Monday, December 27, 2004

Books of influence: part two 

I had some pictures to post here today, but my ISP has problems - no ftp, so no pictures. (No email either. Grrr….) So here instead is another look back at books from childhood:

I must have been about 13 or 14 when I first read Orwell’s 1984. It was like no other book I'd ever read – instead of the hero triumphing over the bad guys, here, the bad guys drained every last drop of hesitant, would-be heroism from the good guy, leaving him empty, hollow, a nobody. It wasn't just that the bad guys had beaten the good guy – in the end they'd totally extinguished all the good in him – all of anything in him in fact. It was a chilling idea for someone who had grown up with an innate faith in the ultimate goodness of human beings; I revolted against Winston's betrayal of Julia, hoping for a reprieve, refusing to accept the awful possibility that he had truly given in.

That wasn't the only shock – 1984 was the first book I'd read that introduced the idea of sexual love. Only the idea, mind; the passages were hardly explicit, but to a 13 year old with a cloistered upbringing, even the reference to two people taking their clothes off and sharing a bed put this book into forbidden territory, and I hid it from my parents.

One scene more than any other sticks in my mind – the closing pages, and the very last lines in the book:
“But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”
Many's the time I've come close to throwing in the towel over some dream, been poised on a knife-edge, about to give up, convincing myself that the plan was impossible anyway, it wasn't for me, it was beyond my capabilities, I never really wanted to do it anyway and I certainly didn't want to any longer. But in some last corner of my mind that hadn’t yet quite given up, I would see myself as Winston Smith, recognise my own self-brainwashing, know that to abandon my commitment would be to become the person that so offended my childhood sense of integrity.

I've even been there with this blog a couple of times, even planned to use that very quote to mark the finality of my submission to the oppressive power of circumstance, my betrayal of my own dreams; but although on those dark days I'd already passed beyond the stage of submission, I could never quite make it as far as loving the oppressor. Orwell's words would rise in my mind, serving as a taunt to prevent me descending quite that far.

Doubtless they’ll serve that purpose again some time.

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