This week I read 1984, The Giver, and Lord of the Flies. At one point or another in my youth I read the spark notes or skimmed each of these, and was fully aware of the implications and genres of dystopian societies written in literature, but I have to say there is nothing like actually reading a really good book to truly draw you in and make you feel its cause. I was so moved by these stories I wanted to share my thoughts with you. (I should also say I have never seen any cinematic reproductions of these books, and I decided not to include pictures so you can visualize the scenes for yourself, too.)
There were passages in each of these that took my breath away. (Spoilers!!)
First, the heartbreaking star crossed romance of Julia and Winston…
“The room was darkening. He turned over towards the light and lay gazing into the glass paperweight. The inexhaustibly interesting thing was not the fragment of coral but the interior of the glass itself. There was such a depth of it, and yet it was almost transparent as air. It was as thought the surface of the glass had been the arch of the sky, enclosing a tiny world with its atmosphere complete. He had the feeling that he could get inside it, … The paperweight was the room he was in, and the coral was Julia’s life and his own, fixed in a sort of eternity and the heart of the crystal,” George Orwell, 1984
The paperweight comes to mean a world apart from the horror of socialism he faces every day. It is a fragment of the past, and Winston’s hopes for the present and future; a safe bubble. It is no wonder that when he and Julia are discovered the paperweight is smashed into pieces. I gasped and almost cried, (then tried to find a paper weight with coral in it on the internet. Ha!) It was very similar to the conch shell breaking in Lord of the flies, although the symbolism differed.
I was most moved in Lord of the Flies by the description of Simon’s battered body being taken out to sea. Simon was my favorite character, and no wonder, for he symbolized goodness.
“The edge of the lagoon became a streak of phosphorescence which advanced minutely, as the great wave of the tide flowed. The clear water mirrored the clear sky and the angular bright constellations… Along the shoreward edge of the shallows the advancing clearness was full of strange, moonbeam-bodied creatures with fiery eyes… The tide swelled in over the rain-pitted sand and smoothed everything over with a layer of silver. Now it touched the first of the stains that seeped from the broken body and the creatures made a moving patch of light as they gathered at the edge. The water rose farther and dressed Simon’s coarse hair with brightness. The line of his cheek silvered and the turn of his shoulder became sculptured marble. The strange attendant creatures, with their fiery eyes and trailing vapors, busied themselves around his head. The body lifted a fraction of an inch from the sand and a bubble of air escaped from the mouth with a wet plop. Then it turned gently in the water.
Somewhere over the darkened curve of the world the sun and moon were pulling, and the film of water on the earth planet was held, bulging slightly on one side while the solid cord turned. The great wave of the tide moved farther along the island and the water lifted. Softly surrounded by a frindge of inquisitive bright creatures, itself a silver shape beneath the steadfast constellations, Simon’s dead body moved out toward the open sea,” ~William Golding, Lord of the Flies
I mean. Come on. Isn’t that beautiful!? No spark notes or wikipedia page could have done that scene justice. That sweet little boy, helpful and epileptic, had my heart full of tears. And with his death comes the great shuddered realization that the boys on the island are now taken over to their beastly savage desires. Literal light takes the last glimpse of light away from the island, and the Lord of the Flies will now rule in darkness. It was so powerful.
***And finally, The Giver. I have to say that I was disheartened by the use of implausibility in this book. It is soft science fiction, and therefore distracted me in my suspension of disbelief. (I wish I’d been enthralled by Jonas suddenly seeing color, but instead I was wracking my brain about how that could be possible). But once I accepted the rules of the world written within the book, I was able to enjoy it more. ( I later found that this was also a complaint of critics when it came out). I even enjoyed the ambiguous end, where we simultaneously question whether Jonas survived, and accept his sacrifice as the best possible outcome for the community.
“For the first time, he heard something that he knew to be music. He heard people singing. Behind him, across vast distances of space and time, from the place he had left, he thought he heard music too. But perhaps, it was only an echo,” ~Lois Lowry, The Giver
But what I loved most of all was Jonas’ learning how to love, in the example of his relationship with baby Gabriel. The first symbolic thing for me was the use of Gabriel’s name. The family is not supposed to know it, or even supposed to care for him outside of the nurturing center, but they use it. This is the first sign of love: knowing. Gabriel cries at night, a sign of feelings the community will not be able to handle, but Jonas is able to soothe him with the memories and color of beautiful things he’s been given. This is the second sign of love: sharing. And then finally, when Gabriel is going to be killed because he is not able to stop crying at night, Jonas takes him with him at the risk of his own life. The third sign: Giving. Through self sacrifice Jonas shows he is able to love Gabriel completely.
“‘Things could change, Gabe,’ Jonas went on. “Things could be different. I don’t know how, but there must be some way for things to be different. There could be colors. And grandparents,” he added, staring through the dimness toward the ceiling of his sleepingroom. “And everybody would have the memories.”
‘You know the memories,’ he whispered, turning toward the crib.
Garbriel’s breathing was even and deep. Jonas liked having him there, though he felt guilty about the secret. Each night he gave memories to Gabriel: memories of boat rides and picnics in the sun; memories of soft rainfall against windowpanes; memories of dancing barefoot on a damp lawn.
The newchild stirred slightly in his sleep. Jonas looked over at him.
‘There could be love,’ Jonas whispered.” ~Lowis Lowry, The Giver
And then as Jonas and Gabriel are fighting snow and starvation to escape the community…
“[Jonas] wept because he was afraid now that he could not save Gabriel. He no longer cared about himself” ~Lois Lowry, The Giver
I also love how the last scene’s music is Christmas singing. (We know this because of the Christmas tree lights he sees in the window, and that it is December.) Jonas has saved a child from death (Like Jesus saved from Herod) and found deliverance on Christmas Day. (Or death and deliverance for the community depending on how you want to view the end.) But either way, there are Christlike messages in there, and perhaps the echos are the resurrection of memories for the community he’s left behind. Or the singing is of angels (like Gabriel’s namesake?) I would love to pick Lois Lowry’s brain about that!
Thanks for reading my thoughts. I would love to hear anyone else’s views or thoughts of these books, differing or otherwise, or to just hear someone else drool over their beauty!