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Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Write Like The Masters" by William Cane (5) George Orwell, "1984"

In my continuing endeavor to learn more about what makes master writers masters, I've re-read 1984 by George Orwell, keeping in mind William Cane's discussion in Write Like the Masters.

First, let me say it now. 1984 is the most harrowing book I've ever read. Part of what makes it so harrowing is its plausibility. I so identified with Winston Smith that I felt his confusion and horror. I could very well see myself living in the insane world of Big Brother, Ingsoc, and doublespeak. So this supports Cane's discussion of Orwell's use of limited third person point of view being part of the power of this story.

Cane points out that Orwell uses penumbra, i.e., characterizing individuals through indirect and "more ambiguous suggestion" than through direct positive statements about individuals. In truth, penumbra pervades every character in the book. Smith (and the reader) can never be sure of whom to trust or believe.

According to Cane, Orwell uses a very simple plot. It is simple, but in a complex way. The complexity arises from the the subtext and gives the simple plot extra energy and meaning.

Cane says Orwell makes good use of repetition throughout the novel. The story constantly, in vaious ways, reiterates its themes--the ambiguity, the paradoxes of Oceanian society: War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, Ignorance Is Strength. What is so harrowing is that all of this is accomplished by making the past the present (or the present the past) in such a way that there is no past. This is accomplished by obliterating memory.

Cane stresses how Orwell makes the villain not only bad, but also good. Of course, what is good and bad has been turned upside down in Oceania. Who is the villain? It's Big Brother. It's your neighbor. It's your employer. It's your friend or family member. Perhaps it's even yourself, and what can be more harrowing than that?
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