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Literary Devices in 20th Century Literature
Literary Devices in 20th Century Literature
After WWII and during the beginning of the Cold War, much was thought and much was said about government and about the contemporary culture in general. This is reflected in many of the literary works of the time, and even before that time, as many of the Marxist and socialist principles were well known. Some of the works include symbolism, some include metaphors, some include satire, and some have other methods. Regardless on which device is used, the messages that these books come across with are usually very clear and there is not really any grey area to what the books are all about. They all share similar themes and ideas, most of which are undoubtedly satirical in their form, and all of which include at least some element of the author’s life incorporated into the work. The bottom line of the books usually attacks totalitarian government and government control, but not necessarily just Communist governments; some books aim at capitalism as well.
The novel Animal Farm, by George Orwell, does not have any hidden meaning or symbolism; the book was written in a time of war and was made to make a political statement. Everything that is written in the book was done with a purpose, all of which reflects Orwell’s personal life influences and ideas. Orwell claimed that Animal Farm was the first book he wrote in which he knew exactly what he was doing, joining political and artistic purpose into one literary novel (Brunsdale 122). Some of the story was based on Orwell’s life experiences and exposure, while other parts were based on the political message he was attempting to make. Although it attacks totalitarian governments of the time, this is not to say that Orwell was exactly a fan of the British government either, as he saw the possibly of government corruption and totalitarianism arising in any form of government, not only Nazis and Communists. For this reason, he wrote to attack not only Communism, but also capitalism; but in this case, with Animal Farm, most of the symbols and literary devices lean towards attacking Communism. Most of the characters and events directly correspond with a Cold War figure or event.
Within the book, each character or group of characters has a specific political significance in this allegory portraying Communist Russia. The humans are the capitalists, the animals are the Communists, the wild animals who could not be tamed are the peasants, the pigs are the Bolsheviks, the Rebellion is the October Revolution, the neighboring farmers represent the Western armies who attempted to fight against the Soviets, and the list goes on (Meyers 249). The political structure of the Soviet Union is matched perfectly to the personalities and names of characters that he chose. Major represents Lenin, who sparked the Communist Revolution in the Soviet Union. Snowball is a pig who threw a military coup to remove the other ruling pig, Napoleon, who represents Stalin. Napoleon represents Trotsky, a member of the Socialist revolution who was always accused of vast anti-Stalin plots (Brunsdale 128). This goes for all the characters in the book, all the way from the donkeys to the horses to the humans and everyone in between. The structure of the farm and the environment Orwell created with the neighboring farms also has political meaning.
The patriotic speech that is constantly sung at the farm is called the “Beasts of England.” In the book this song was taught to the animals by Major, who signifies Karl Marx, both of whom sparked a revolution (Brunsdale 128). A portion of the song goes:
Beasts of England, beasts of Ireland,
Beasts of every land and clime,
Hearken to my joyful tidings
Of the golden future time.
Soon or late the day is coming,
Tyrant Man shall be o’erthrown,
And the fruitful fields of England
Shall be trod by Beasts alone (Orwell 32)
That is only a portion of the song, but it continues in the same manner, speaking of the “golden future” and the end of the rule of men. Orwell created this speak to resemble the Communist anthem “l’Internationale” (Brunsdale 129). The lyrics of the Communist anthem are very similar in meaning to the animal anthem. For both of the anthems, the underlying idea is to rise up and win the struggle. The first stanza of “l’Internationale” goes:
Arise, the damned of the earth,
Arise, prisoners of hunger,
For reason thunders in its crater,
It is the last eruption!
Let us discard the past,
Army of slaves, arise, arise!
The world is changing at the base,
We who have been nothing, let's be everything!
It is the final struggle
Let us gather, and tomorrow
Will be mankind!
One can clearly see the similarities within the two songs, both displaying the very simple ideals that a revolution represented. History shows what happened in the case of the Soviet Union when the revolution was presented to the people, and Orwell demonstrates his interpretation of the reaction to the revolution. “The singing of this song threw the animals into the wildest excitement. Almost before Major had reached the end, they had begun singing it for themselves. Even the stupidest among them had already picked up the tune…” (Orwell 33). In the book, the “stupid” animals are lead by Boxer, who is known to say things like “I will work harder” and “Napoleon is always right.” With that said, the animals all respected Boxer for his work ethic and loyalty, both of which are staples to the Marx economic philosophy. Later in the book it is revealed this philosophy does not work though, because not all the animals felt this admiration and respect, and the greed that is a part of human nature will not allow for an “equal” playing field to work for a long period of time.
Another part of Orwell’s literary devices he uses is the deliberate use of certain quotes; Orwell takes quotes from other parts of history and other literary devices to incorporate into his political satire. The most famous of the quotes is-“ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS” (Orwell 133). In this single commandment given by the leader Napoleon, Orwell combined Thomas Jefferson’s concept in the Declaration of Independence with “all men are created equal” and Eve’s command to the Serpent in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, “render me more equal, and perhaps, /A thing not undesirable, sometime / Superior” (Meyers 248). Similarly, the ideas of Karl Marx are parodied throughout the book, which can be seen in the quotes of Squealer. When Squealer says “Four legs good, two legs bad” (Orwell 50), it is an example of Marxist reasoning: “A bird’s wing, comrades…is an organ of propulsion and not of manipulation. It should therefore be regarded as a leg” (Meyers 248). Finally, the very end of the book resembles Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844: “(The Worker) in his human functions no longer feels himself to be anything but an animal. What is animal becomes human and what is human becomes animal” (Meyers 248). This is strikingly similar to the last paragraph of the book: “Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which” (Orwell 139). Again, Animal Farm is very deliberate in its use of metaphors, and there are numerous examples of this in almost every part of the book. Because of this somewhat bashing of the Soviet Union, British publishers did not want this type of literature against their so called allies. Likewise, American publishers did not accept it, but this time for a different reason; they thought it was simply a children’s book about animals (Brunsdale 121).
Another one of George Orwell’s books, 1984, has a similar message to it. Orwell creates a world that is supposedly a “perfect utopia”, but exposes what lies beneath the perfect society. 1984 was his last book, published on June 6, 1949, and sums up his lifelong thoughts on politics and is an inspired piece of anti-Communism. It was a huge success because it was intended to be a warning rather than a prediction, a story that most people would agree is not unbelievable (Lewis 112), especially for the readers of the time. Looking back on it, modern readers can relate to the message that is made, because the events that occurred have been lasting, not temporary.
Like Animal Farm, 1984 attacks not only Stalin and Hitler, but totalitarianism in general. As far as the literary devices that Orwell uses to make his point, he looked to other authors “dystopias” and observed their strengths and weaknesses (Brunsdale 149). To make this novel powerful, Orwell chose to incorporate contemporary events to create an atmosphere of documentary reality, and the use of familiar materials rather than imaginary speculation of the future (Meyers 281). In this way, the reader would be much more likely to believe that the scenario was possible. An example of this would be in the beginning of the book, when Winston watches a newsreel showing the sinking of a refugee ship. This was inspired by and event on September 27, 1940, when a ship carrying ninety children and their nine escorts was torpedoed and sunk by the Germans six hundred miles off the Atlantic coast.
1984 is so loaded with symbols that nearly every aspect of the book has some sort of symbol involved with it. From the pictures and posters of Big Brother, which symbolize the propaganda of both Hitler and Stalin, to Julia, who symbolizes many things, including hope and freedom and at the same time failure, symbolism is very difficult to avoid. The list goes on and on, but the underlying tone that the book creates is that is very dark, particularly at the end of the book, where all the hope is lost. This may have something to do with Orwell himself who when he was writing the book nearly was not able to finish it because of health reasons, not to mention the passing of his wife during a minor operation (Lewis 102). He was in a very depressive and uncomfortable state, which may have contributed to the tone of his last novel.
Similar to 1984, Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, is based on a seemingly perfect utopian society. The title comes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in a quote from Act V, scene 1 (Watts 72). This is not just a random quote chosen by Huxley because it sounds good; but the ironic thing of it all is that the world that Huxley creates is nearer to a nightmare than to heaven on hearth. This is also ironic on another level, because Orwell thought that the future that Huxley created turned the future into a sort of “Riviera Resort,” lacking the moral dimensions that make 1984 what it is, and that is disturbing to Orwell. This is true on some levels, because in fact this society that Huxley creates works fairly well, but that does not mean that the human aspects are saved in the process. Some of these human aspects are controlled by various technologies. The drug “soma”, which is supposed to alleviate tensions prevalent to man, is used to give the population instant gratification, but it certainly does not cancel these tensions (Watts 79). This drug in itself is a symbol government control of the population, by means of science and technology.
In most utopian fictions, the author must achieve esthetic success by giving the reader a sense of reality, but the reality is transformed or altered in some way (Watts 73). This happens only once in Brave New World and that is the consciously distorted representation of certain current tendencies. This reminds the reader of the realization of future possibilities that are only stirring in the present (Watts 73). Brave New World is not only a warning of what may happen in the future, but also a reflection of what Huxley felt was going on in the era that the book was written. This is most obvious is the Ford symbol that is used repeatedly throughout the novel. In Ford the assembly line, made famous by Henry Ford in the early 1900s, workers did the same task over and over again. Similarly, in this utopian world created by Huxley, each individuals place on the assembly line, which is also his obsession, is built in from birth (Meckier 19). The beginning of the book reveals this process in which the unborn citizens are created, ironically on a conveyor belt that once carried Ford cars from start to finish. Here, the beings are created, not to be individuals, but to cheerfully belong to each other. This is shown in one of the more well known phrases from the book: “Everyone belongs to everyone else” (Watts 76). To go along with the Ford theme, Huxley decides to incorporate the word Ford, where normally the word Lord or God would appear. For example, “my Ford” instead of “my Lord”, or “in Ford we trust” instead of “in God we trust. This society even bases its years differently; instead of using BC or AD, it uses AF, or After Ford. This was very appropriate and reflective of the time the book was written, right after the Roaring 20s. By using Ford to replace religious words, Huxley warns that technology might replace religion. To go back to the drug “soma”, this drug can be interpreted as a sacrament to control society, not by true religion, but by technology and medicine.
There is one thing that influences the Huxley in this book, and that is his view of man. Huxley had a cherished view of man, but he felt that humans are hampered by limitations that are part of their own human nature (Watts 75). This might seem like a paradox, but nonetheless this is what is portrayed by Huxley throughout the novel. It would seem obvious that he would get his influences on utopia from the Cold War period. The problem of this is that this book was written way before that time, and the influences of Huxley were just his view of mankind. In this way it is different from the other books, but he was still making many of the same points as 1984, just a little bit earlier. Besides that, though, the literary devices such as satire, irony, symbolism, etc. are the same as the other novels that were directly influenced by WWII and the Cold War. With that said, although the bottom line of state control is the same, the ways the state controls the people is a bit different. In 1984, Orwell creates a government that controls its people by fear, torture, death, secret police, etc. Huxley, on the other hand, creates a world where the government innovations make people content and happy, not knowing anything else, and use technological developments to do so (Meckier 175). The reason for this may be that at the time the novel was written, Huxley was only exposed to Marxist thought, while when 1984 was written, Orwell was influenced by Marx, WWII, and the beginning of the Cold War. This Marx influence in Brave New World, is not surprisingly evident in the character of Bernard Marx. Bernard Marx is isolated by his stature and appearance, and is not really part of society, seemingly just what Karl Marx was fighting against. Karl Marx, of course, is one of the pioneers of a utopian society in which everyone is equal. The satire here comes when Bernard Marx and eleven others proceed to finish a hymn: “The group was now complete, the solidarity circle perfect and without flaw… Twelve of them ready to be made one, waiting to come together, to be fused, to lose their twelve separate identities in a larger being” (Meckier 34). Of course, this feeling is ruined by someone shouting from the top of the stairs, and the hymn exercise falls apart. Undoubtedly, Huxley chooses the Marx character to be the one that is involved in the unity exercise that falls apart. The attempt by Barnard Marx to become a part of a whole fails, possibly reflecting the opinion of Huxley that a perfect, together society is simply not possible.
The next author, Ray Bradbury wrote two books considered to be “Cold War Novels,” one of which is called Fahrenheit 451. This book focuses on the social issues that faced America during the Cold War years, especially concerning government oppression of the individual (Reid 54). With that said, this is not the only aspect that Bradbury used in the novel. Although its basic mechanics of thought control derive from 1984, it is different in that instead of focusing mainly on the government, it focuses more on the superficiality of m
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