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a memoir-style recollection of the author Anna Funder’s encounters with people
affected by the years of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), or when Germany
was divided into east and west. It marries the author’s personal growth and
development during her period of research with the personal histories of those
who acted as both perpetrator and victim of the regime’s atrocities. The result
is an emotional and deeply human perspective of this heavily-documented period
of history which delves into the lasting yet often invisible marks the GDR left
on those it touched.
1984 is on
the surface the dystopian narrative of the struggles and ultimate downfall of a
man named Winston who lives in the depressingly grungy and hopeless world of
Big Brother and The Party. In a more profound sense, however, it is author
George Orwell’s warning concerning the possibilities inherent in the
development of totalitarianism and how these might come to damage the human
Character analysis and comparison
When comparing the characters presented in
these two texts, it is important to remember that Orwell’s are fictional and
Funder’s are her retellings of real people’s stories. Take care to avoid
discussing Funder’s characters as constructions, and focus instead on how she has chosen to portray them.
Discuss the different ways in which the authors of Stasiland and Nineteen
Eighty-Four explore the intricacies of state power and knowledge.
When significant knowledge in any form is
gained, it follows that it can be used in any way an individual or group sees
fit. Stasiland and Nineteen Eighty-Four both show that the same
piece of information can be used in drastically different ways to suit the
purpose of that information’s owner. In both texts, we can observe this in many
areas: mass surveillance for security or espionage purposes, recordkeeping to
retain the truth or warp it, and medical or physiological advancements used to
solve humanity’s problems or deliberately harm and deform people. Such examples
force us to consider two well-known maxims, and to decide between the bliss of
ignorance and the power of knowledge.
Sample body paragraph
In theory, mass surveillance has many
benefits; it could be used to prevent criminal activity such as large-scale
terrorist attacks and ensure the happiness and wellbeing of citizens. However,
it is almost never associated with anything positive. In George Orwell’s Nineteen
Eighty-Four, we are introduced to his hypothesis concerning what it would
be like if it were to become developed to its full extent. The concept can be
divided into three levels; firstly there is the obvious, external activities
that we observe in both texts, which include mail screening, a military or
gendarme presence in the streets and a network of informers. Secondly there is
the introduction of the state into the home, which is achieved by The Party mainly
through the telescreen, the most prominent and sinister instrument of mass
surveillance in Oceania which gives total access to individual behaviour in the
privacy of the home. While Winston seems to have found a loophole in this area
by being ‘able to remain outside the range of the telescreen’, The Party
carries its mass surveillance to the truest sense of the expression by
extending it to a seemingly impossible third level, which introduces the state
into ‘the few cubic centimetres inside [the] skull’. Interestingly, while the
Thought Police cannot truly ‘see’ what is inside someone’s head, they can still
control it; as long as people think
that someone can see their thoughts, they will censor them themselves. This
shows that the beauty of mass surveillance is that it does not actually have to
be universal or all-encompassing to be successful. This is why the Stasi did
not need to go to the lengths of The Party to achieve a similar result; the
people merely need to believe that it
is so on the basis of some evidence, and through this they can be controlled.
Ultimately, mass surveillance can never be anything but destructive for this
reason; it could put a complete halt to all terrorist plots and it would still
act against the people by insidiously forcing them to censor their own thoughts
out of fear.
Both Stasiland and Nineteen
Eighty-Four show absolutely that knowledge is a fundamental and intrinsic
part of power, as it cannot exist without knowledge. While it is true that
knowledge can be held without exercising it in some external display of power,
it always shapes the person who holds it in ways both subtle and direct.
Knowledge can therefore be seen as similar to Pandora’s Box; once it exists in
a mind, it alters it, and the actions it prompts depend only on the desires and
will of that mind.
In order to properly understand either of
these texts, you’ll need to put on your history hat. Both of them are very
firmly rooted in historical events, and to get a good grasp on what they really
mean, you need to understand these events. You should research communism and
socialism fairly extensively as well as the GDR, but you don’t need to sit for
hours and write a book on the subject. All you need to do is trawl through
Wikipedia for half an hour, or as long as it takes to get a sense of the
subject. They key is to not ignore things that you don’t understand; if you see
terms like ‘Eastern Bloc’ or ‘Marxism’ or ‘The Iron Curtain’ and you’ve got no
idea what they are, research them! Even
terms that you might believe you’re familiar with, like ‘Communism’ could also
use a refresher.
The other main point is that 1984 particularly
deals very heavily in ideological and philosophical argument. Orwell
constructed the events of the plot as one giant hypothetical situation, so try
and think to yourself – could that really happen? Is that really possible, or
is this whole thing just plain silly? Remember that this text is much, much
more than a simple narrative, and address it as such
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