When I was in high school I was directed to read a number of classic works of literature. I could see the value in this exercise but I never really got much out of them until I read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. The novel gave me an insight into the way things had developed on the world stage since the beginning of the modern era and it showed an extreme vision of what could have been.
The real value in it for me though was that it provided a disturbingly close, though hyperbolic it was, view of my life up to that point.
Just to qualify that claim:
I grew up in the United States.
I had the benefits of a decent education.
And, even though I grew up in the ghetto under financially difficult circumstances, I had enough to eat, I had access to entertainment a child would find fun, and I did not experience the worst violence possible.
Now, all that being the case, I lived in a very brutal, violent, hateful and inane situation. My father was a nice man with a sense of humor and more intellectual merit than he seemed to realize. He also had an abusive and violent mother. He left home at age 19 and immediately got into a relationship with a woman who was also mean, paraniod, megalomaniacal and extremely violent.
I grew up with a mother that seemed to see it as the utmost ethical imperative to scream at people, degrade them, embarras them and use whatever physical force to prove to people that they were far less than human. The violence was directed at me but also at nearly everyone else. It was totally indiscriminate. Anyone could be a target. Sometimes it was a store clerk. Sometimes it was a police officer, a teacher, a little child, the child’s parent, me, or even a city councilman.
She would usually restrain herself from doing anything that would get her arrested but there is a lot of violence that someone can get away with before authorities become involved.
What was worse than the brutality was the manic ideas she had. She never had depression. Only happy grandiose mania and bloodthirsty rage. While she was getting whatever she wanted she was exstatic. She would talk of grand plans of tearing the backyard apart and reworking the landscape all with the labor that she would scream out of me. Or the impractical plans to buy a restaurant and turn it into a bed and breakfast with no money, planning or staff. All these plans were feuled with her own sense of obscence self-importance. If anything went wrong to interfere with them my father was to blame and therefore deserved to be screamed at and threatened. I would gety fair share of blame as well. As we were all well aware… It was only because we were secretly trying to drive her crazy because we were evil, unethical, shiflesss monstrosities that deserved our fate.
The conspiracy theories that fell out of her mouth had no end. Her racist diatribes would flow from her as if it was second nature. Any hint of independent thought from me was met either with a derogatory laugh or a grave threat.
By the time I read Orwell’s famous novel I saw a perfect metaphor for my own existence. A broken, defeated man full of rage at the unnecessary state he had the unlucky fortune to live in. But Winston’s rage was not merely directed at the brutality of the regime. It wasn’t even directed at the survalence or the poverty inherent in the system. Above all the “impudence in their deliberate reversal of the facts” was what most enraged Winston. He finally could not take it and began a small personal rebellion.
I never got to engage in a rebellion. I didn’t want love from my mother. I didn’t want compassion or support or anything positive. I wanted something else. I didn’t want anything from her at all except for it to stop without even the slightest possibility of any of it ever happening again.
I, like Winston, wanted to know the true nature of what I lived in. Winston learned it. I, however, will never learn it. Winston does learn why his situation is the way it is but in doing so learns there is no escape. The brutality never ends. The intellectual perversion is never swept away by the plain, unbiased truth. I made a connection with the novel but this is a double edged blade. I also feel like in the end I’ll wind up in Winston’s position. Part of the madness with no escape.
Why is it impossible to escape? Why the built up rage with no outlet. Others have demonstrated honor, defiance and fortitude while faced with merciless and deadly horrors. I want freedom. Real freedom. Freedom from the violence and oppression but freedom from the lies and pretense. Freedom from it all.