Freedom Literature

The next in our guest blog series on freedom. Enjoy!

After Freedom RulesFreedom Music & Freedom Art we now come to Part 4 which I’m calling Freedom Literature.

Once again this is a vast subject and I can only take a brief look at it. Hopefully it may prompt a few thoughts in your mind. I’m going to take just a couple of examples and, as in previous pieces, ask some questions. Let me start with: how is freedom portrayed in literature? And what sort of freedom? There are plenty of biographies about people who have fought for causes to free others or for their own freedom. There are those written about bringing new freedoms to situations or to countries where they don’t have them. I’m going to take just a couple of examples from novels to illustrate how a couple of writers have treated the subject. You may have others you feel illustrate the point as well.

Let’s begin with Indian-born George Orwell (1903-50, real name Eric Arthur Blair) and his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948). In the land of Oceania The Party rules and Winston Smith imagines how he could rebel against Big Brother. Once again the loss of basic freedoms is apparent from very early on as we see how the society works. The rebel, the main protagonist, in this book and in Bradbury’s below, is a heroic figure battling the discriminatory dictatorship ruling his world. As soon as we read of his situation we want to side with him and see him victorious. We want to see the lost freedoms he is fighting for restored.

Next, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953) written just 8 years after the end of WW2; a film followed in 1966 and it’s well worth catching if you can. Like Orwell’s book Bradbury’s has been described as a dystopian novel and, at times, has also been banned or considered “intellectually dangerous to the public” (Wikipedia). It looks at American society in the future where books have been banned; the freedom to read taken away and, in this case, replaced by the government’s TV broadcasts. However not only are the books banned but they are burned by the authorities. The people employed to do the burning are called “firemen”. (Throughout history the burning of books has been undertaken by various regimes or groups within a society as a means of control.) The aim is simply to stop the spread of ideas contrary to what those in power want. In Bradbury’s novel the burning campaign is quite extensive. Even so, the firemen are always looking for more books to destroy and for people who may not be obeying the rules. Given the risk of being discovered some individuals, who oppose the government policy, come up with a plan: they will preserve the content of the books by memorising them. They have to move out of the city to somewhere in the countryside to avoid detection. One person, in the group, memorises one book, another person another book and so on. Although the book is gone, the knowledge of that book will not be lost to future generations.

The freedom to write whatever you want is probably epitomised by the content & style of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939). Most readers of more than just a few pages, without a commentary or notes on it, will struggle to remember what they’ve read and what might it mean.

Nonsense verse has a number of famous examples. For just a couple, think of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, (begins ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves, Did gyre and gimble in the wabe) and Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat,(begins, The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea, In a beautiful pea green boat, They took some honey, and plenty of money, Wrapped up in a five pound note). The Mayor of Scuttleton by Mary Mapes Dodge and Oh Freddled Gruntbuggly by Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz (Douglas Adams) add to the list of meaningless poems. So freedom may produce nonsense; interestingly forms like this do, however, use a regular form of poetry to do it – hmm..).

The minute we move into the controversial areas of politics, religion & sex in literature we come to that, now familiar, territory of whether I should consider if I am causing someone, who reads my writing, to be offended. Should I care? Or should they just “Get over it”? Does the society I live in have the right to legislate about what I can write? Do we need censorship & specific rules to govern the publishing process? If we don’t have them what happens?

Among the many books which speak of freedom, you may be surprised to know that The Bible has these words, (in the book of Galatians): “..do not use your freedom as an opportunity to do wrong but through love serve one another.” Here the emphasis is very much on the responsibility that comes with having freedom. This has to be a vital element in the smooth functioning of any society. If individuals don’t take responsibility for the consequences of their actions it will be a very selfish society that is created – a sort of “I want whatever I want – no matter what you think.” Not good.

I wonder what you or I would do if we had to take charge of the publishing industry. What would we allow into print? And what not? It’s tough isn’t it. If we allow anything, we could easily be accused of letting corrupting influences take hold; if we restrict, we may be accused of being too negative or censorial in our attitude. Should publishers be accountable to the society they release material into? Are there books you would not like your children to read? Why?

There are so many questions because it’s such a difficult area. Perhaps you’d like to make a comment on a blog. If the blogger doesn’t like it, it won’t show or will be taken down if already posted. Is even that restricting your freedom? The further you look into it the harder it gets.

Should revealing details of the operations of the military and security services, in print, be banned? Just this last week, it was reported in the UK press, that the Ministry of Defence tried to block a book written about British forces in Afghanistan. The author said, of those responsible for the situation: “To paraphrase George Orwell, if liberty means anything at all, it means the freedom to tell people things they don’t want to hear….” Is the author right?

As with the other areas, Freedom Literature seems to raise more questions than it answers. Surely somewhere along the line there must be some form of literature control otherwise anyone could publish whatever they want about whatever subject or person they choose? And then we run into the scenario in the poem at the end of my previous Freedom Art blog that morality ceases to exist in this area. Can that be right?

Interestingly, this day (30th May) in history has not been kind to writers:

1. In 1593, English dramatist, Christopher Marlowe died.
2. In 1744, English poet, Alexander Pope died.
3. In 1788, French writer, François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire died.
4. In 1960, Russian poet & novelist, Boris Pasternak died.

Finally, in 1431, although not a writer as such, Joan of Arc died. (She wrote a number of letters to various groups & people.) She is most famously remembered for the bringing of freedom to the city of Orleans which had been under siege by the English, 1428-9. (This eventually led to the restoration of the monarchy under King Charles VII.)

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4 responses to this post.

  1. I forgot to post on last weeks post..will go back.

    Again this illustrates freedom of speech and those who don’t have it and others who speak up for those who are oppressed by their regimes, and it also shows how basic freedoms for some are hard to come by.

    You could say these authors had an ideaolgy, but as you say they raise more questions than answers, for me I think we know the theory but that much harder to put into practice in any real way because of the realities of day to day wherever you might be.

    Book burning to me is a crime, and cannot even fathom that it happens in this day and age still, and those that support it you have to wonder at their motives, as to military machinations why not all over the world men and women are being deployed to to give us freedoms, they die for it, and all it does it generate money for the countries are the biggest consumers of natural resources such as oil.

    Also now seeking to remove words from books like the N word from Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn, both great novels, although Twaine was well known to abhor slavery, but should we remove the words to sanitise history, we know we shouldn’t use words like that but people have to know the reason why words like that should not be part of the dialogue in it’s worst connotation (again oppression of one particular group of people).

    No point in hiding behind political correctness, as it creates suspicion and also disables people from talking about whats happening around them a little offence is a good thing, how else can we have any dialogue about anything.

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  2. […] Rules, Freedom Music, Freedom Art & Freedom Literature we now come to Part 5 which I’m calling Freedom Internet. As you probably guessed I’ve been […]

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  3. […] hope you’ve seen that each of the areas we have looked at (music, art, literature, internet) has its own problems with regard to freedom. However there will always be those who […]

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  4. […] the context of joined words, by Lewis Carroll in 1871 (Alice Through the Looking Glass). Remember Freedom Literature, when I quoted, from Jabberwocky, these words “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves, Did gyre and […]

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