Victory Gin and Miltonic: ‘Areopagitica’ and 20th Century Dystopian Literature

 

 

‘With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured…the first thought forbidden…the first freedom denied–chains us all irrevocably.’ Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom… and warning. The first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged.

                              -Captain Picard

 

 

Charles I: He just didn't have a head for politics.

Charles I: He just didn’t have a head for politics.

In the centuries leading up to the reign of Charles I, English monarchs, from the Tudors to the Stuarts, often relied on a combination of book burning and prepress censorship to suppress materials they thought were a threat.  It was believed that book burning would represent the end of the discourse developed in whichever books were deemed worthy of incineration, while the Star Chamber would act as prepress censors to prevent subversive ideas from entering the public realm prior to publication.  During the reign of Charles I, there was a growing resistance to monarchical rule and the printing press allowed for a proliferation of ideas that served to undermine his rule.  Writers deemed as Dissenters found themselves arrested by the Star Chamber and in response the Long Parliament, who had gained power during the civil war, abolished the Star Chamber with the Habeas Corpus Act of 1640.  The temporary lift on censorship led to an explosion of publications that saw both support of the monarchy via royalist propaganda, and a variety of sects whose writings were deemed as radical by parliament.  Book burning alone was judged to be insufficient, and so parliament introduced the Licensing Order of June 16th, 1643, enacting a tyrannical form of censorship that rivaled the Star Chamber in order to suppress not only Royalist propaganda, but also sectarian dialogues that diverged from parliament’s reading of the Bible.  The act allowed parliament the authority to employ prepress censorship at its own discretion.  In November of the following year, John Milton published his essay‘Areopagitica’in response to the Licensing Order of June 16th, 1643.  In the essay Milton lays out an argument against censorship that is based on a number of tenets, among them: the allowance for a variety of sects, the belief that comparative studies must be allowed, that censorship is a symptom of tyrannical rule, that reason cannot be employed without choice, that the wise will not be corrupted by heretical writing, and that the destruction of books is not only akin to homicide, but in some ways can be seen as an even greater crime.  Debates over censorship have not subsided in the centuries since as governments have continued to employ both overt and covert methods of censorship.  Contemporary authors have, like Milton, felt compelled to speak to issues of censorship and such discourses are most especially common among satirical writings of dystopian fiction.  Authors like: George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, Ray Bradbury and Margaret Atwood, among others, have all created dystopian worlds where censorship is common practice.  When examining works like: Nineteen Eighty-Four, A Clockwork Orange, Fahrenheit 451 and The Handmaid’s Tale, among others, it becomes clear that the authors of these works have brought Milton’s political rhetoric to life in the laboratory of fictive literature, allowing readers to see and imagine a world where Milton’s arguments have been abandoned in favour of despotic censorship and in turn demonstrating how political oppression can arise in concert with the practice of censorship.  These dystopian novels do more than place Milton’s argument into a narrative; in many instances they further and expand Milton’s argument.  When reading these works alongside ‘Areopagitica’, it becomes clear that the arguments Milton makes are as relevant today as they were when they were first published.

 

THE MILTONIC ARGUMENT

John Milton: Poet, essayist and all around good guy.

John Milton: Poet, essayist and all around good guy.

Before looking at the works of dystopian literature, it is important to first examine the tenets of Milton’s argument. Genelle Getz-Robinson suggests that Milton presents censorship as a symptom of despotic regimes when she notes Milton’s “equation of licensing with inquisitional practice[s]… that positively values torture and trial” (Getz-Robinson, 964).  This seems like a fair assessment as Milton articulates that censorship is the product of “tyranny and superstition” (Milton, 237) throughout ‘Areopagitica’.   Milton refers to censorship as being the product of “Roman recovery” (237) and “the popes of Rome” (242), claiming that censorship is an example of “tyranny in the Roman empire” (242) as well as the likes of the “Spanish inquisition” (243).  Milton furthers the idea of censorship being a symptom of tyrannical rule when he suggests censorship is “a servitude like that imposed by the Philistines” (257), all whilst promoting the open debate present in democratic societies (237).


 

A good old-fashioned book burning, care of the Nazi party.

A good old-fashioned book burning, care of the Nazi party.

Aside from being a product of tyranny, Milton also presents censorship as a kind of homicide.  David Cressy observes that Milton saw “extinguishing the life of a book [as] a kind of murder of reason” (Cressy, 368).  This equation of books with human life is strewn throughout ‘Areopagitica’ via several metaphors.  In one such metaphor Milton suggests that the publication of a book is equal to the birth of a child, writing that “books were as freely admitted into the world as any other birth” (Milton, 244).  Furthering this metaphor, Milton compares a book to a man, proposing that it is “as good almost [to] kill a man as kill a good book” (240) and even goes onto describe the censorship of a book as “a kind of homicide” (240).  Such rhetoric becomes more overt when Milton claims that “books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life” (239), suggesting that Milton believes that books literally contain the ‘potency of life’ and that censorship is, in turn, a literal form of homicide.  This seems a fair assessment when considering Milton’s assertion that when “a man writes… he summons up all his reason and deliberation to assist him; he searches meditates, is industrious, and likely consults and confers with his judicious friends” (255).  It seems clear that, by Milton’s assessment, everything that defines humanity is what is present in a book and that the destruction of the book is not only akin to homicide, but it also erases the entire life of the person who wrote the material that has been suppressed, suggesting that the destruction of a book is a greater crime than homicide.  Milton furthers this assertion when he articulates that homicide merely ends what was going to end naturally, whereas a book has a potential posterity that a human does not and that the destruction of a book is the slaying of “an immortality” (240).

 

John Milton: He had such great hair with so much body.  He conditioned everyday, but only washed his hair every thrid day.

John Milton: He had such great hair with so much body. He conditioned everyday, but only washed his hair every thrid day.

Beyond simply the killing of man, Cressy notes that Milton sees the destruction of books as the “killing [of] ‘the image of God’” (Cressy, 368).  This draws upon the biblical reference of how “God created man in his own image” (Genesis, 1:27).  Because man was made in God’s image, the killing of man is also the killing of the image of God.  It is perhaps more than simply the destruction of the image of God though.  Since God instilled humanity with reason, and since censorship is the destruction of the reason God imparted in humanity, censorship constitutes a destruction of God, not merely the image of God.  This is a sentiment which Willmoore Kendall touches upon when he points out how Milton’s argument against censorship is associated “with [finding] religious truths” (Kendall, 453).  Milton’s rhetoric certainly seems to lend itself to such a reading as he writes that “a good book is the precious life blood of a master-spirit” (240).  The word ‘spirit’ was synonymous with the Holy Spirit, and the phrase ‘master-spirit’ seems to clearly call upon the Holy Spirit.  By referring to books as the ‘life blood’ of the ‘master-spirit’, Milton seems to suggest that the suppression of books will mean extinguishing the ‘master-spirit’ from the human form and therefore that censorship will lead to purging God from the body.  This is made clear when Milton speaks to his idea of a “nation of prophets” (265), drawing on a biblical allusion where Moses said that God “would… that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them” (Numbers, 11:29).  Milton would suggest that to create this ‘nation of prophets’, the spirit would need books because they are the ‘life blood’ of the ‘master-spirit’.  Books then, Milton would argue, are “but useful drugs” (250), or “are as meats and viands” (246).  Censorship, according to Milton, would stunt the growth of this ‘nation of prophets’ and prevent the spirit of God from entering humanity.

 

For Milton, virtue could only be defined against vice.  The two were inseparable.

For Milton, virtue could only be defined against vice. The two were inseparable.

To create a ‘nation of prophets’, Milton suggests that comparative study is crucial and that censorship may dilute or even eliminate true comparative study, preventing humanity from truly understanding virtue.  Rather than suppressing that which is seen as bad, Milton argues that the government should admit books freely into the world as one comes to “knowing good by evil” (247) since “good and evil as two twins cleaving together leaped into the world” (247).  Indeed, Milton believes that one must be able to “apprehend and consider vice with all her baits… and yet distinguish… that which is truly” (247) good.  This goes hand in hand with Milton’s belief that one must know that which is evil to understand good because good and evil “in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is… involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil” (247).  One must, as Milton writes, be able to examine “all things, [and] hold fast that which is good” (246).  For Milton, in order to be virtuous, one must reject vice

How could we know Spock was good until we met Evil Spock?

How could we know Spock was good until we met Evil Spock?

and so the absence of vice does not allow the fruition of true virtue, as one “cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue… that never sallies out to see her adversary” (247-248).    This speaks also to Milton’s argument for the inclusion of multiple sects as well.  Milton writes that “there must be many sects and schisms and many dissections made in the quarry and in the timber ere the house of God can be built” (266).  Here Milton creates an architectural metaphor where each sect is representative of a different piece of material required to build the house of God.  When “every stone is laid artfully together… it can… be contiguous in this world”.  Milton goes on to assert that not “every piece of the building be of one form… rather… out of… moderate varieties and brotherly dissimilitudes… arises the goodly and graceful symmetry that commends the… structure” (266).  Milton believes that the difference between the sects can provide clarity and far from being mutually exclusive to one another, they are instead dependent on each other.  It is a belief, as Alan Price suggests, that “Christian society can be best fostered by the interactions of free, independent inquiries” (Price, 221).  Those “who perpetually complain of schisms and sects” are, according to Milton, allowing “their own pride and ignorance [to] cause the disturbing” (Milton, 264) that arises.  For Milton, the comparative studies of good and evil, coupled with comparative studies of various sects, are crucial to understanding virtue and in turn, becoming a truly virtuous person.

 

One argument against freely admitting all publications is that heretical or treasonous materials have the potential to corrupt.  Milton, though, believes that to “the pure all things are pure” (246) for “a good refiner, can gather gold out of the drossiest volume” and “wise man will make better use of an idle pamphlet than a fool will do of sacred Scripture” (250), since “a fool will be a fool with the best book” (250).  Milton would suggest here that a wise reader would be able to discern the flaws in heretical materials, which would in turn give such a reader a clearer understanding of virtue, whilst Milton’s metaphorical fool would fail to find true virtue even in scripture.

 

Oliver Cromwell: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.  Like Charles I, Cromwell also sought to censor works.

Oliver Cromwell: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Like Charles I, Cromwell also sought to censor works.

True virtue, for Milton, is dependent on choice.  Should a government succeed in eliminating evil by censoring that which they see as evil, Milton argues that the virtue that would arise would be “but a blank virtue, not a pure” (248) virtue and that such “whiteness is but an excremental whiteness” (248).  Milton articulates this sentiment best when he states that he “cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out to see her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat” (247-248).  For Milton, virtue is something that must be earned through the rejection of vice.  Virtue cannot be obtained unless vice is first rejected.  Virtue must be tested by temptation.  When virtue is forced upon somebody by eliminating choices, the virtue that arises, for Milton, it not true virtue.  Even this involuntary virtue seems an unrealistic goal for Milton though, as he does not foresee such whiteness coming as a result of censorship.  Instead, Milton suggests that should a government indulge in censorship, then the “streaming fountain [of truth would] flow not in a perpetual progression [but] sicken into a muddy pool of conformity” (260-261).  The result would not be virtue, but conformity.  Ultimately, Milton claims that God gave humanity “reason [and the] freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing” (252).  To take away choice is to take away reason, and reason is what defines humanity against all other living things.  Such censorship extends beyond the page and reaches into the mind whilst also compromising the nature of humanity.

 

VICTORY GIN & MILTONIC: MILTON + ORWELL

 

George Orwell: he would be ashamed his landmark novel spawned a show titled 'Big Brother'.

George Orwell: he would be ashamed his landmark novel spawned a show titled ‘Big Brother’.

These are the pillars to Milton’s argument, and once they are carefully considered and applied to many dystopian works, it is easy to see how the arguments opposed to censorship in dystopian novels borrow heavily from Milton’s argument, oftentimes moving his argument forward.  There is perhaps no work that borrows so heavily from Milton’s arguments as George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.  It is clear that Orwell was familiar with the works of Milton because he references Milton on two occasions in the novel (Orwell, 56, 325), so it is fair to assume that because Orwell invokes Milton, he is perhaps engaging in a discourse with Milton.  Such reference aside, there are a number of similarities that make clear the correlation between Orwell and Milton.  Just as Milton aligns censorship with despotism, so too does Orwell.  Orwell’s fictional country, Oceania, is controlled by a regime known as ‘The Party’, a regime that Orwell clearly aligns with totalitarian governments.  Just as Milton refers to the Spanish Inquisition, so too does Orwell (266), but Orwell furthers this and makes references outside of Milton’s work to bring the argument home to contemporary readers, aligning The Party with the Nazi regime as well (266).  Aligning regimes that indulge in censorship with despotism is a key point for Milton, and one that is very much present in Orwell as well.

 

John Hurt as Winston in the 1984 film adaptation of 1984.

John Hurt as Winston in the 1984 film adaptation of 1984.

It is important to look at the forms of censorship employed in Nineteen Eighty-Four.  When Winston, the novels protagonist, finds a bookcase filled with novels, he sees that none date back as far as pre-revolutionary times.  It is noted that the “hunting-down and destruction of books had been done with the same thoroughness in the prole quarters as everywhere else” (101).  Controlling this information is important, because, as Richard Posner argues, “political leadership… depends on the leader’s ability to control public information about himself or herself.  If leaders lose that ability… their power, erodes” (Posner, 7).  So controlling what information of the past reaches future generations, can help The Party to maintain their power.

 

Big Brother and his mustachio are watching!

Big Brother and his mustachio are watching!

It is clear that Orwell’s despots, like Milton’s, are eager to destroy books, but Orwell does not content himself with merely recycling Milton’s argument; he goes further.  Rather than simply destroying books, The Party is also “destroying words” (54) so that the “vocabulary gets smaller every year” (55).  The language of the novel, no longer referred to as English, but instead as Newspeak, seeks to “narrow the range of thought” (55).  Berel Lang describes the language as “a mechanical, depersonalized means of communication, useful mainly as a political instrument, and so, unavoidably, as an instrument of repression” (Lang, 169).  Milton argues that reason is choosing, and though The Party cannot eliminate choice altogether it aims to make “the range of consciousness always a little smaller” (Orwell, 55) with this repressive language Lang describes and in turn limit choice.  By eliminating words, The Party reduces the range of though, and sees “reduction [as] a gain, since the smaller the area of choice, the smaller the temptation to take thought” (322).  By limiting thought, The Party aims to “make Thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it” (55) and that in turn, “a heretical thought, that is a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc—should be literally unthinkable” (312).  Though “unorthodox opinions, above a very low level, was well-nigh impossible” (323), it still “would have been possible, for example, to say Big Brother is ungood” (323), but “the statement, which to an orthodox ear merely conveyed a self-evident absurdity, could not have been sustained by reasoned argument, because the necessary words were not available” (323).  Because the masses would not have access to words that could convey a variety of thoughts, this lack of choice limited their ability to reason, leaving them unable to make a reasoned argument against The Party.  This fits in nicely with Milton’s argument that ‘reason is but choosing’ as the censorship, which Orwell extends beyond books to include words, creates such limited choices that it prevents the people of Orwell’s dystopian novel from even being able to reason.  The Party’s aim is to push censorship beyond publishing, and beyond even language, reaching into the mind and censoring thoughts before they can even be formed.  Trying to come up with an argument against the party, as Orwell writes, “was like trying to make a move at chess when you were already mated” (115).  For a person raised after the revolution and taught solely in Newspeak, there “would be many crimes and errors which it would be beyond his power to commit, simply because they were nameless and therefore unimaginable” (324).  It becomes clear when examining Nineteen Eighty-Four through the lens of ‘Areopagitica’, that Orwell borrowed from Milton, creating a world in which a despotic regime limited choice to eliminate reason.

 

Suzanna Hamilton as Julia in the 1984 film adaption.

Suzanna Hamilton as Julia in the 1984 film adaption.

Orwell though reaches beyond the Miltonics of ‘Areopagitica’and digs deep into Milton’s Paradise Lost to define the relationship between Winston and his lover Julia, who are in many ways paralleled with Adam and Eve, and this is made perhaps most clear when Winston is having a discussion about sacrifices for future generations and Julia, as if she were Eve, boasts: “‘I’m not interested in the next generation, dear.  I’m interested in us’” (163).  One might imagine Julia as Eve, disregarding how future generations might be born in sin should she eat from the forbidden tree.  Though the omniscient narrator notes that Julia was in “some ways…far more acute than Winston, and far less susceptible to Party propaganda”(160), the narrator also notes that Julia “only questioned the teachings of the party when they…touched upon her own life”(160) suggesting that Julia is self-interested.  The narrator also notes that “independent political movement was outside of her imagination”(160) as she got “bored and confused”(163) whenever Winston discussed party doctrine with her.  This seems to be very much in line with Milton’s condescending portrayal of Eve in Paradise Lost, as Adam asserts Eve’s intellectual inadequacy in a conversation with Raphael where Milton has Adam suggest that Eve is “inferior, in the mind”(Milton, Book VIII, 540).  Milton even has Raphael and Michael  assist in degrading women as Raphael states that Eve is the weaker of the two (Book VI, 909), and that she was made beautiful for Adam’s enjoyment (Book VIII, 576).  This seems to fit in very well with the relationship created by Orwell as Julia can be read as an object of Winston’s physical desires since she is often sexualized by him, perhaps most notably when Julia dresses herself in a dress and puts on make-up for Winston’s benefit (149).  Julia’s perceived intellectual inferiority parallels Eve’s as Julia opts not to read Goldstein’s political trek and instead would rather have Winston “read it aloud…and explain it to”(Orwell, 209) her as he goes along, just as Adam is meant to explain to Eve the meaning of Michael’s message. Even more striking is the fact that Michael puts Eve to sleep before explaining the future of the human race to Adam (Milton, Book XI,367-369), an uncanny parallel with Orwell’s piece as Julia ends up falling asleep whilst Winston reads to her of the future from Goldstein’s writings (Orwell, 226).  Winston even accuses Julia of being a “‘a rebel from the waist downwards’” (163), implying that she was only interested in sex.  Though these parallels do not lend themselves to a very flattering reading via a feminist perspective, they do illustrate that there is a parallel between the two works.

 

ingsocJulia is not simply an imitation of Eve, and this becomes clear when one considers her context.  Though crimes against The Party would be “nameless and… unimaginable” (324), the virtue that would arise as a result of this would be akin to the “blank virtue” (Milton, 248) that Milton speaks of.  Because a person in Orwell’s world cannot “apprehend and consider vice with all her baits… and yet distinguish… that which is truly” (247) virtuous, their virtue becomes, as Milton would say, “an excremental whiteness” (248).  Julia is a prime example of such blank virtue.  Though Winston accuses her of being strictly “a rebel from the waist downwards” (Orwell, 163), Julia is not entirely to blame for this.  George M. Enteen points out that the view that her rebellion is “biological or hedonistic” is flawed, though he admits that she “lacked Winston’s theoretical interest in the workings of the system and… history” (Enteen, 209).  Julia’s lacking of such insight does not speak to her intellectual limitations, but rather to the effectiveness of The Party’s censorship.  Julia, unlike Winston, was born after The Part’s ascent and is “cut off from the past” (Orwell, 221) and has a vocabulary that is far more restricted than Winston’s.  Julia’s mind is the product of The Party’s censorship.  The limited range of thought Julia has is exemplified on the postcards in Orwell’s Oceania.  On the postcards “there were printed… long lists of phrases, and you struck out the ones that were inapplicable” (116).  Even when communicating with friends via postcard, the government dictates what one says and offers only a limited range of choice, discouraging citizens from thinking and reasoning.  The people who sent such postcards would inevitably send messages that were considered orthodox, because they had no choice.  Were they offered a choice, their sentiments may have been unorthodox, but because their autonomy is usurped, they have no choice and are, in turn, involuntarily orthodox.  Such were the nature of Julia’s interactions with people and so, unlike Winston, Julia does not have a pre-revolutionary history to draw upon and can therefore not develop though in the same manner.

 

Richard Burton (left) as O'Brian in the film adaption of 1984.

Richard Burton (left) as O’Brian in the film adaption of 1984.

Such limitations could certainly be seen as the damming up of the “streaming fountain” of truth whilst allowing the world to “sicken into a muddy pool of conformity” (260-261).  Winston becomes conscious of this whilst being interrogated by O’Brien, the novel’s antagonist.  Though Winston was not raised solely with Newspeak, he is nevertheless a victim of its limits.  When trying to explain that a truth other than The Party’s truth exists, he is met with a metaphysical debate which he simply cannot process because the limits of his education have left him ill-equipped to think in such a manner.  It is in such moments of his interrogation that what most oppressed Winston “was the consciousness of his own intellectual inferiority.”  (Orwell, 268).  This is a far cry from the “nation of prophets” (Milton, 265) of which Milton speaks, but rather a nation of simpletons.  Far from allowing the people to have what Milton calls the ‘master-spirit’ nourished, The Party instead hopes to quash the soul.  As Gorman Beauchamp points out, it “is not Winston’s life [The Party] wants, but his soul” (Beauchamp, 295).  O’Brien makes this clear when he tells Winston that the party hopes to ensure Winston will never again have “ordinary human feeling” nor be “capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity” (Orwell, 269).  The despotic leaders do not want people like Winston to nourish their ‘master-spirit’ or their minds, they want people to be “bored or repelled by a train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction”.  This is an example of “Crimestop, [which] in short, means protective stupidity” (221); a polarization of Milton’s ‘nation of prophets’.  This is the aim of The Party, as in Oceania “the level of popular education [was] actually declining” (219) and since there was little to no education in the proletariat sector, intellectual liberty could be granted because “they [had] no intellect” (219).  We see that Orwell’s dystopian government is very much working against Milton’s idea of a ‘nation of prophets’, and how censorship of books and words, when working in concert with the reduction of education can serve to limit one’s reasoning abilities and effectively censor the mind as well by impeding its development.

 

Comparative studies may have allowed Winston a better understanding of the world around him.  Milton argues that “good and evil as two twins cleaving together leaped into the world” (Milton, 247).  Orwell seems to articulate this point when detailing the process of compiling the Newspeak dictionary.  It is argued that the word ‘bad’ ought to be eliminated from the vocabulary: “Given, for instance, the word good, there was no need for such a word as bad, since the required meaning was equally well-indeed, better-expressed by ungood”  (Orwell, 315).  The Party actually inverts Milton’s argument.  Rather than knowing ‘good’ by comparing it to ‘evil’, they eliminate ‘bad’ and define it against ‘good’.  This practice extends beyond the composition of the Newspeak dictionary and into everyday life.  Standards in post-revolutionary Oceania cannot be compared to the standards of the past, because The Party has destroyed all records of the past and replaced them with a past that suit’s The Party’s needs.  In turn “the proletarian, tolerates present-day conditions partly because he has no standards of comparison” (221). The proletarian “must be cut off from the past, just as he must be cut off from foreign countries.” (221). It is this “mutability of the past” (222) that The Party depends on.  By eliminating all books from the past, The Party prevents any comparisons.  Likewise the people of Oceania are kept in the dark about the standards of living in Eastasia and Eurasia, and “so long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison, they never even become aware that they are oppressed” (216).  When it came to the past, and other world powers, “the less [one] knew about them the better for [ones’] orthodoxy” (319).  Such an elimination of comparative studies not only prevents the people of Oceania from becoming aware of their own oppression, but through the eradication of language, they no longer have a way of understanding what is bad.  This is a parallel to the elimination of sects as well in that it does not allow citizens of Oceania to consider other ways of thinking as a variety of sects would.  Again, Orwell draws on Milton’s argument in ‘Areopagitica’ to create the backdrop for his dystopian world but eliminating comparative study.

 

Stalin's regime would wipe people out as easily as Big Brother's.

Stalin’s regime would wipe people out as easily as Big Brother’s.

Milton also spoke metaphorically of censorship being “a kind of homicide” (Milton, 240), stating that it is “as good almost to kill a man as kill a good book” (240).  Because The Party’s censorship extends beyond the page and enters the mind, their censorship breaks through Milton’s metaphor and becomes a literal execution.  Winston reflects on an acquaintance named Syme, thinking to himself that one “of these days… Syme will be vaporized.  He is too intelligent.  He sees too clearly and speaks too plainly.  The Party does not like such people” (56).  Winston hypothesizes that Syme will be killed by the Thought Police for thoughtcrime, and indeed he is.  In Milton’s era, only the book would have been destroyed in most instances.  In Oceania though, to rub out the thought, the person is destroyed as well.  An individual named Comrade Withers, for example, is deemed to have been an “unperson”, indicating that he was “already dead” (48) and as such all history of Withers has to be eliminated.  Winston has to rewrite an article featuring Wither’s heroics and, like the “books and periodicals” which were deemed heretical, Withers is to be “rubbed out of existence” (45).  This execution goes beyond Milton’s idea of execution through censorship, and ensures that not only is the life of the person extinguished, but their existence was to never be acknowledged again, demonstrating both how Orwell borrows from, and expands Milton’s argument.

 

Milton does suggest that the censorship of a book is perhaps worse than homicide, for a person has only a set number of years in which to live and a book is in a way “an immortality” (240).  Where Milton uses ‘immortality’, Orwell uses ‘posterity’, but they speak in the same fashion, and in Oceania Milton’s metaphor is upgraded to routine practice.  Whilst interrogating Winston, O’Brien instructs his captive, saying: “You must stop imagining that posterity will vindicate you, Winston.  Posterity will never hear of you” (266).  Winston of course knew this even before he had been arrested, as he thought to himself: “How could you make appeal to the future when not a trace of you, not even an anonymous word scribbled on a piece of paper, could survive” (29).  Indeed, only “the Thought Police would read what he had written, before they wiped it out” (29).  There is no hope that the journal Winston wrote would reach future generations.  Books, as “an immortality” (Milton, 240) do not exists in Oceania, and indeed, neither would Winston since The Party agrees with Milton in that it is “as good almost kill a man as kill a good book” (240).  Winston would be killed, and “rubbed out of existence” (Orwell, 45), just as Withers had been.  Orwell again incorporates Milton’s argument into his narrative, putting flesh on Milton’s words and bringing them to life.

 

A MAN WHO CANNOT CHOOSE: MILTON + BURGESS

Anthony Burgess: His hair was not as nice as Milton's, but he still had a strong understanding of Miltonics.

Anthony Burgess: His hair was not as nice as Milton’s, but he still had a strong understanding of Miltonics.

In his novel, A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess borrows heavily from the arguments which Milton presents in ‘Areopagitica’.  Just as Milton associates censorship with tyrannical rule, so too does Burgess present the government in his dystopian society as despotic, referring to its “repressiveness” (Burgess, 122) and describing it as “totalitarianism” (124) whilst also noting that it employs “debilitating and will-sapping techniques of conditioning” (124).  This seems to concur with Getz-Robinson’s suggestion that Milton sees censorships as “brutal evisceration… [complaining] that ‘[c]atalogues… rake through the entrails of many an… [a]uthor with a violation wors[e] than… could be offer’d his tomb’” (Getz-Robinson, 966).  It is clear that Burgess, like Milton, associates totalitarian regimes with censorship, and associates censorship with a form of torture.

 

The torturous “will-sapping techniques of conditioning” (Burgess, 124) are the core of Burgess’s work and it is through conditioning that his dystopian government seeks to usurp choice.  The result would create a form of censorship that works in much the same fashion as Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.  The ‘Ludovico’s

Malcolm McDowell as Alex, undergoing the Ludivico's Technique in the the film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange.

Malcolm McDowell as Alex, undergoing the Ludivico’s Technique in the the film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange.

Technique’, would prevent the unorthodox thought before it could be put upon the page via an extreme conditioning process.  Ludovico’s Technique is a form of aversion therapy that conditions the body to respond to violent thoughts with “strong feelings of physical distress.  To counter these the subject has to switch to a diametrically opposed attitude” (99).  Beauchamp suggests dystopian governments might apply such tactics as through “conditioning, or drugs, through physiological alteration or subliminal suggestion, or technical coercion… rebellion could be rendered impossible” (Beauchamp, 297).  Such methods remove the ability to choose from the subject, which is the core of Milton’s argument against censorship.  For Milton “reason is but choosing” (Milton, 252), and reason is what defines humanity against all other living creatures.  So it is with Burgess, who articulates this both via the novel’s prison Chaplain and political dissident F. Alexander.  The Chaplain seems to be reading straight from ‘Areopagitica’ when he states that “Goodness is something chosen.  When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.” (Burgess, 66).  This maxim is reiterated by F. Alexander later in the book, almost word for word, when he states: “A man who cannot choose ceases to be a man” (122), and drives the point home by stating: “They have turned you into something other than a human being.  You have no power of choice any longer.” (122). It is clear that Burgess aligns choice with reason and identifies reason as the thing which defines humanity, both tenets to Milton’s argument in ‘Areopagitica’.

 

clockworkThis touches on the issue of ‘blank virtue’ as well.  The Chaplain goes onto ask: “Does God want woodness or the choice of goodness?  Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him” (76)?  Here the Chaplain is flirting with Milton’s words.  Where the Chaplin sees this automated goodness as woodness, Milton calls it “but a blank virtue, not a pure” (Milton, 248) and says that such “whiteness is but an excremental whiteness” (248).  It also speaks to the idea of “cloistered virtue” (247).  Does god want cloistered virtue?  Or does God want virtue to be chosen over vice?  As Robbie B. H. Goh notes, A Clockwork Orange “encapsulates the effect of power in general on the individual” (Goh, 265).  It is not Alex that is virtuous, but the government who, through their power, imposes virtue on individuals like Alex and effects virtue onto them.  Without choice, Alex “ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice” (Burgess, 99) and so cannot “apprehend and consider vice with all her baits… and yet distinguish… that which is truly” good (Milton, 247).  Burgess’s protagonist becomes the personification of Milton’s argument, as his goodness is the excremental whiteness which Milton warns his reader about and is not test in the “dust and heat” of the race between virtue and vice (248).  Dr. Brodsky, the administer of the Ludovico’s Technique, is not concerned with “motives, [or] with higher ethics”.  He is concerned only with “cutting down crime” (Burgess, 99).   Rubin Rabinovitz picks up on this as well when he notes that Brodsky “cares littler about the ethical questions raise by the treatment” (Rabinovitz, 46).  It is clear that the process does not make a truly virtuous person, but rather an example of the ‘blank virtue’ Milton argues against.

 

ClockworkOrangeThe conditioning process is only one of the government’s methods of taking choice away.  It is stated in the novel that there is a “law for everybody not a child nor with child nor ill to go out” working (Burgess, 31).  In Brugess’s dystopian society there is no option when it comes to working; one must simply work because it is a crime not to.  This law eliminates slothfulness by imposing diligence, but the virtue is a blank virtue because it is not chosen.  People who diverge from orthodox political thought are subject to the law as well.  Indeed, the reason the Ludovico’s Technique is being applied to violent criminals is so that the government might clear out the prisons as they will need the “space for political offenders” (73).  F. Alexander is one of the political offenders whom the government puts away, claiming he is “a menace” (139) and that he has been put “away for his own protection” (139), though his only crime is writing literature that opposes the government.  Rather than allow freedom of expression, Burgess’s dystopian government demands “a servitude like that imposed by the Philistines” (Milton, 257) by forcing people to work or imprisoning those whose politics do not agree with the government; and rather than allowing books to be “freely admitted into the world as any other birth” (244), they opt to imprison authors like F. Alexander.

 

Alex imagines himself whiping Christ whilst reading the Bible. Not quite what the prison Chaplain had in mind.

Alex imagines himself whiping Christ whilst reading the Bible. Not quite what the prison Chaplain had in mind.

One of the most overt examples of Miltonic reasoning in Burgess’s work is his presentation of Alex as the Miltonic fool.  Milton speaks of fools in ‘Areopagitica’, stating that “a fool will be a fool with the best book” (250) and that a “wise man will make better use of an idle pamphlet than a fool will do of sacred Scripture” (250).  It is no doubt this type of fool that Burgess had in mind when forming the protagonist for A Clockwork Orange.  It is argued that “A Lively Appreciation Of The Arts could be… encouraged” (Burgess, 35) and that “Great Music… and Great Poetry would… quieten Modern Youth down and make Modern Youth more Civilized” (35), but this does not hold true for Alex.  Alex is very much a fan of classical music, but when he listens to the like of Johann Sebastian Bach or Ludwig van Beethoven, he pictures “vecks and ptitsas, both young and starry, lying on the ground screaming for mercy” (29) and sees himself “smecking all over… and grinding [his] boot in their listos” (29).  In other words he pictures himself smiling as he makes men and women scream for mercy whilst he grinds his boots in their faces.  When listening to Bach, Alex reminisces about an encounter with two people: “I would like to have to checked them both harder and ripped them to ribbons on their own floor” (30), and whilst taking out three other teens in a fight Alex claims, as he is committing an act of violence, that he “could just slooshy a bar or so of Ludwig van (it was the Violin Concerto, last movement)” (44).  In a scene where Alex plies two girls whom he estimates to be around ten years old with alcohol and drugs before having sex with them (38), the music he chooses to play whilst he commits the rape is Beethoven’s Ninth (39).  Again, there is no content to the music that promotes rape, but Alex still finds an association.  The classical music that Alex listens to is void of lyrics and carries with it no message of violence, but Alex is the fool of which Milton speaks, and as such finds sin where there is none.

This parallel becomes quite literal later in the novel as a prison Chaplain takes Alex under his own mentorship and encourages Alex to read the sacred scripture of which Milton speaks.  Upon reading the old Testament, Alex says: “I would read of these starry yahoodies tolchocking each other and then petting their Hebrew vino and getting on to the bed with their wives’ like hand-maiden, real horrowshow.  That kept me going” (64).  Rather than “think on the divine suffering” (64), as the Chaplain suggests, Alex enjoys reading about people fighting and having sex with handmaidens, and when Alex reads of divine suffering, he does not associate himself with Christ, but rather with Christ’s Roman captors, stating that while “the stereo played bits of lovely Bach [he]closed [his] glazzies and viddied [himself] helping in and even taking charge of the tolchocking and the nailing in, being dressed in like a toga that was the height of Roman fashion” (64).  Indeed, Alex is very much the fool of which Milton speaks, and Burgess makes Alex the prototypical fool who “will be a fool with the best book” (Milton, 250).  Milton suggests that a “wise man will make better use of an idle pamphlet than a fool will do of sacred Scripture” (250).  Alex is clearly the latter, and his virtue, when is does appear, is an excremental whiteness as Alex desires his former life.

 

BURNING BOOKS: MILTON + BRADBURY

 

Ray Bradbury bound the first print of Fahrenheit 451 in asbestos so that it couldn't be burned.

Ray Bradbury bound the first print of Fahrenheit 451 in asbestos so that it couldn’t be burned.

This excremental whiteness appears in other dystopian literature as well.  In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, for example, the novel’s antagonist, Captain Beatty, tells the novel’s protagonist, Guy Montag: “‘If you don’t want a man unhappy… don’t give him two sides to a question… give him none’” (Bradbury, 61).  This leaves the masses happy, but it is an excremental happiness.  Because these people do not know what it is to be sad, they cannot feel true happiness, and indeed, the happiness they do feel is fleeting as Montag’s wife makes a suicide attempt in her first scene in the novel (13).  When an emergency team arrives to save Montag’s wife, they state that they get “nine or ten” suicide attempts ever night.  Obviously the happiness the state has in mind is not true happiness and even Montag, who works on behalf of the government admits to himself that he wears his “happiness like a mask” (12).  Removing the causes of sadness, as the despotic state of Bradbury’s dystopian novel has done, doesn’t leave happiness, but rather sadness, because happiness can only exist with and is defined by sadness.  This parallels Milton’s ideas of sin and virtue: “how much we thus expel of sin, so much we expel of virtue” (Milton, 253).  And so it is with happiness and sadness in Bradbury’s work; ‘how much we expel of sadness, so much we expel of happiness’, and in its place is a “muddy pool of conformity” (261).

 

fahrenheit-451Such curbing of sadness and dissent can also be applied to Milton’s ideas concerning sects and schisms.  In ‘Areopagitica’Milton asserts that there are those who “complain of schisms and sects” (264), but notes that it is “their own pride and ignorance which causes the disturbing” (264).  Ultimately Milton insists that sects and schisms within a society are like the different materials used to erect a building, articulating the need for diversity.  Beatty though, in believing that he is keeping the masses happy, notes that there are “‘those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory’” (Bradbury, 62) and encourages Montag to “‘understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset’” (59).  Beatty would have the minorities eliminated.  For Milton, though, it is these various sects and schisms that allow the foundation of society to be laid artfully together and produces a “nation of prophets” (Milton, 265).

 

There is, of course, the manner in which the tyrannical state of Bradbury’s dystopian novel silences the concerns of the minority, or those who oppose that which is considered as orthodoxy by the state.  Montag is a fireman, whose job it is to burn books.  When secret stashes of books are found, they are burnt on site and the owner is arrested.  The owner is not simply arrested, though, as first the “police [put]… adhesive-tape… [on] the victim’s mouth” (Bradbury, 36).  Those found guilty of possessing books are not only arrested, they are prevented from speaking for fear that their words might taint those who have gathered to watch the burning of the books.  This is prepress censorship taken to an extreme as the victim is not even allowed to articulate a thought publicly.  It is on an occasion when the police have failed to do their job that the Miltonics of this work are moved forward.  A woman watches as the firemen prepare to burn her books and before they can engulf the books in flames, the woman ignites the fire herself and allows herself to be burned with the books (49-50).  It is in this passage where Bradbury moves the burning of books forward to be on a par with the taking of human life, which is exactly what Milton argued when he noted that censorship is “a kind of homicide” (Milton, 240) and that it is “as good almost [to] kill a man as kill a good book” (240).  In Bradbury’s example, however, it is indeed not a man, but a woman who is killed along with the books, which allows Bradbury to modernize the patriarchal bias of Milton’s work by including women in the conversation.  In the passage Bradbury twice compares the books to living things, first stating that they “fell like slaughtered birds” (Bradbury, 37) and notes that “the woman stood below, like a small girl among the bodies” (37).  Bradbury then goes on to write that the “books lay like great mounds of fishes left to dry” (38).  In allowing the woman to be burnt with her books, Bradbury conjures up the image of heretics being burnt.  For readers who don’t pick up on this, Bradbury makes the connection more overt  when Beatty tells Montag that the words the woman said before she died were actually quoted from two heretics who had spoken “‘as they were being burnt alive at Oxford, for heresy’” (40).

 

fahrenheit 451The correlation between books and human life is moved forward when Montag considers his actions.  After arriving home, Montag is out of sorts and when his wife asks him what is wrong he twice ties the burning of the books in with the burning of a woman, first saying: “We burnt an old woman with her books” (49), and then saying: “We burnt a thousand books.  We burnt a woman.” (50).  Montag at one time believed that in burning books, one was not “hurting anyone… only things” (36), but when he arrives home he does not say that he burnt copies of Dante’s Inferno or Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, but rather says that he “burnt copies of Dante and Swift and Marcus Aurelius” (50).  The difference is subtle, but clear.  Montag does see what he had done as burning copies of books, but rather copies of people.  Montag goes on to say: “I realized that a man was behind each one of the books.  A man had to think them up.  A man had to take a long time to put them down on paper” (52).  He further articulates his thoughts, noting that it “took some man a lifetime maybe to put some of his thoughts down… then I come along in two minutes and… it’s all over” (52).  This passage seem to be paraphrasing Milton’s own words as Milton wrote that when “a man writes to the world, he summons up all his reason and deliberation to assist him; he searches meditates, is industrious, and likely consults and confers with his judicious friends” (Milton, 255) and once this is done the author “takes himself to be informed in what he writes” (255).  Just as Milton sees a book as the product of a man’s: deliberations, meditations and industriousness, so too does Montag see books as the equivalent of a man’s thoughts and that a man took a long time to articulate his thoughts and that the burning of the book was in turn “a kind of homicide” (240).

 

Fahrenheit_451This metaphor of books being equivalent to life is questioned by Montag’s wife, Mildred, who boldly states to Montag: “Books aren’t people.  You read and I look all around, but there isn’t anybody” (Brandbury, 73).  When she cannot convince Montag of this, she puts a question to him: “Who’s more important, me or that Bible” (76)?  In referring to the book as ‘who’, rather than asking ‘which’, Mildred, unconsciously perhaps, concedes that the book is like a person.  Montag does not give her an answer.  Later in the novel the metaphor becomes literal.  Montag is run out of town and finds a home with a community of homeless people, each of whom has memorized a book.  Taken in by a man named Granger, Montag is told: “you are the Book of Ecclesiastes” (151), and when he meets the men they are introduced by the names of the books they have memorized.  Granger tells Montag: “I am Plato’s Republic” (151).  Their lives are secondary, as Granger notes: “We’re nothing more than dust jackets for the books” (153).  This is the personification of Milton’s metaphor.  Gone from the book are the spine and jacket; Bradbury binds the pages in flesh and bone.  The pages are not written on papyrus, but on the human mind.  Milton speaks metaphorically when he compares censorship to homicide, but Bradbury, in his dystopian world, has moved that metaphor forward and makes it quite literal.  Should there be any lingering doubts as to the influence Milton has had on Bradbury, Bradbury himself, like Orwell, makes sure to reference Milton twice in the book (Bradbury, 87, 178), making it clear that book is meant to be a part of the discourse on censorship started by Milton with ‘Areopagitica’.

 

BRAVE NEW CENSORSHIP: MILTON + HUXLEY

Aldous Huxley: Author and purported user of mescaline (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Aldous Huxley: Author and purported user of mescaline (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

The totalitarian society which Aldous Huxley created in his dystopian novel, Brave New World, shares a mutual distrust of books with the world which Bradbury wrote of in Fahrenheit 451.  From the start of the novel it is stated that all children in Huxley’s world are conditioned to have an “‘instinctive hatred of books’” (Huxley, 22).  The reason for this is because the state believes that “you couldn’t have lower-caste people wasting the Community’s time over books” (22), while also noting “that there was always the risk of their reading something which might undesirably decondition one of their reflexes” (22).  Their typical library “‘contains only books of reference’” (163).  Coupled with that, the society is one that promotes consumption and argues also that one “can’t consume much if [one were to] sit still and read all day’” (50).  To ensure that literature did not get through to the public, there was a “‘suppression of all books published before’” (51) the ascent of the new government.  The conditioning of the children to have a disinclination toward books serves to censor the mind, whilst the elimination of books serves to prevent new ideas from being introduced.  As for books written after the regime’s ascent, they went through exactly the kind of prepress censorship that Milton is arguing against in ‘Areopagitica’.  For example, Mustapha Mond, who is the Resident World Controller of Western Europe dismisses one book, stating that the “author’s mathematical treatment of the conception of purpose is novel… but heretical and… dangerous and potentially subversive’”, and is as a result   “‘Not to be published’” (177).  Huxley’s society aims to stop unorthodoxy, not only at prepress censorship, but at thought.  Mond notes that “‘men in the bad old days used to… spend their time reading, thinking” (55), but with a society conditioned to be forever engaged pleasure, “‘men [now] have no time, no leisure from pleasure, not a moment to sit down and think’” (55), which prevents unorthodoxy before the point of origin.  It is thought that by removing not allowing free time the heretical thought cannot even be formed and that orthodoxy would reign.

 

brave-new-worldThis manifests itself most notably in the character of Helmholtz Watson, who is a lecturer at the College of Emotional Engineering.  Watson also doubles as a writer and confides to Bernard Marx, one of the novel’s protagonists: “‘I sometimes get, a feeling that I’ve got something important to say and the power to say it-only I don’t know what it is, and I can’t make any use of the power’” (67).  This is a condition similar to that of Winston in Orwell’s work, who likewise feels he has something to say, but his limited education does not afford him the range of thought to articulate his thoughts.  Because all works which are unorthodox have been destroyed, and Watson has been conditioned to conform to society, and perhaps most notably because his life is free of misery, which is perhaps the greatest muse, he stands as a writer with nothing to say, asking ultimately: “‘Can you say something about nothing?  That’s what if finally boils down to’” (68).  This seems to create a parallel between Milton and Huxley.  Where Milton says “how much we thus expel of sin, so much we expel of virtue” (Milton, 253), Huxley seems to say how much we thus expel of misery, so much we expel of happiness.  Watson is not happy. He is discontent, but has no way of expressing this.  This concept is explored further in the novel when Mond is explaining to Watson and John Savage, another protagonist of the novel, why one is unable to write a tragedy the likes of which Shakespeare wrote: “‘You can’t make flivvers without steel-and you can’t make tragedies without social instability”  (Huxley, 220).  Because the World State of Huxley’s dystopian society has removed social instability, or as some might call it, misery, it has made it impossible to write a tragedy because nothing truly tragic has happened to anyone within the World State and so a tragedy would only appear farcical.  But, without knowing what misery is, the World State has created a happiness that is again, like the virtue of which Milton argued against: a “whiteness [that] is but an excremental whiteness” (Milton, 248), and their happiness is like the virtue of which Milton speaks, “but a blank virtue, not a pure” (248), or rather, a blank happiness, as it appears in Bradbury.

 

The cover of the first addition.

The cover of the first addition of Brave New World.

There is not only examples of ‘blank happiness’ in Huxley, but both ‘blank virtue’ and ‘blank vice’.  Children are brought up by the state in a strictly caste society where each person is conditioned to prefer the caste they have been designated to and to in turn, not envy other castes.  This lack of envy is a blank virtue.  Everyone belongs, sexually speaking, to everyone.  This is done to curb passion, which, arises from chastity.  As Mond notes: “‘chastity means passion’” (Huxley, 237).  And should anybody find something unpleasant there is drug called soma which is meant to bring about happiness via chemical means, perhaps the most prophetic aspect of Huxley’s dystopian society.  This a mirror image of the ‘blank happiness’ of Bradbury’s work and again speaks to the “cloistered virtue” (Milton, 247) Milton warns against, though, like Bradbury’s work, it is a ‘cloistered happiness, rather than a ‘cloistered virtue’.  Ultimately the state’s goal is stability and their underlining logic is: “You can’t have a lasting civilization without plenty of pleasant vices” (237).  This vices are an inversion of ‘blank virtue’.  Such vice is presented as acceptable behaviour and nobody understands concepts of gluttony or sloth, nor do they understand the virtue of abstemious.  Whereas Milton was concerned that one would not be able to define virtue without vice, Huxley’s world amalgamates the two so that they are not only inseparable, as Milton states, but indistinguishable as well, but embraced without any consideration or thought.

 

Sylvester Stallone (left) as John Savage (no relation to Fred), a re-imagining of the protagonist from 'Brave New World' in the film 'Demolition Man', which was not based on Huxley's work, though it was inspired by it.  I still can't believe Savage couldn't figure out how to use the three seashells.

Sylvester Stallone (left) as John Savage (no relation to Fred), a re-imagining of the protagonist from ‘Brave New World’ in the film ‘Demolition Man‘, which was not based on Huxley’s work, though it was inspired by it. I still can’t believe Savage couldn’t figure out how to use the three seashells.

Bernard Marx seems to be Huxley’s antithesis for this mentality.  Marx derives no pleasure in life at the onset of the novel.  He refuses to take soma and would rather spend his free time talking with Watson than engaging in any of the sports he has been conditioned to enjoy.  Because he does not fit in with what was considered normal, he is seen as being unorthodox physically, and embraces his unorthodoxy.  He even “went out of his way to show himself… [as] unorthodox” (110).  Marx’s views on sport and soma where considered by others to be heretical (149) and the Director, who serves as Marx’s supervisor, notes that “‘no offence is so heinous as unorthodoxy of behaviour.  Murder kills only the individual… Unorthodoxy threatens more than the life of a mere individual; it strikes at Society itself’” (148).  The director threatens to send Marx to Iceland where he cannot infect others with his unorthodoxy (98).  This expulsion is a censorship of sorts, and though the World State does not sanction execution, expulsion to Iceland is certainly on a par, in spirit, to burning a heretic at the stake, or banning a book from publication, in that it prevents unorthodox or heretical ideas from being presented to the masses for consideration.  Milton argues that it is “as good almost kill a man as kill a good book” (Milton, 240), but Huxley’s dystopian world has taken this argument one step further and removed the very man that Milton was simply analogizing about.  It may not be a literal death, but it is a death in practice.

 

John Savage is perhaps the most interesting protagonist of the novel and also delves into a Miltonic approach to virtue and sin.  Milton argues that “in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil” (Milton, 247), and Savage seems to be paraphrasing Milton when he insists: “‘I want goodness.  I want sin’” (Huxley, 240).  Savage, like Milton, sees sin and virtue “as two twins cleaving together” (Milton, 247), but Mond argues against Savage, aligning virtue with chastity and claiming, as mentioned, that “‘chastity means passion’” (Huxley, 237).  Mond claims that passion, in turn, leads to political instability.  Savage however, does not relent and sees the happiness that Mond offers as an “excremental whiteness” (Milton, 248), claiming that he would “‘rather be unhappy than have the sort of false lying happiness’” (Huxley, 179) which Mond offers Savage.

 

Karl Marx, the name same of the Huxley's character and patriarch to the Marx dynasty that has produced both Richard Marx and the Marx Brothers.

Karl Marx, the name same of the Huxley’s character and patriarch to the Marx dynasty that has produced both Richard Marx and the Marx Brothers.

There is also the question of choice.  Milton speaks of an “artificial Adam” (Milton, 252) as a man who does not have the “freedom to choose” (252) and in turn does not have reason, “for reason is but choosing” (252).  It is this artificial Adam that the World State of Brave New World has created.  Marx, for example, admits freely that he is “‘enslaved by [his] conditioning’” (Huxley, 90).  He did not choose the life he lead, but rather was born into it and conditioned to accept it (though admittedly the conditioning employed by the World State is flawed in that both Marx and Watson are unorthodox products of said conditioning).  Mond is clear on the matter, and challenges Marx, Watson and Savage to imagine a world where those from the working-class castes are “‘capable (within limits) of making a free choice and assuming responsibility’” (222), and goes on to claim that the result would disastrous, citing an experiment where an island was populated with people who had undergone Alpha-conditioning, only to have the island indulges in a “first-class civil war” (223) within six years.  The answer, according to Mond, is to breed a world of the artificial Adams which Milton warns against, men and women who cannot employ reason because they have no choice and are conditioned to prefer the way of life of which ever castes they were born into and conditioned for.

 

THERE IS NO “I” IN THE ONE STATE: MILTON + YEVGENY

Yevgeny Zamyatin.

Yevgeny Zamyatin.

Similar themes are brought up in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We.  Like Huxley’s Brave New World, ‘everyone belongs to everyone’ as open sexual relationships are the norm.  The reason for this is to eliminate jealousy.  As the protagonist of the novel, D-507, notes, “if there is no good reason for enviousness, the denominator of the fraction of happiness is brought down to zero and the fraction is transformed into glorious infinity” (Zamyatin, 21).  This elimination of jealousy ensures happiness, but like Bradbury and Huxley, it is a ‘blank happiness’ akin to Milton’s ‘blank virtue’.  One gets a full sense of this ‘blank virtue’ when D-503 claims that the people within the One State “live in full view, perpetually awash in light” (19).  This implies an absence of that which is dark or sinful.  Abstemious is imposed upon the people of the One State.  D-503 articulates that “anyone who poisons themselves with nicotine and alcohol… will be shown no mercy by the One State” (49), illustrating the forced virtue or a blank temperance and goes onto say that “Freedom and crime are so indissolubly connected” (33).  Instead of freedom, all are like D-503 who boasts plainly: “I am a slave, and this was also a necessity, it was also good” (64).  This implies a lack of freedom given to the people of the One State; a usurpation of the choice which Milton insists is necessary in order to employ reason and obtain a virtue that is more than a ‘cloistered virtue’.  Such virtue seems to be absent in We.

 

WE:  Was such a huge influence on Orwell that when literary critic David Spade first read 1984, he responds: I like it better the first time I read it, when it was called 'WE'.

WE: Was such a huge influence on Orwell that when literary critic David Spade first read 1984, he responds: I like it better the first time I read it, when it was called ‘WE’.

There is a unison amongst the people of the One State that seems to be lacking the diversity of a multitude of sects that Milton promotes.  D-503 notes early in We that “being original is to violate equality” (27).  This is magnified when on “the day of the One Vote” (120), D-503 observes that “the One State does not know… of… even one voice [who] dared to disturb the magnificent unison” of their election (121).  The election process is absent of choice and only one option exists.  Even should a person protest the vote, D-503 articulates that it is “CLEAR TO EACH OF [citizens of the One State] THAT TAKING THEIR VOICES INTO ACCOUNT WOULD BE AS REDICULOUS AS TAKING THE ACCIDENTAL COUGHS OF SICK PEOPLE IN A CONCERT AUDIENCE AS A PART OF THE MAJESTIC HEROIC SYMPHONY” (131).  This lack of choice, coupled with the disregard of any dissenters demonstrates a lack of diversity of thought.  This is not the “many sects and schisms” that are required in order for “the house of God [to] be built” (Milton, 266).  Instead it is a damming of the “perpetual progression” Milton encourages in order to avoid the “muddy pool of conformity” (261).  As the novel progresses though, D-503 finds his world view challenged and eventually admits that “it [is] clear that it’s the differences… it’s in the… contrast that life lies” (Zamyatin, 154).  He we can see the D-503 recognizes that one must be able to “apprehend and consider vice with all her baits… and yet distinguish… that which is truly” good (Milton, 247) and that it is in this process where life lies.

 

The dime-store version of WE.

The dime-store version of WE.

Just as is the case with Orwell and Huxley, the Zamyatin creates a world where censorship goes beyond the pages of a book and extends into the human mind.  The climax of the novel sees the One State essentially lobotomize the heretical offenders whom D-503 has been influenced by, but this is a practice that occurs before the heretical thought is formed, through an “excision of the imagination” (Zamyatin, 72).  D-503 notes that “everyone’s imagination must be… excised” (80).  D-503 speaks here to a very literal censorship of the mind.  Speaking of his journal, D-503 writes: “Should I light it on fire?…. I wouldn’t have the strength to destroy this excruciating and possibly most precious piece of myself” (145).  Here D-503 recognizes that his thinking is unorthodox and considers pre-emptive censorship as he has been taught that dissenting voices are criminal.  Conversations weren’t meant to challenge the ideology of the One State, but rather were, “for the most part, concerned the rapid fall of the barometer and the change of the weather” (147), and so the writing of D-503’s journal was a criminal act, and once which should be destroyed according to the One State.

 

Like all good Christians, the members of the Spanish Inquisition were expert at torture, as it is outlined in the special edition of Leviticus (the extended edition that didn't make it into the Bible).

Like all good Christians, the members of the Spanish Inquisition were expert at torture, as it is outlined in the special edition of Leviticus (the extended edition that didn’t make it into the Bible).

There are other elements of the novel which work well with Milton’s ideas on censorship.  D-503 articulates the concept that “a person is a novel” (141), which works with Milton’s alignment of books and people, and when the One State executes people with ideas that diverge from the ideas of the One State, we see the fruition of Milton’s assessment that the censorship of a book as “a kind of homicide” (Milton, 240).  And just as Milton’s aligns the practice of censorship with the “Spanish inquisition” (243), so too does Yevgeny who references the “Inquisition” (Zamyatin, 72) early in the novel and later has D-503 claim that the One State is “as severe and black as the ancient Spaniards (who were wisely capable of burning offenders at the stake)” (103).  It is clear that Zamyatin’s work shares commonalities with Milton’s arguments, and fits well within the context of other dystopian novels that rail against censorship.

 

MIND AND REASON: MILTON + WYNDHAM

John Wyndham was a pen name that an aristocrat used because he didn't want his friends thinking he needed to write to earn a living.  Oh the trials of the aristocracy.

John Wyndham.

Just as Zamyatin’s novel speaks to the oppression of sects and a diversity of thought, so too does John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids.  At the outset of the novel, it is physical diversity that is oppressed.  Maxims like: “BLESSED IS THE NORM”, “THE NORM IS THE WILL OF GOD”, “REPRODUCTION IS THE ONLY HOLY PRODUCTION” and “THE Devil is THE FATHER OF DEVIATION” (Wyndham, 18) are pronounced throughout the novel.  The idea that ‘reproduction is the only hold production’ exemplifies the lack of diversity.  Everything has to be a near exact copy of everything else. This is manifest, at first, in physical deviation.  The protagonist, David, first comes into contact with such deviation when he meets a girl names Sophie who happens to have six toes instead of five.  David is taught that “any deviation from the true image is blasphemy” (72), but his ideas of blasphemy are challenged when he meets Sophie as he knows her to be a good person.  People like Sophie are usually killed at birth, as is the case with David’s cousin, or they are ostracized from society and live in the fringes.  Though these practices do exemplify the despotism of tyrannical rule, such censorship of physical deviations serve ultimately as a metaphor to the ideological deviations that are developed as the novel progresses.

 

Chrysalids_first_edition_1955

The cover of the first edition of The Chrysalids.

David’s uncle, Axel, speaks to David on the topic of diverging ideological and theological philosophies.  He warns David that “when people are used to believing [what]… preachers want them to believe… it’s trouble you get, not thanks, for upsetting their ideas” (57).  This is not a reflection of the multitude of sects which Milton recommends.  Axel suggests that “the more stupid [people] are, the more like everyone else they think everyone ought to be” (144).  This ‘stupidity’ seems to be a paraphrasing of Milton who suggests that those “who perpetually complain of schisms and sects” allow “their own pride and ignorance [to] cause the disturbing” (Milton, 264).  Milton here associates ignorance with pride, and though Wyndham does not do so in this passage, it is brought up later when he writes that such uniformity is demanded because some have “got the arrogance to think themselves perfect” (Wyndham, 154).  Wyndham uses ‘stupid’ and ‘arrogance’ where Milton employs ‘ignorance’ and ‘pride’, but it is clear that Wyndham is invoking the same reasoning as Milton in attacking people who demand absolute uniformity at the expense of diversity.

 

It has long been rumoured that Halle Berry has six toes.  She could have played Sophie in a film adaptation of Wyndham's classic novel.

It has long been rumoured that Halle Berry has six toes. She could have played Sophie in a film adaptation of Wyndham’s classic novel.

This is furthered by Wyndham’s suggestion that when such intolerant people “stamp on any change” (154) they do so out of fear and when “afraid they become cruel and want to hurt people who are different” (144).  This idea of fear is repeated when one divergent human notes others “are scared of” (143) those who deviate, and shortly thereafter it is noted that “people are afraid of” (144) deviants.  This fear leads to cruelty, and such cruelty grows into “harsh intolerance and bitter rectitude” (183) as the novel progresses.  Such cruelty speaks to the kind of “brutal evisceration” that Getz-Robinsons aligns with the ‘rake through the entrails of many an… [a]uthor’” (Getz-Robinson, 966) in Milton’s ‘Areopagitica’.  Ignorance, pride and cruelty are all a part of the despotism that dissuades diversity according to Milton, and each is a part of the uniformed culture which Wyndham has created, but Wyndham enhances that argument by including the motivating factor of fear as an integral part to this absolute, reactionary response to diversity.

 

Martin Luther, like Wyndham and Milton, promoted diverging sects.  He also could have afforded to lose some weight, unless he was healthy and happy with his body, then there is no need to worry about that.

Martin Luther, like Wyndham and Milton, promoted diverging sects. He also could have afforded to lose some weight, unless he was healthy and happy with his body, then there is no need to worry about that.

Even when social conformity seeks to strangle any diverging idea, growth can still occur, and so it does in Wyndham’s world.  Though the “Purity Laws” (Wyndham, 59), as David’s uncle notes, don’t really “alter the way [things] really” are, they do aim to create the “peace and quiet” (57) that Captain Beatty seeks procure by silencing “‘those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory’” (Bradbury, 62).  Marther, a man who, in Wyndham’s work, sought to challenge the perception of deviations, by claiming that “deviations, so far from being a curse, were performing, however slowly, a work of reclamation” (Wyndham, 61).  Marther, whose name serves appropriately as a compressed version of Martin Luther, urges a new theological approach and in turn creates a diverging sect, as requirement by Miltonic standards.   It becomes clear as the novel nears its end that rather than facilitating life, the “static… is the enemy of life” (196) and that adversely “the essential quality of living is change” (196), or, as Milton might word it, “perpetual progression” (Milton, 261).The core of Milton’s argument is of course reason, and this too is very much the crux of Wyndham’s novel.  Axel explains to David that is not a ‘soul’ that defines humanity, but rather “what makes man man is mind” (79-80), or in other words, his ability to reason.  It is not the physical form which defines man according to Axel, but the ability to reason.  He says man “discovered he had what nothing else had, mind” and that that “was the only thing he could usefully develop” and that “the only way to open [humanity was] to develop new qualities of mind” (80).  This is a far cry from the theology to the hegemonic institution that run Wyndham’s dystopian society, but it is very much in concert with Burgess’s belief that a“man who cannot choose ceases to be a man” (Burgess, 122).  This ability to choose or reason is a thread that runs throughout dystopian works like A Clockwork Orange and The Chrysalids, and is something that is derived directly from Milton’s ‘Areopagitica’ where Milton suggests that “reason [and the] freedom to choose” (Milton, 252) is what defines humanity.  Wyndham creates a world where sectarian divergence is not allowed, nor any sort of deviation, but for Wyndham, as for Burgess and Milton, the development of the mind is what defines humanity.

 

IDEAS ARE BULLETPROOF: MILTON + MOORE

 

Alan Moore's beard rivals the beard of Marx and Rasputin.

Alan Moore’s beard rivals the beard of Marx and Rasputin.

In The Chrysalids, choices were limited through the eradication of both the physically and theologically divergent, but for Alan Moore, it is the eradication of diverging cultures that is the crux of the censorship presented in his graphic novel V For Vendetta.  When, for instance, Evey Hammond first sees the underground lair of the title character, V, she says:  “It’s unbelievable!  All of these paintings and books… I didn’t even know there were things like this” (Moore, 18).  V responds: “You couldn’t be expected to know.  They have eradicated culture… tossed it away like a fistful of dead roses” (18) and goes on to notes that they have “eradicated some cultures more thoroughly than others” (19).  The ‘they’ which V speaks of is the Norsefire government, a totalitarian regime that has taken over the United Kingdom after a nuclear war and uses a group referred to as Fingermen to maintain the police state.  We see that the censorship in Moore’s work is perhaps greater than the censorship which Milton spoke of as it not only includes writing, but also paintings, implying that censorship permeates to all forms of expression, which is articulated further by the fact that the television station is run by the government as well. V is careful to note that it is not only ideas that are eradicated, but cultures as well.  This eliminates the diversity of culture and ideas and in turn youths like Hammond are never exposed to ideas that diverge from orthodox political thought.  This suppression otherness is contrary Milton’s argument that society needs “moderate varieties and brotherly dissimilitudes” (Milton, 266) and replaces Milton’s prescribed dissimilitudes with uniformity.

 

VFV

The cover of the graphic novel for V For Vendetta.

Such uniformity leaves little in the way of choice, but it is V’s goal to bring choice to the masses.  Norsefire of course works against this and attempts to hide the truth from the masses.  When V destroys government buildings and creates a fireworks display in the process, the propaganda team notes that the leader of Norsefire, FATE, “doesn’t think [they] should mention the fireworks” (Moore, 17).  Norsefire doesn’t want the masses to know that there is a politically unorthodox rogue running free and so aims to keep news of him away from the masses.  For Milton, the orthodox can only exist in the presence of the unorthodox, much as good can only be known through the study of evil and it is through such study that a “nation or prophets” can arise (Milton, 265).  Moore recognizes this and articulates this through his narrative in a scene where V gives Hammond access to materials that can “makes explosives out of coffee or make psychedelic drugs as cheap as water” (Moore, 220).  V does not simply leave them with her; he tells Hammond: “Use them wisely if as all” (220).  V does not want chaos, he wants choice, but he wants choice in the context of wisdom.  Even in his comments he ensures that Hammond has choice, stating that if she should use them she should do so wisely, but the italics present on the word ‘all’ indicates that V is highlighting that Hammond doesn’t have to use if she doesn’t wish to.  This encouragement of wise deliberation is repeated at the climax of the work when V announces the destruction of the government building.  He tells the crowd that has gathered that they will have to “choose what comes next.  Lives of [y]our own, or a return to chains.  Choose carefully” (258).  By instructing them to choose carefully, he is against encouraging them to use “right Reason” (Milton, Book VII, 84).  V wants a nation of prophets much like Milton and so when giving them choice, also tries to instil reason with that choice.

 

A movie poster for the film adaptation of V For Vendetta.

A movie poster for the film adaptation of V For Vendetta.

Norsefire seeks to keep V existence outside of the public sphere, but once known, Norsefire looks to destroy V.  In a confrontation with the Fignermen, V asks them boldly: “Did you think to kill me?  There’s no flesh and blood within this cloak to kill.  There’s only an idea.  Ideas are bullet proof” (236).  This is a core Miltonic principle.  ‘Areopagitica’ opposes prepress censorship and does not argue that the government shouldn’t destroy books after publication, merely that the books should be allowed in the public sphere and that should a book be determined to be dangerous afterwards, then it can be destroyed.  Their publication and permeation in society, though, undermines their destruction.  Milton knew that once the idea was in the public concious, it could not be eradicated, regardless of how many copies of a book were destroyed.  Just V states that ideas are bulletproof, so to would the ideas that had escaped the pages of books being burned be fireproof.

 

THE LIVING BOOK: MILTON + DICK

Philip K. Dick had a more humble beard than Alan Moore and Marx, but his ideas were just as brilliant.

Philip K. Dick had a more humble beard than Alan Moore and Marx, but his ideas were just as brilliant.

Such sentiments are present in Philip K. Dick’s The Man In The High Castle as well, where Nazi oppressors have concerns regarding a book titled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which has already been published.  The book is “‘[b]anned through the United States.  And in Europe’” (Dick, 65) and is also “‘banned in the East Coast’” (87) of America, which in Dick’s post-WWII world is governed by Japanese forces as Germany and Japan had won the war in this piece of speculative fiction.  Though the censorship efforts are thorough, a German solider notes that the “book after all is in print” and that censorship efforts are “[t]oo late now” (129).  Like V For Vendetta, this speaks to the Miltonic principles behind the arguments against prepress censorship.  Even if a book is allowed to be banned after its publication, the ideas from the book are already a part of the social conscious and ideas cannot be erased from the mind the way words on a page can be destroyed by fire.  The Germans note that “this books… is dangerous” (128) and wanted they Japanese “suppress [the]… book”, claiming they could have “arrested… Absendsen” (127), the novel’s author.  This further ties the practices of the novel with the arguments Milton employed as the Long Parliament, like the Star Chamber before them, would not only destroy books, but arrest authors as well.  The ties with ‘Areopagitica’ are clear.

 

Arresting Absendsen is not enough for the Nazis though; they want him dead as well.  One German, Reiss, notes that if “Absendstien should be found dangling from the ceiling some fine morning, it would be a sobering notice to anyone who might be influenced by this book. We would have had the last word.  Written the postscript” (128).  This seems to fit in well with Cressy’s assessment of the book burning process where he describes “transgressive works [going] to symbolic execution” via book burnings and notes that “the addition of the hangman to the ceremony” (Cressey, 359) reinforced the metaphor of the book being killed and would put an end to the conversation.  Reiss speaks of destroying the book, but he uses a hangman metaphor as well and also notes, like Cressey, that the Nazis would usurp the last word of the conversation through the process much like the Star Chamber would hope to accomplish via book burning.  Of course, the hangman at the book burning was a metaphor, whereas Reiss wants an actual hangman to hang Absendsen, who name he alters to make it sound as if it is Jewish in origin.  This moves Milton’s metaphorical analogy with censorship as being “a kind of homicide” (Milton, 240) to an actual homicide.  Reiss not only believes that Absendsen should be killed, but as one of the novel’s protagonists notes, the Nazis have sent a man who is “suppose… to kill Absendsen” (Dick, 209), making the link between the censoring of a book and the homicide of an actual person explicit.  Not only can an author be murdered for writing, though, but Dick notes that “‘they still shoot people for reading’” (87) as well.  This works in concert with the notion of prepress censorship.  Anybody who has read a heretical work then poses a threat as they possess and can share heretical ideas.  The homicide of such people then serves as a form of censorship that censors the idea and extends the methods of censorship beyond those of which Milton conceived of and argued against.

 

The I Ching, considered by many to be the very first choose-your-own-adventure book.

The I Ching, considered by many to be the very first choose-your-own-adventure book.

The idea the censorship as a ‘kind of homicide’ is part and parcel with the belief that “books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life” (239).  This is also a key component of Dicks’ work.  When speaking to an American business owner, Mr. Tagomi confesses that the Japanese “‘live by a five-thousand-year-old book”, noting that they “set it questions as if it were alive” before asserting that the book, the I Ching,  “is alive”.  Tagomi shares his believe that the “the Christian Bible [like] many books [is] actually alive” and not “in metaphoric fashion” because Tagomi believes that there is spirit in such books and that such “Spirit animates’” books (Dick, 70).  This dialogue seems to be almost paraphrasing Milton’s argument, suggesting that books contain spirit, or rather, the ‘potency of life’ in them.  Tagomi’s view on books is clearly Miltonic in origin.

 

While Tagomi’s philosophical thoughts on books are interesting, he is peripheral character.  It is Absendsen who serves as the title character and though he does not appear until the final pages of the novel, it is his work that inspires the characters of the book to take action.  So it is only fitting that Dick share excerpts from The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which, like Tagomi’s philosophies, appear to be Miltonic in origin.  Milton suggests that books are “but useful drugs” (Milton, 250), or “are as meats and viands” (246), and also notes that books can help to purify as, to “the pure all things are pure” (246).  Milton’ also suggest that should the “streaming fountain [of truth would] flow not in a perpetual progression [it will] sicken into a muddy pool of conformity” (260-261).  Absendsen touches upon all these things.  He suggests, in his work, that people must be taught how “to read, first.  Then the rest.  How to dig a deeper well.  Plow a deeper furrow.  How to purify their water, heal their sick” (Dick, 157).  Reading, for Absendsen, leads to digging a deeper well and purifying the water, to prevent the ‘muddy pool of conformity’.  It allows the reader to ‘plow a deeper furrow’ that they might serve to produce crops that help to provide ‘meats and viands’.  And books should help reader to ‘heal their sick’, or serve as ‘useful drugs’. Milton speaks through simile, saying that books are ‘as meats and viands’ and speaks metaphorically of books as ‘useful drugs’ and a ‘streaming fountain’, but Dick, through Absendsen, creates an argument where the reading of books literally provide these things, drawing on Milton’s argument and turning Milton’s metaphor into literal statements and strengthening Milton’s argument in the process.

 

THE FEMINIST AREOPAGITICA: MILTON + ATWOOD

Margaret Atwood: She's Canada's answer to Margaret Atwood.

Margaret Atwood: She’s Canada’s answer to Margaret Atwood.

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale does not overtly align the written word with the sustenance required for human life the way Dick does, but her work is just as tightly linked with Milton’s ‘Areopagitica’.  Like many works of dystopian literature, Atwood’s features excessive censorship.  The novel’s protagonist, Offred, recalls“women burning books” (Atwood, 42) before the ascent of the Republic of Gilead (ROG), the despotic regime that rules the dystopian society in which Offred lives.   When she is offered magazines by her patriarch, she notes that they “were supposed to have been burned” (181).  Offred describes watching educational films in the ROG and notes that “the title and some names, [had been] blacked out on the film with a crayon so” (138) they couldn’t be read.  The education she receives is meant to help erase vestiges of the past, or as Jane Armbruster articulates it, the schools “teach forgetfulness” (Armbruster, 148), an example of the government attempting to reach into the mind and censor memories.  When recollecting a song, Offred notes that such“songs are not sung any more in public, especially the ones that use words like free.  They are considered too dangerous” (Atwood, 60).  In each of these instances, be it the destruction of publications, the crossing out of names in films, or the prohibited singing of songs, it is clear that the censorship Milton argued against is present in the ROG, but like other works of dystopian fiction, censorship goes beyond the destructions of published materials.

 

Atwood's dystopian society locked up books, but current totalitarian regimes, like China's, are more concerned with locking up information on the internet.

Atwood’s dystopian society locked up books, but current totalitarian regimes, like China’s, are more concerned with locking up information on the internet.

Offred reminisces: “I can remember when there were newspapers” (199), making it clear that newspapers, in the ROG, are no longer in production.  Even if they were, Offred notes that, for women at least, reading “is not permitted” (180).  This is an extension of the patriarchal thought process in the ROG, where one leader boasts that their “‘big mistake was teaching them to read’”, and goes on to note that they “‘won’t do that again’” (353).  It is clear that the effort is made to prevent the masses, and women more specifically, from even being exposed to a thought that might challenge the political authority of the ROG.  To help facilitate this, universities have also been closed (26).  Books still exist, as Offred notes when she enters and describes the office of her patriarch: “all around the walls there are bookcases.  They’re filled with books… no locks… no wonder [women] can’t come in here.  It’s an oasis of the forbidden” (158).  The passage is telling.  In it, Atwood makes clears that bookcases typically have locks on them, and that bookcases without locks are an anomaly.  Rooms that contain such anomalous bookcases are forbidden to women.  Such tactics are put in place so that women do not have access to ideas and coupled with the suspension of universities, it helps to prevent women from learning and serves to limit their potential range of thought.  It is clear that the censorship which the ROG is attempting goes beyond the page and reaches into the mind.

 

handmaid_tale2The reason for having books under lock and key, plays into another aspect of the Miltonic argument: that of the fool.  Milton notes that a fool will be a fool even with “sacred scripture” (250), and this seems to be how the ROG views the masses: as a collection of Miltonic fools.  Books, though “dangerous in the hands of the multitudes… [are] safe enough for those whose motives are… Beyond reproach” (Atwood, 181), or so is the belief of the ROG.  Even the ‘sacred scripture’ Milton speaks of is locked up as it is seen as an “incendiary device” (99).  As Peter Stillman and Anne Johnson note, “the founders of Gilead generated a right-wing fundamentalist reading of the Bible, grafted onto patriarchal attitudes and imposed on society” (Johnson/Stillman, 71).  In order to preserve this fundamentalist reading of the Bible, the men cannot allow women to read, otherwise, their theology might be challenged.  The ROG worries about what the likes of Offred would “make of” the Bible, and so the masses can only be “read to from it, by [patriarchs] but [they] cannot read” (Atwood, 99) it themselves.  If the ROG is legitimately concerned that the masses are the fools of whom Milton warns, they fail to realize the other half of Milton’s argument: that the fools will be fools regardless of what they read.  It is perhaps then, the other half of Milton’s argument which the ROG is worried about, that: the “wise… will make better use of an idle pamphlet than a fool will do of sacred Scripture” (Milton, 250).  The patriarchal oppressors of Atwood’s novel do not want the women to enhance what wisdom they may already have and instead hope to turn their minds into a “muddy pool of conformity” (261).

 

handmaid2This approach, though it may generate obedience, may not generate virtue.  Milton argues that censorship will lead to “blank virtue, not a pure” (248) virtue, and that seems very much to be what the ROG is harnessing with their policies.  Offred notes that in her new environment, she is “like a child”, going onto say that “there are some things [she] must not be told.”  (Atwood, 59).  By contextualizing Offred as a child, Atwood makes it clear that, like a child, the ROG expect that women do not know the difference between right and wrong and that they therefore cannot be truly virtuous.  Offred goes onto explain that “[k]nowing was a temptation.  What you don’t know won’t tempt you” (225).  By eliminating what the handmaids know of sin, the ROG hopes to reduce their potential to sin, and so imposes virtue on them.  For example, the handmaids of Atwood’s novel are abstemious, but not by choice.  Offred recalls one instance: “I looked at the cigarette with longing.  For me, like liquor and coffee, cigarettes are forbidden” (16).  In mind, Offred is guilty.  She desires the cigarette and would smoke it, but she is not permitted to do so, and so her virtue is the Miltonic ‘blank virtue’.  Men face similar issues.  When Offred and her neighbour Ofglen walk past two guards, Offred notes that “these two men… aren’t yet permitted to touch women” (25).  The two men, therefore, are in act innocent of lust, but the reader does not know that they are innocent in mind.  According to scripture, the thought of sin is equal to sin.  When speaking of adultery, Christ said that “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew, 5:28).  The sin of the mind is not eliminated, and so true virtue is not obtained.  This is again the “cloistered virtue” Milton speaks of (Milton, 247).  Because the act is forbidden, the guards, like the handmaids, have virtue levied onto them, and they do not enter “the race where that immortal garland” of virtue is won via the rejection of vice amidst the “dust and heat” of sin (246-248).  Each of these instances demonstrates how the virtue is enforced on the people within the ROG.  They cannot “apprehend and consider vice with all her baits… [in order to] distinguish… that which is truly” (Milton, 247) virtuous, and soare not examples of true virtue, but rather the Miltonic ‘blank virtue’.

 

This imposed virtue can only arise when there is limited choice, which is another of the core tenets in Milton’s argument.  As one of the educational trainers informs Offred, in the pre-ROG society they: “were a society dying… of too much choice” (28).  As a result of this plethora of choice that existed, the people became victims of vice.  The educator goes onto say: “There is more than one kind of freedom… Freedom to and freedom from.  In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to.  Now you are being given freedom from.  Don’t underrate it” (28).  This ‘freedom from’, of course, is the result of the limits placed on choices.  One of the examples of restricted choice is religious choice.  Milton argues that in order to build the house of God, humanity needs “many sects and schisms” (Milton, 266), but in the ROG, all sects save the one embraced by the ROG have been eliminated.  Offred notes that there were “sect wars” (47), and that the ROG had “[d]efeated rebel Baptists” (22) and goes onto note that there existed “heretical sect of Quakers” (94).  This lack of diversity extends beyond various sects of Christianity to include other religions and ethnicities.  As Armbruster notes, in the ROG, “people of colour and Jews are deported en masse or killed” (Armbruter, 147).  It is clear that the ROG is a social hierarchy whose principles stand in sharp contrast to Milton’s as the ROG allows neither true choice, nor a multitude of sects, and so will be left with a society bathing in a “muddy pool of conformity” (Milton, 261).

 

CONCLUSION

There is no denying John Milton's boyish good looks.

There is no denying John Milton’s boyish good looks.

Though a regime like the Republic of Gilead may seem extreme, many of the practices employed by the regime mirrors tactics employed both by 17th century England, and totalitarian governments of the 20th century.  The Licensing Order of June 16th, 1643 remained on the books until 1694, but censorship remains a concern globally.  Totalitarian regimes led by the likes of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong all employed extreme measures of censorship, and even democratic governments have sought to control the information available on the internet over the past couple of decades.  We see in the works of Orwell, Burgess, Bradbury, Huxley, Yevgeny, Wyndham, Moore, Dick and Atwood how the arguments presented by Milton in ‘Areopagitica’ remain relevant today and how a regime in the contemporary world might circumvent these Miltonic arguments to limit the materials available to the public.  Be it methods as overt as book burning, or imprisoning political writers, or be it through more subtle methods, such as creating systems where education becomes limited or eliminating words, institutions which have power over the masses can and do finds ways to limit what materials reach the general public.  With the hopes of drawing attention to issues surrounding censorship, authors like Orwell, Burgess, Bradbury and Atwood, have borrowed from Milton’s political rhetoric and put flesh on his argument.  This process has brought ‘Areopagitica’ to life in a variety of narratives that serve to establish both the value of Milton’s argument, and the methods in which contemporary governments might choose to apply censorship, demonstrating that the tenets of Milton’s arguments are as relevant today as they were when they were first published.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Primary Sources:

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale.  McClelland & Stewart. Toronto, Canada.  1985.  Print.

Bradbury, Ray.  Fahrenheit 451.  Ballantine Books.  Toronto, Canada.  1950.  Print.

Burgess, Anthony.  A Clockwork Orange. Penguin Books.  London, UK. 1972.  Print.

Dick, Philip, K. The Man In The High Castle. Vintage Books.  New York, New York. 1962.  Print.

Huxley, Aldous.  Brave New World.  HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. New York, New York. 1932.  Print.

Milton, John.  “Areopagitica” John Milton: The Major Works. Ed. Goldberg, Jonathan and Orgel, Stephen.  Oxford University Press.  Oxford, UK, 1991.  236-272. Print.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost.  John Milton: The Major Works. Ed. Goldberg, Jonathan and Orgel, Stephen.  Oxford University Press.  Oxford, UK, 1991.  355-68. Print.

Moore, Alan.  V For Vendetta.  Vertigo.  New York, New York.  1988/1989.  Print.

Orwell, George.  1984.  Penguin Books.  London, UK.  1954. Print.

Wyndham, John. The Chrysalids.  Penguin Books. London, UK. 1955.  Print.

Zamyatin, Yevgeny.  We. Trans. Randall, Natasha.  Modern Library.  New York, New York.  2006.  Print.

 

Secondary Sources:

Armbruster, Jane.  ‘Memory and Politics — A Reflection on “The Handmaid’s Tale“’.  Social Justice, Vol. 17, No. 3 (41), Feminism and the Social Control of Gender (Fall 1990), pp. 146-152.  JSTOR.  Web.  19, June, 2013.

 

Beauchamp, Gorman. ‘Of Man’s Last Disobedience: Zamiatin’s We and Orwell’s 1984’.  Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 10, No. 4, Special Issue on Utopian Social Thought in Literature and the Social Sciences (December 1973), pp. 285-301.  JSTOR. Web. 13, June, 2013.

 

Cressey, David. ‘Book Burning in Tudor and Stuart England’.  The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Summer 2005), pp. 359-374. JSTOR.  Web.  13, June, 2013.

 

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Getz-Robinson, Genelle.  ‘Still Martyred after All These Years: Generational Suffering in Milton’s “Areopagitica”’. English Literature History, Vol. 70, No. 4 (Winter 2003), pp. 963-987. JSTOR.  Web.  13, June, 2013.

 

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Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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