This essay seeks to highlight that the interests, concerns and experiences of the writers of the twentieth century, are still current to us today.
I believe in evolution of thought, of literature, and of truth. I also believe in the evolution of art and music as forms of communication but that is for another essay.
The question what is truth is a difficult one. In George Orwell’s 1984, truth was whatever Big Brother would have you believe.
There may be facts, and these will be established by looking at all perspectives. This is why policemen take a number of statements; from the victim, from the suspect, and various witness statements including experts who have been educated and can shed light on specific aspects.In a court of law, How can we state that we will tell the whole truth, “so help me God”. At best, we can promise to tell the truth as we know it. As far as we believe, we will tell it as it is, but our opinion of what is true may be swayed by others perspectives.
What is true to one, may not be true to another. I am reminded by an old story
There are four men standing in front of an elephant. They have been blind from birth and have never before seen an elephant. Each man is asked to describe the animal using only his hands as his ‘eyes’.
Man #1 touches the elephant’s trunk and says, “The elephant is this rough, bumpy feeling animal that is long and skinny, and quite flexible.”
Man #2 touches the elephant’s tusk and says, “An elephant has a very smooth and hard exterior, with a slight curve to its shell.”
Man #3 touches its body and says, “Wow, the elephant is a very large animal. Its skin has a leathery texture, and its shape is rather rotund.”
The last man touches the elephant’s ear and says, “Ah, the elephant is a very flat and flimsy animal. It appears to flap and move around quite a lot, which is probably its way of escaping danger.” (healing leaf)
This highlights the different perspectives of truth. If we put all four men’s stories together, then we get a more accurate picture than only looking at one perspective.
In Heart of Darkness, we see the truth from various perspectives as well. From Kurtz, we find that the Congo and its inhabitants are people to be exploited. The natives of the Congo look upon Kurtz as a king… a god even, where the facts are, he is a mortal man. Kurtz’s fiancee would view him as a hero, faithful to the end, whereas The truth is, he was not. The one who held the truth was Marlow, but I believe also that his perspective may have been biased.
In the poets of WWI and All Quiet on the Western Front we have many perspectives of war. For the most part, one thing is in agreement, war is destructive. War has no value except to harness a hatred, fuel bias and discrimination, and feed the greed of the leaders. The monster of war is hungry, and it feeds on the blood of man. With Churchill imploring young men to war, supported by the poem The Soldier by Rupert Brooke, many thousands of men and boys lost their lives to feed the war machine who’s hunger would not be sated
Another perspective was found of war in WWI with soldiers, keeping diaries, in which they wrote thoughts and poems. Some were poets before the war, some found their inspiration in the trenches From these we see that war was not so gallant. The battlefield proved that it was the cause of the destruction of man. Men lost lives, limbs, minds and mates where the poppies grew.
Literature is a living evolving entity. It evolves with people. In the 19th Century, I believe one was more concerned with the niceties of life. The smell of roses, of love, care and kindness. World War I certainly changed the perception of the world for all. People were no longer content, they were restless. With the war brought a new wave of expression. Men were not able to “Buck up” or “keep a stiff upper lip”. The lip trembled with rage until it could not keep closed and shouted out it’s anger. No longer was unpleasantness glossed over, hidden in the shadows, but people began to admit that things weren’t so ‘rosy’.
With the wave of emotion came writers who were able to express what people were feeling.. The Modernist writers began to write what they thought, and what they felt. Virginia Woolf wrote in a style which included internalised dialogue, talking to herself, evidenced in Mark on the Wall and Monday or Tuesday. Fiction writers were writing what is considered to be thinly veiled autobiographies; Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce for example. The written media allowed writers to vocalise their indignation at the leaders of society and indeed society in general. Virginia Woolf was able to champion the causes of women while EM Forster explored relationships in his works. He sought to express and explain love to society through his writing. After the persecution of Oscar Wilde, Forster hid his own sexuality, but in writing The Other Boat he was essentially asking “What is wrong with the love I feel?”
George Orwell. Photograph Public Domain
Orwell spoke of the ruination of the English language through misuse and abuse. Orwell spoke of the evolution of language in Politics and the English Language. He saw that people had become lazy in its use and so it was to the detriment of the language that it was changing. He blamed politics and the hierarchy for this movement away from the natural meaning of words. He saw the use of ‘dying metaphors, verbal false limbs, pretentious diction and meaningless words as decaying the quality of the English language. Orwell implored us to say what we mean.
I think that Orwell pleaded in vain. Politicians and leaders in the community still use these literary and verbal techniques as a way to exclude the average person in society. In essence, what the politicians are saying by using these techniques is “Oh, its too difficult for you to understand. Leave it to us. Trust us, we know what we are talking about.” Those who are not complacent or who don’t blindly accept what is being told, now have at our fingertips. the opportunity to do our own research, to become educated, and to question the status quo. We now all have access to improve our minds and have been given the ability to think critically and make opinions that are more informed than ever before.
The earths population is a transient one. Since WWII we have seen people travelling to escape the tyranny of bad government, to escape war, poverty and extreme hardship in order to find a better life for themselves and their children. With the movement of people, comes the movement of culture and language. The world has become a global community. The integration of cultures within a society has an influence on the language. Dry-Foot Bwoy by Louise Bennett being a perfect example. Her essay Jamaican Language explains how Jamaican language is thought to be a corruption of the English. She explains that if this is the case, then English is a corruption of Norman French, or Latin, or any other language that English has been derived from.
The English language and literature has evolved to incorporate and express thoughts, feelings, rich culture from around the world to become what it is today.At present, we can see that graphic novels have become an accepted literary form, whereas fifty years ago, these were seen as comic books for superheroes and children’s entertainment. We see the use of acronyms as part of our conversational English and written communication. We see emoticons as a means to express what we are feeling when words can not say enough.
What does the future hold? Science fiction writers have predicted that in future there will be no need for language; that we will be able to communicate by thought transference. Unless everyone has a graphic mind, that is one that can express images, we still have a need for words. As long as people have differing perspectives of truth, we will still need to express our own perspective. God pray that we do not become so reliant on Big Brother that ‘his’ truth is the only one that matters.
2+2 = Art is writers own
Healing Leaf,. ‘How Would You Describe An Elephant?’. N.p., 2011. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.