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Manipulations of Memory Used by Orwell and Williams

By anth512 Mar 31, 2011 1359 Words
Manipulations of memory used by Orwell and Williams
The steady development of “Big Brother” as the all-controlling entity in George Orwell’s 1984 is the premise for the role truth plays throughout the novel. Truth is functioned against society for the benefit of the government. Similarly, Tennessee Williams creates a uniquely different environment for his characters in The Glass Menagerie while maintaining the same function of truth as a source of distortion and control. Collectively, the themes of dehumanization in 1984 and distortion of memory in The Glass Menagerie relate to one another regarding the function of truth in each work to substantiate a sense of authority and deception. Oppression in 1984 as a direct instrument of dehumanization is made quite evident within the text. The inner-party uses several brainwashing and torture tactics to rid society of past memories and experiences. The effects these tactics have upon truth are substantial in their regard. The intent of “Big Brother” is to reduce human beings understanding to a more basic, easily manipulated and empty slate where the agendas of the inner-party can be executed with ease. We see the extent to which understanding of the past affects one’s attitude about the present when Winston states, “And when memory failed and written records were falsified—when that happened, the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted, because there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested” (Orwell 93). This quote is said following Winston’s frustrating conversation with the old man about life prior to the Revolution. Winston is coming to terms that the party has deliberately set out to weaken people’s memories in order to render them unable to challenge what the Party claims about the present. If no one remembers life before the Revolution, then no one can say that the Party has failed humanity by forcing people to live in conditions of scarcity, filth, ignorance, and famine. Rather, the party uses rewritten history books and falsified records to prove its good deeds. This proves the theory that truth is dependent of memory and without memory truth is subject to manipulation and in this case dehumanization. Orwell not only suggests this theory through the events observed in Winston but also through Winston’s own surrender to “Big Brother” and its definition of truth at the end of the novel. After the inner-party’s relentless attempt to purge Winston of any prohibited thoughts, they achieve their goal of dehumanizing him. The narrator brings closure to the novel as he describes Winston’s “new” character. “He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother”, said the narrator (Orwell 297). Winston’s curiosity towards “Big Brother” was prevailing during the earlier parts of the novel. This curiosity soon transforms into animosity urging him to join a rebel group to overthrow “Big Brother”. Despite these negative feelings, the power of dehumanization works against what years of curiosity have said to Winston to be true. His memory of “Big Brother” as being counterproductive to society is no longer existent because his present situation says that “Big Brother” should be loved unconditionally. The fact that Winston’s conversion was successful should focus the reader on truth and memory and how they are comparable. The dehumanization of memory stands as a principle theme in 1984 and it is through this theme that Orwell functions truth to reveal the desire of deception. Tennessee Williams takes a corresponding approach to truth and its function in his play, The Glass Menagerie. The characters, Amanda, Tom, and Laura all face the similar dilemma of a falsified perception of reality. The mother, Amanda, is the most blatant character in denial. Her situation as a single mother raising two children has subliminally deceived what she sees as factual. In a conversation with Laura Amanda is quoted “Why you're not crippled, you just have a little defect — hardly noticeable, even! When people have some slight disadvantage like that, they cultivate other things to make up for it — develop charm — and vivacity — and — charm” (Orwell 18)! Seemingly everyone is quite aware that Laura is crippled however, Amanda will not come to terms with this occurrence. She deals with this unfortunate fact by lying to herself that her daughter is not crippled thus proving there to be little veracity to any memories she has. Throughout the play Amanda is full of deceptions. Amanda changes her style of speech to a southern accent when Laura’s gentleman caller arrives. Amanda states ““light food an’ light clothes are what warm weather calls fo”” (Orwell 63). The reader is told that Amanda was born in the south. In spite of that, this is the first time she speaks with a southern accent. Amanda explains her newly discovered accent as her “rejuvenated” personality but the reader can assume this is her attempt to mislead the people around her to believe she is something that she is not further revealing her deceitful memory. Consequently, Tom and Laura are trapped by this illusion Amanda creates. Laura is highly dependent upon her mother therefore she is influenced by Amanda’s views. Tom carries the burden of providing for his family and cannot leave from this world of lies and untruths. Amanda’s present state has distorted her memory and essentially distorted her sense of self and reality. Her ability to do this has given her control of what she can feel and therefore how she can live her life despite not being able to escape from the poverty stricken life. Despite having contrasting influences behind their respected themes, 1984 and The Glass Menagerie share a common purpose to gain control over reality through the manipulation of truth. In 1984 Winston observed and experienced the tactics that “Big Brother” used to give the public a misleading view of truth. Through dehumanization, “Big Brother” achieved full authority over its citizens by erasing all memories of life before the revolution. With no memories to go by society was at the mercy of “Big Brother” and what the inner-party considered acceptable. People could not judge right from wrong because “Big Brother” was all they ever knew. The Glass Menagerie is comparable is the sense that Amanda needed to gain control over her life which seemed to be spinning into the ground. She was helpless and this feeling led her to shape her own reality in order to regain this sense of control. People are typically fearful of things they cannot conquer. Amanda could not achieve freedom from her environment therefore she created her own path through a deceptive memory. Her children were trapped in this life of lies just as Winston was in 1984. In both works we see a desire of power to control their respected situations. 1984 sought for the control of society whereas The Glass Menagerie sought for the control of the Wingfield future. The power of memory is existential to the human ability of perceiving the present. George Orwell’s 1984 and Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie manipulate memory in such a similar fashion that their functions of truth are nearly identical concerning their purpose. In 1984 truth is functioned against society for the sake of “Big Brother” and the inner-parties agenda through dehumanization. Similarly, Orwell uses Amanda’s character in The Glass Menagerie to demonstrate the importance of memory and how one’s own deception of truth can distort their reality dramatically. Both pieces of work complement one another and solidify the case that memory or a deceitful memory for that matter is vulnerable to exploitation and the effects can be substantial in regard to one’s sense of actuality.

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