Power - In Literature #
Power comes from many sources, such as muscle, money, the barrel of a gun or from institutions, however in political terms, language, is the most powerful tool available to participants of a society. Articulate people have more influence than those who lack a good vocabulary.
As Kingman said in 1988,
“A democratic society needs people who have the linguistic abilities which enable them to discuss, evaluate, and make sense of what they are told, as well as to take effective action on the basis of understanding…………Otherwise there can be no genuine participation, - only the imposition of the ideas of those who are linguistically capable.
Power in Orwell #
Orwell uses the device of O’Brien, a seemingly compassionate and understanding man, to reveal to Winston Smith how the party gained control and how it intends to rule forever; the ultimate power trip.
The book O’Brien gives Winston, outlines how the Party got to power legitimately, but then in order to perpetuate permanent power learned from the weaknesses of past totalitarian regimes, like the Medieval Despots, the Catholic Church and the Fascists.
O’Brien admits that the party seeks power for the sake of power, they are not interested in the common good, solely power over people and their minds.
“Power is not a means; it is an end.”
The Party has learned from the past and perfected absolute control over the masses in several ways. Firstly the power is collective; it is not controlled and dependent on one individual but a cabal that will continually renew itself and rule forever. Secondly, it maintains its power through suffering, pain, fear. There is no loyalty except towards the party. All trust between individuals, family members will be destroyed. Parsons is proud that he was dobbed in by his own daughter. People have lost all their rights, dignity and sense of freedom. As O’Brien states:
“if you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human- face forever”.
The Party maintains power by destroying the dignity and nobility of humanity. The loss of privacy and politicisation of love and sex, propaganda or thought control through the degradation of language, control of history and distortion of truth, self initiated Terrorism, constant war, diversions such as fake lotteries and cheap beer/Gin, deprivation and Brutality. It learned from past totalitarian regimes not to create martyrs. Before anyone was killed (vaporised) their spirit had to be utterly destroyed. It is the brutal irony that self preservation wins out in the end and Julie and Winston betray each other and Winston can pronounce at the end that “He loved Big Brother” . This becomes the pen-ultimate defeat.
Power - In the Skin of a Lion #
The Bloor Street Viaduct, known as the Bridge, and the Waterworks, are two places where the Proletariat were exploited with poor working conditions and wages while the Bourgeoisie take the credit and reap the rewards. “They were paid one dollar a day.” This quote refers to the dyers who took animal skins and dyed them. This is juxtaposed at the end of the book where Patrick goes to the waterworks and confronts Harris about the workers and he says that the tiles “cost more than half our salaries put together”. Thus the difference between the lowliest and the higher order members of society is shown as the incongruity and disparity of the distribution of wealth.
Power and authority are another way in which the rich are separated from the powerless. Ambrose Small, who represents “bare-knuckled capitalism”, has power because he has the money. This means that he has the ability to control the workers by giving middlemen, such as Harris, the power to control the workers. As Ambrose works through other people, Patrick never suspects that Harris is not the one with the real power and Patrick attempts to attack the upper class through Harris, as Harris says: “You don’t understand Power”.
The Black Lives Matter is a valuable and necessary protest, but misdirected. A flawed concept of power causes many people to misdirect their attacks. The Police are merely the face of power; the real power lies higher up, invisible, invincible and inviolate – a smug court system, complacent mainstream media and anaemic political leaders. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness. —Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
Michael Ondaatje articulates it best:
“He was one of the few in power who had something tangible around him. But those with real power had nothing to show for themselves. They had paper. They didn’t carry a cent. Harris was an amateur in their midst. He had to sell himself every time.” Pg. 241-2
So much of the dispossessor’s energy is misguided in striking out at the façade of power rather than the heart of it.
The faceless rulers gauge the amount of public discontent carefully to maintain control. They know when to placate, appease or compromise so that public anger does not erupt and threaten their power.
Ondaatje writes from the perspective of the unacknowledged drones of society, the voiceless manual labourers who are scarcely regarded by society the rich or history. This derisory attitude is reinforced many times:
“A man is an extension of hammer, drill, flame.” Pg. 26
“In the tenth century, he (Small) liked to say, the price of a greyhound or a hawk was the same as that of a man”.
Harris: ‘You’re as much of the fabric as the aldermen and the millionaires. But you’re among the dwarfs of enterprise who never get accepted or acknowledged’
The puppet show illustrates this aptly. The migrants lack the language and cultural attributes to give them a voice in society. They are frustrated by their lack of power and influence in mainstream society and their only outlet is to ‘bang on the wooden floor as if to plead for help’. Indeed the purpose of the whole novel is to give a voice to the disenfranchised, the ones who did the work but missed out on getting the credit in nation building; the vast number of inarticulate migrants who form the basis of all developing countries. As the front piece claims: ‘Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one.’
It is from a flawed concept of power that causes many people to misdirect their attacks. Patrick believes that Harris and his Waterworks represent the epicentre of power and so he schemes to blow it up to achieve a sense of power, recognition and revenge. He doesn’t realise that Harris is merely the face of power; the real power lies higher up, invisible, invincible and inviolate.
“Earlier Harris had understood why the man had chosen him; he was one of the few in power who had something tangible around him. But those with real power had nothing to show for themselves. They had paper. They didn’t carry a cent. Harris was an amateur in their midst. He had to sell himself every time.” Pg. 241-2
As Harris tries to explain: ‘You’re as much of the fabric as the aldermen and the millionaires. But you’re among the dwarfs of enterprise who never get accepted or acknowledged’
A Marxist reading of the novel is relevant because complex societies are generally built up by the exploitation of cheap labour – sometimes slave, other times factory fodder from helpless migrants, but any single reading is restricted because you need to take a more objective approach to the story, focusing on the elements of power and its distribution through the characters while remaining distant from the characters themselves.