Until They Become Conscious They Will Never Rebel: Dystopia Intro and Notes


Commissar Nikolai Yezhov with Stalin

George Orwell’s 1984 is, I would claim, THE seminal work of dystopia.   Ever hear of the phrase “big brother”?  How about thoughtcrime, or doublethink?  –All from 1984.  You know how we can’t do anything these days without someone recording it or putting it on social media?  You know all that data mining Wikileaks exposed?  Orwell called it.  Ever hear of a government falsifying reports and sugarcoating history?  Orwell called it: “Who controls the present controls the past; who controls the past controls the future” (Orwell, 1984)


Hey, where’d he go? #unperson

Or how about the fact that nations are always at war and always talking about another war, meanwhile the masses become xenophobic towards those peoples?  Orwell called that too.   What if we speak out?  Exiled.  Brainwashed.  Vaporized.  #Stalin

Beyond all the political commentary, however, there’s a great story in it too — love, sex, friendship, betrayal — truly one of the best books ever written.

The second option is Margaret Atwood’s dystopia The Handmaid’s Tale (which we were totally reading before it was cool, but now, thanks to Hulu, The Women’s March, and chauvinistic supreme court confirmation hearings, and more confirmations . . . it’s  super popular!) In The Handmaid’s Tale a totalitarian regime takes over America under the false guise of religion.  The problem: infertility.  The solution: a literal interpretation of the Rachel and Leah story in which potentially fertile females are employed as concubines, though termed handmaids.   There is a bit of a feminist edge, though Atwood does not embrace that term as it means so many different things to so many different people and can muddy the waters.  Instead, Atwood chooses to focus on the fact that she based everything in The Handmaid’s Tale on actual events in history . . .  and much of it has also happened since The Handmaid’s Tale’s original publication in 1986.

Click through the break for handouts, notes, and more . . .

This stuff is subject to change, because, you know that’s 2020 . . . or is it 1984???

2nd Quarter Project: Multimedia Project 2019

Need a refresher on MLA stuff?  Check out Purdue OWL or you can always consult the Grimsley Style Guide, too.


1984 background 1984 paradox

Mind Enslavement found in a bottle

Noam Chomsky on Football and International Affairs

The Mores

1984 vs today

There are all kinds of publications out showing the connection between movement and learning and music and learning (as we’ll see with “Oranges and Lemons”).  Check out  “Music and the Brain” or here’s one of Daniel Levitin’s (author of This is your Brain on Music) articles on the matter: “Music Cognition and Perception.”

As far as movement and learning, check out: “Movement and Learning” from Teaching with the Brain in Mind and “Using Actions to Enhance Memory.”

Oh, hey, and here’s an article Atwood wrote about 1984 and Brave New World 🙂 “Everybody is Happy Now”



The Handmaid’s Tale:

The next book option for this quarter is Margaret Atwood’s dystopia  The Handmaid’s Tale

handmaids-tale background notes



Some of the historical bases in the novel are obvious, others aren’t, but can be really fun rabbit holes to go down.  The Underground Femaleroad is obvious, but why are the Quakers and the Anabaptists the guerrilla rebels?  If you haven’t heard, they were instrumental in the Underground Railroad and activists from right here in Greensboro, such as Levi Coffin (sometimes even called the president of the Underground Railroad) were some of the first and foremost members and conductors.  Check out “Quakers and the Underground Railroad: Myths and Realities.” 

Also, Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America’s First Civil Rights Movement is a great read with a lot on Greensboro’s connection (though I confess I listened to it on Audible, but still, a great listen).

Any other references you aren’t sure about?  I’d love to chase them with you!

Hulu is doing a miniseries set to air in April!

Despite being told what to do at every moment of her life and having to wear a red uniform that covers her body head to toe, the narrator, who is now named Offred (because her commander is Fred, get it?) is taught:

“’There is more than one kind of freedom,’ said Aunt Lydia. ‘Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from [cat calls, etc]. Don’t underrate it.’”

Offred later reflects:

“But remember that forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest.  Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing.”

So, um, yeah, there’s some pretty interesting ideas thrown around, but beware, there’s some profanity and sex too.  At the risk of doing some of the interpretive work for you, I’ll throw this one out.  The infamous and ugly chapter 16 is one of those things that has happened in history, and in some form happens now: it’s what happens when you reduce any group of people, whether it’s by gender or race, to a single body part or task.  It’s ugly and demeaning not only to the victim, but to everyone else in the room as well.  It affects us all.  So, when you’re going “ew, why did I just read that?” remember that.

Will Offred escape?  Can she trust the Mayday underground insurgents?  Will the oppressive regime be broken?

There’s even an opera!

And a ballet!

Nolite te bastardes carborundurum!

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