Following reviews of a handful of Indie works of literature, I like to take a break to read the masterpieces: widely known, highly acclaimed, immensely read novels. Discovering great works of literature following my vast hard science education gives me the appreciation deserved for these great writers. It’s gratifying to read these books without concern of an upcoming high school book report for last-minute scramble for Cliff Notes because I was too busy learning the lyrics of Billy Joel albums. So much as been written, filmed, and discussed about the two novels below I’m going with an analysis rather than a traditional book review. What would I say, “This is the best book I’ve ever read?” This level of literature deserves more than my readers’ opinion. These books don’t ask the reader his/her opinion of the story, they challenge the reader to see beyond the words on the page, to look inside the soul and outside to the world, broadening our horizons and enhancing the human experience.
The first of this dynamic duo (please, not in the Batman TV show way) I read was “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding. The story is about a group of preteen/young teenage boys stranded on a Pacific Island, and how quickly the rules of civilization break down without the boundaries of parental/adult supervision. The message of this book is visceral, real, and disturbing. Out of the kids, it’s easy to find yourself (even girls) along with other childhood acquaintances. I found myself sticking out of the crowd, glasses and all, as Piggy. As a chubby smart kid helpless without glasses since third grade, I felt the isolation Golding superbly described in this character. In my mind, Ralph was the smart, popular jock, capable but unconfident, and Jack was the bully, pushing the other kids to his will because he could. The younger kids followed Jack because he was stronger in their mind. As children, we’ve all known and felt the sting of “kid justice” and carry the memories forever. We have to survive our childhoods to become adults, and Golding used these difficult experiences to carry the greater message of applying it to society as a whole. The end of the book, what I remember most, is Jack’s reaction when he saw the adult man by breaking down crying. One question (amongst many) for society: “How old does one have to be to know the difference between right and wrong?” Though many answers can apply, none of them are simple, and such controversies continue as we see in the 24/7 news of today.
“1984” the ultra-brilliant, sophisticated story of the totalitarian state by George Orwell complies more levels of messages than I can begin to address in this article. The political issues alone can spark prolonged debate. What stand out the most to me are the relationships between Winston/Julia, and Winston/O’Brien. Winston’s love affair with Julia arises from our human tendency to be social creatures; we need each other, regardless of any laws or societal structure that may be in place. People cannot live by control alone, the spontaneity of imagination carries us beyond the known world, enabling us to adapt, learn, and advance the world as we know it, for better or worse. Human love on the physical or emotional level is more complex than the meeting of two people, and breaks down as quickly as it happens by the best efforts of a controlled society. O’Brien recognizes curiosity and imagination, and destroys both by pushing the human experience to extremes to create the “finished product” of an adult with love and purpose for only Big Brother, thus continuing the status quo of no change, no original thinking, and no inter-personal love.
These two masterpieces show us dysfunctional societies: one that breaks down without the maturity to contain boundaries of civility, and the other that breaks down by use of extreme boundaries that seek and destroy independent human thought. As we new authors read the polished prose of these great writers, we learn more about our own place in society and more appreciation for the structure and freedoms we have.