Portrayal of Human Experiences in ‘1984’, “Harrison Bergeron”, “The Unknown Citizen” and ‘Racism and the Australian Dream”
In our world today, we seem to be losing contact with our language, our understanding of literature is moribund. However, literature is crucial for our understanding of the world and ourselves and reading literature is vital in order for us as a society to function . Literature helps us to gain an understanding of oneself and human experiences because it allows us to expand our thinking about society and its mannerisms.
Storytelling is important because it allows us to see life from the perspective of another, this helps us to be more understanding about the world around us and allows us to connect to those around us. All literature helps us address human nature and conditions which affect us as individuals and as a collective. Literary texts such as ‘1984’ by George Orwell, “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Bonnegut Jr, “The Unknown Citizen” by W.H. Auden and ‘Racism and the Australian Dream” by Stan Grant all convey how literature conveys the paradoxical and perplexing behaviour of individuals and society that is part of human experience.
In “Harrison Bergeron’ by Kurt Vonnegut Jr, the human experience of individuality is explored through Vonnegut’s exploration of total equality. In “Harrison Bergeron’ Vonnegut proposes that total equality is not something to strive for because total equality can only be achieved by mutilating the trait of any individual who seems ‘remarkable’.
The short story is from the perspective of George Bergeron, who has to wear a ‘mental handicap radio’ which tortures him with loud noises in order to prevent him from being smarter than what is considered ‘average’ in order to create a uniform society.
Vonnegut portrays that complete and artificial equalisation is wrong and can be dangerous through the use of structure and language form. The second paragraph starts with the phrase “Some things about living still weren’t quite right” and the third paragraph starts with “It was tragic, all right”. These phrases make it clear to the reader that George Bergeron knows on some level that what the government is doing is wrong and that this equalizing of society is going against natural law.
“Harrison Bergeron’ is similar to the text ‘1984’ because both stories are set in a society where the government is in total control and both of these governments suppress the human rights and freedoms of their citizens. In 1984 the Party monitors everything through telescreens and any person who appears to not conform to the party’s ideals, such as Winston, is either tortured into conformity or vaporised. In ‘Harrison Bergeron’ the titular character is an extraordinary specimen who breaks free from jail to declare that he is superior to other people in society and that not everybody is equal. His act of rebellion against the government leads to his death at the hands of the “Handicapper General”
Kurt Vonnegut Jr wrote the text in 1961, it was a time when technology was rapidly progressing in American society. The ‘space race’ between the US and Russia was in full swing with Alan Sheperd making the first US space flight that very year. Vonnegut wrote ‘Harrison Bergeron’ to express his concern that with the constant competition and development of society,
In ‘The Unknown Citizen’ by W.H Auden, the collective experience of modern economies developing faceless bureaucracy.
W.H.Auden portrays the totalitarianism through the use of form, language and structure. The tone of the poem feels detached and very impersonal. The titular character is not given a name,just a number, a series of letters. There is no history or mention of loved ones. The marble monument appears to be written by the Bureau of Statistics and is just praising the citizen for not causing any trouble. “One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree, That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint” It is clear from these lines that the state is in total control and has a very deep-seated influence in this society.
As the reader progresses, the dry, emotionless content intensifies. This increasingly dull tone is reinforced by bland repetition of words such as He, That, For – all but 2 lines contain this single syllable treatment, rendering it almost robotic in its delivery.
The poem reflects the fact that a human being has been reduced to numbers and letters on a monument, that a citizen is now estranged from humanity.
The ‘Unknown Citizen’ is similar to ‘1984’ because both of these texts convey a ‘big brother’ perspective in their societies. In ‘The Unknown Citizen’ it is obvious from the very beginning that the Bureau of Statistics has an omnipresence in this society, monitoring its citizens as every part of the citizen’s man was analysed. The citizen’s occupation is listed along with the opinion of his employers on his work ethic. “He worked in a factory and never got fired, But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.” Activities such as buying the paper and his reactions to advertisements are monitored as well as how many times he visited the hospital and the outcome of his visit. “he bought a paper every day, And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way. Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.”
‘The Unknown Citizen’ is a poem that W.H. Auden wrote when he left England to move to the USA in 1939. It was the middle of World War 2, a time of fear and hatred.
Reading also provides a method of learning about cultures and beliefs other than our own. It allows us to understand and experience other systems of living. We get a view of the inside looking out, a personal view and insight into the minds and reasoning of someone else. We can learn, understand, and appreciate it.
Stan Grant’s speech called ‘Racism and the Australian Dream’. His speech is about the human experience of being discriminated, of being persecuted and being prejudiced against. Abominably in our society today this is not an uncommon occurrence and happens daily.
Stan Grant’s speech was given shorty after Adam Goodes left AFL. Goodes revealed that he left the AFL indefinitely because of the abuse and booing of the crowd after he brought attention out a girl calling him a racial slur at one of his games. Grant stated that the way Adam Goodes felt was they way that every Indigenous Australian has felt, and that racism is at the heart of the ‘Australian Dream’. He wrote his speech to bring attention to the hardships and sufferings that Indigenous Australians are still facing today.
Stan Grant gave an extensive history of the mistreatment and annihilation of his ancestors, the Wiradjuri people. He used vivid and jolting language to make the audience confront the disgrace. “It reminds me that my people were killed on those plains. We were shot on those plains, diseases ravaged us on those plains.” “’Our rights were extinguished because we were not here according to British law, and when British people looked at us, they saw something subhuman.”
“Racism and the Australian Dream” is similar to ‘1984’ because both of these texts address the dehumanisation and abuse of a population. In ‘1984’ the residents of Oceania are restricted in every way. Their freedom of speech and freedom of thought is deleted with the constant elimination of words from the Newspeak from the vocabulary until society won’t even be left with words that the can use to express their thoughts and emotions. In ‘Racism and the Australian Dream’ Grant addresses how the Indigenous population were not considered people when Australia was constitutionalised, how their population was counted among the flora and fauna of Australia. Stan Grant talks about how the Indigenous population makes up 2% of Australia’s population but 25% of convicts are Indigenous Australians and how Indigenous kids are more likely to be imprisoned than to finish highschool. He talks about how the Australian national Anthem mocks this by saying that Australians should all rejoice because they are ‘free’.
All of these stories connect us to larger truths and ideas about society and collective human experiences. Engaging with literature allows us to understand ourselves and each other as literature is a reflection of humanity. Therefore it is essential that studying literature and sharing stories with others continues in order for us to discern our paradoxical behaviour and motivations through the themes about life and society that are expressed in literature.
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