with hunting for pigs. Savagery becomes a source of power for Jack, and most of the other boys follow suite.

AnalysisLord of the Flies is one of the best novels of all time for a reason and remains just as powerful a read for an adult as it is for the teenagers who typically read the book in school. The struggle between order and savagery proves to be the innate struggle in any society, including our own no matter how “modern” we may think we are. That also makes the book particularly relevant now in the United States, a country divided much like the boys on the island are.

Perhaps some of the best parts of the novel come from its symbolism and foreshadowing. As time passes, the conch pales in the sun, which is a clear sign of the conch and the order it represents losing power. The boys are also constantly talking about the desire to hunt pigs, while one of the characters’ names is Piggy. If that’s not a sign of what’s going to happen to him, I don’t know what is. The “flies” in the title represent death, like the flies that typically surround dead bodies. The many “light” references included in the book are obvious signs of the “heaven” that comes after death and/or the heaven that the island appears to be initially, but so clearly is not. The list goes on and on.

There is so much to unpack, interpret and analyze. There’s so much that can be compared to other great classic novels (my personal favorite is the line the “green lights of nausea,” which immediately reminded me of the “green light” in The Great Gatsby). Ultimately The Lord of the Flies remains a great novel because of the one simple and terrifyingly haunting truth it proves: there is darkness in all of us, and when things are as bad as bad gets, we can’t stop it from coming out.

MVP: Piggy. Even Piggy “breaks bad” to an extent, but it’s much less severe than most of the other boys. His intelligence could have saved the boys very early, but his lack of confidence stops him from doing so. His story is a sad, pathetic tragedy, but a fascinating one.

Get The Lord of the Flies now in paperback for $11.48. 

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review: The End of the Age of Innocence

9780312176778-us-300It wasn’t easy being a woman at the turn of the century, being a woman who couldn’t vote, being a woman through World War I, being a woman through the Great Depression. But that’s what Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton did. Not only did she survive, she thrived, writing fascinating literature and doing great journalism. She also made charitable work her main focus through the Great War.

I wouldn’t have known any of this had I not picked up the book The End of the Age of InnocenceEnd of Age is a non-fiction book that details the life of author Edith Wharton — who wrote The Age of Innocence —  during the years of World War I, a particularly exhausting time in her life. As an avid fan of The Age of Innocence, I felt it was only fair that I give the author of my favorite book the attention I felt she deserved, and that’s exactly what happened when I read this book.

Included in it is every detail about her personal and professional life during those years — who she flirted with, who she traveled with, how she wrote about the war for newspapers, and how she fought to keep as many charities running as possible to help those in need during the war. The book also explains how the war years influenced her writing during and afterwards.

The book starts off simply enough, explaining what it’s about to lay out. But the execution does not live up to the introduction. The book is so detailed, it’s almost too detailed. It seemed to name virtually every single person Wharton came into contact with over the years, and the intricate web of people, their roles and accompanying organizations was impossible to maneuver. While the book promised to explain how Wharton’s experienced influenced her writing, it did so in just a few pages at the very end. That was the section that most intrigued me. I looked forward to reading some literary criticism that would dissect the ways in which WWI crept into The Age of Innocence and House of Mirth. Again, the book does that, but without very much detail. The beginning of the book was so dense and boring, I’m not sure it was worth it for the short section at the end to which I had most looked forward. The book is, of course, highly regarded for its in-depth look into Wharton’s life, but it was a little much for my taste.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Show vs. Book: Ragtime

America at the start of the 20th century was a crazy time that involved a fair amount of ragtime music, vaudeville and racism — lots and lots of racism. All that is portrayed in the story of Ragtime, which follows the collision of an upper class family from New Rochelle, a family of immigrants and a family of lower class African-Americans.

Side stories along the way detail the atrocities and everyday happenings the nation faced at the time, including the murder trial of Evelyn Nesbitt’s husband, the richness and oddities of JP Morgan and Henry Ford and the up-and-coming magic of Harry Houdini.

But the story truly takes off when Mother — the mother of the upper class family — finds an African American baby in her yard and takes it in. Soon, the child’s mother, Sarah, follows and stays in Mother’s home with her family until she can handle taking care of her baby. While staying with the family, Sarah’s ex-lover, Coalhouse, visits everyday in an attempt to win Sarah back and spend time with his son. Coalhouse is a well-known African-American, ragtime pianist whose car is then trashed and vandalized by the city’s firefighters. It’s enough for Coalhouse to completely erupt and damage the lives and relationships around him until his world spirals and crumbles, leaving all other nearby players to pick up the pieces.

There are too many characters and subplots in the book to detail here, but suffice to say the musical does a wonderful job of zeroing in on the most important and exciting parts of the story and bringing them to life. The novel’s beginning is bogged down by the story of Evelyn Nesbitt, which becomes irrelevant by the end. The novel also includes a lot of details about Morgan, Ford and Houdini. While interesting and helpful in setting the tone of the time, they also don’t do much to move the story along. The musical smartly cuts a lot of this and instead focuses on the Coalhouse storyline, which is the most heartbreaking and also the most socially-conscious.

Because of the visual aspect of the show — the sets, the silhouettes — the story’s symbolism also becomes much more apparent than in the book. The musical, for instance, makes a clear distinction between the immigrants, the upper class white people and the lower class black people. The silhouettes, which are only mentioned in the book as an art form, are used throughout the show and acknowledge the show’s theme: that color and race should not be the most important thing about a person.

Ragtime, the novel, was enjoyable, until I saw the show and saw how much more focused it was in its storytelling — and the incredible music didn’t hurt either.

Get Ragtime in paperback for $10.

Or on your Kindle for $11.99.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movie vs. Book, Reviews

Reese Witherspoon to Voice ‘Mockingbird’ Sequel Audiobook

As if the last year wasn’t busy enough for Academy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon (Wild, Gone Girl), she’s taking on another big…well…undertaking.

According to Entertainment Weekly, she’s voicing the audiobook version of Harper Lee’s new novel Go Set a Watchman, the long-awaited follow-up to her classic To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel will follow a grown-up Scout. And Reese Witherspoon couldn’t be more honored to deliver the story through her voice, as Andrea Towers explains:

Witherspoon told USA Today that, “as a Southerner, it is an honor and a privilege to give voice to the Southern characters who inspired by childhood love of reading, Scout and Atticus Finch.” The Oscar-winning star added that she is “eager for readers to be transported to a pivotal time in American history in the manner that only Lee’s gorgeous prose can deliver.”

Go Set a Watchman is due to be released in print and audiobook on July 14th.

Leave a comment

Filed under News Articles

Book Cover Revealed for Harper Lee’s New Book

It wasn’t too long ago that word got out that the bestselling author of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, would be releasing a “new” book. “New” is relative as Harper Lee actually wrote Go Set a Watchman years ago. But with its expected arrival on July 14th, HarperCollins has now released the book jacket for the novel, printed exclusively by People

The cover is rather similar to the cover of To Kill a Mockingbird, which is a prequel to Lee’s latest venture.

With HarperCollins already planning to print 2 million copies of Harper Lee’s latest novel, the publishing company is expecting Go Set a Watchman to be a huge hit.

2 Comments

Filed under Author News, News Articles

Harper Lee To Release a New Book: Why You Should Care

It’s not everyday that book news goes viral, or becomes worthy enough for the Associated Press to send out a breaking news alert.

But it happened today with the announcement that Pulitzer-prize winning author Harper Lee, who wrote the classic To Kill a Mockingbird is releasing a new novel — her first since Mockingbird was published 55 years ago.

According to The Guardianher new release, Go Set a Watchman, will tell the story of a grown-up Scout, the main character from Mockingbird. Apparently Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman before Mockingbird, but never released it. In fact, she didn’t even think the manuscript still existed after all these years, but her lawyer Tonja Carter allegedly found the manuscript three months ago. Plans to publish it were kept under wraps until today.

So why should we care? First of all, Harper Lee has kept a largely private life since the release and success of To Kill a Mockingbird, which won her the Pulitzer Prize. She has popped up in the news several times in recent years, but that was mostly for lawsuits regarding copyright issues. So the fact that she’s come out of hiding for so long and releasing a new novel to boot is huge.

Not to mention it’s somewhat of a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. How often do we wonder what’s happened to our favorite characters after we’ve finished reading a novel? (I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve hoped for Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska to get it on after I finished reading The Age of Innocence.) Sequels and the continuation of a story is a luxury, of which we often take advantage (hello, Hunger Games and Harry Potter).

It’s also worth noting that Harper Lee is 88, mostly deaf and mostly blind. Though she wrote the novel when she was younger, it is still quite a achievement to go through the process of publishing a book at that age and that state of health.

To Kill a Mockingbird was such a powerful book. It combines humor and warmth while also dealing with serious topics like race and rape — issues that 55 years later are still prevalent in our society. We can only hope that Lee’s latest endeavor will shed light on the important issues of a society that’s always striving for better future.

2 Comments

Filed under Author News, News Articles