11 December 2013
Diving into Literature Through the Clouds
The human innovation of a story has been around since time immemorial. Beginning with oral traditions, these stories have evolved over time to be distributed through text, audio, video, and electronic sources. It is within this ancient tradition that certain themes and trends have continued almost unimpeded. For instance, the concept of the hero’s journey has been an ever present trope used in anything from Homer’s The Odyssey to George Lucas’ film, Star Wars. This persistence of the same ideas would only seem uninspired by the uninitiated. Truly, it is not for the originality that these stories have remained popular, but for their consistent capacity to touch at the most fundamental of human emotions. These are stories we as consumers of media can transcend reality in order to experience any number of adventures. These themes can additionally serve to draw comparisons between different novels, authors, and literary periods where in the novel was written. For the sake of this digital project, this will be the main focus with an emphasis between Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and John Milton’s Paradise Lost and how these texts hold broad sociological implications. With many different methods in which to go about this, a question arises: just how will this be accomplished in the context of this project?
Well, to answer this hypothetical question there are really two main strategies in performing this analysis. For starters, key points of each novel will be analyzed through the use of a Cirrus Word Cloud. This is accomplished through the use of Voyant Tools, a literary tool that helps readers further delve deeper into their texts. A key benefit of these word clouds is that one is able to parse through numerous pages in a text while finding the most prolific words used by the author. The basic philosophy behind this usage is that there is an inherent meaning to be found once the cloud has been compiled. Through a repetition of words, any number of meanings can be determined from the text, thus strengthening the individual’s overall reading of the text. It is within this sorting of popular words that the cloud of one novel or passage can be compared with another. This is invaluable to an analyst as it adds depth to any comparisons and contrasts between readings. For instance, if both novels deliver a similar or exact reading, the author’s choice of certain words over others can be a telling factor in which to further fine tune an analysis. This seemingly simple digital tool can provide a remarkable depth to literary analyses but struggles with holding a sense of any real weight.
In order to further strengthen this analysis then, it is important to find an additional digital component to couple it with. In order to accomplish this, it was decided to create a hybrid blog post and digital reader’s guide. In this reader’s guide, it is typically common for the nuts and bolts of the novel to be fully analyzed through the lenses of rhetoric, symbols, etc. To supplement this analysis, the addition of video clips, pictures, and quotes were added in order to provide clarity on points of interest. These digital files combined with the aforementioned word clouds provide a rock solid method in which to analyze these novels. As for the choice in combining this all into a blog post, this was one made of pragmatism. Over the course of the past semester the format of a blog proved to be a simple and accessible way to pass information among a multitude of readers. It truly seemed like the most optimal platform in order to condense the data from the analysis and present it in a easily manageable format.
Now that the project is understood, it is time to finally begin analyzing just what these word clouds showed of their respective texts. In order to begin this process however, it is important to discern just what words have cropped up the most in each word cloud. An important clerical measure will be taken in that only the top five words that appear in the texts will be analyzed to the fullest extent. This is done primarily in order to apply an artificial limit on the massive scope this analysis can bring. So, with this caveat being laid out, the analysis can begin.
Beginning with the word cloud for Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, we can see that Huxley stressed character interaction as a key tool in order to spread his message. This is demonstrated by the most prolific words being “said”, “bernard”, “lenina”, “like”, and perhaps most importantly “savage”. Now as anyone who has read the novel can attest, the characters of Bernard, Lenina, and the “Savage” or John are the prime instigators of the plot. It is through their interactions and conflict of ideals that the novel truly shines as a social commentary. A major support for this theory is that the word “said” does in fact appear so frequently. An acceptable meaning can be drawn from the word in that it demonstrates the power of social interactions through the use of speech.
In many dystopian texts, social norms and regulations are often seen being reinforced most often through person to person interactions than through the state to person interactions. For instance, in the case of Brave New World, Lenina has conflicting feelings for her love a single man, John. It is not the state that attempts to steer her behavior however, as her friend Fanny is the one to say “it’s absurd to let yourself get into a state like this. And what about? A man–one man” (Huxley). It through simply a conversation that Fanny, effectively channeling the World State’s mantra, upholds the dystopian values of the society and advocates for the change in Lenina’s behavior. This seems to imply that it is society itself that is ultimately responsible for constraining itself instead of a central body or organization.
Piggybacking off of this point then, the appearance of the word “savage” evokes further feelings towards societal interaction. As a member of the “other” class in the novel, John is immediately stripped of all privileges simply for his beliefs. As he continues to interact with this society, the average citizens of this dystopia view him as an aberration and almost carnival-like oddity. This is clearly shown in the passage where John interacts with the young men in the hospital while visiting his mother. Having never experienced a natural death before, these children viewed Linda as a “fat…[and] awful” creature as “they had never seen a face like hers before” (Huxley). This was the main result of the World State’s perversion of a natural human life through various forms of scientific advancements in medicine. Anything less was seen by the young men as ancient, outdated, and savage. This example, similar to race relations-testing experiments done in the1960’s, goes to really prove the power a word can hold. Once society puts a connotation on an individual or class of people, it can hold on indefinitely with severely negative effects.
A landmark experiment highlighting society’s tendency to discriminate, in this case along racial lines.
Moving on from Brave New World, Paradise Lost offers some similarities through its word cloud. Before beginning however, it is important to look at the most common words similar to what was done previously. The five most used words in John Milton’s epic are “heaven”, “shall”, “god”, “earth”, and “man”. Knowing the plot of this poem closely follows that of the Book of Genesis in the Bible and Torah, many of these words come as no surprise. What may be considered to be a surprise however, is that Satan, arguably the central character in the work, is not among these easily found in the word cloud. This symbolizes the overall argument made by Milton however as his work resembles an Enlightenment-era tirade against the oppressive monarchy of his time (Tully, 301).
Notice how that amongst the most prominent words in the cloud, all of them seem to focus on God and His creation. The Bible tells us that Heaven is the realm in which God’s chosen people will ascend to join Him while Man, or humanity for a more modern view, are the chosen creations of God, as he chose to create them in His image. While this is all fine on its own, the true meaning of the inclusion of these elements comes when viewed against Milton’s portrayal of Satan. Throughout much of the novel, Satan is treated as the victim of his battle with God. Milton almost seems to frame it as an argument that Satan was rebelling against an incredibly distant and restricting authority figure. As he writes, Satan “rais’d impious War in Heav’n and Battle proud with vain attempt” (Milton, 43-4). This further proves to underscore the ultimate power of God as even with an army of angels by his side, Satan was unable to defeat Him. This raises a feeling of unfairness in that there is no true freedom under this system as any law that God would not approve would have either immense difficulty in happening or simply banned outright. It is with this point that the comparison to a monarchy system can be best seen as at the time, the King’s rule, commonly believed to be anointed by God himself in a divine right, was utterly unquestionable. This is directly contrary in what Huxley argued, as the power of society in Milton’s mind derives from a higher power than simply just society.
What further separates this from Huxley is the word “shall”, which appears prominently in the word cloud. This word holds a considerable connotation in the context of this story as God often recites His laws with it. For instance, it was transcribed on the Ten Commandments brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses which would form the basis of mankind’s laws (Exodus 24:1-11). As a word that generally rules on whether or not an action is permissible then, it holds considerable power. What the interesting thing is within the events of the epic, the question of free will is raised. When the primary antagonist in many readings is effectively omnipotent and omniscient, what purpose does He have in permitting actions with the use of “shall”? and This question can be applied to Milton’s anti-monarch message in that this may indicate his frustration at the lack of control over his life. This appears in Paradise Lost when Milton writes that Satan, having “durst defie th’ Omnipotent to Arms” (49), was cast into “a dungeon horrible, on all sides round as one great Furnace flam’d” (61-62) Looking back historically, there was very little the peasantry and ignoble classes had control of in their lives. Ultimately, through the King’s power, these individuals were taxed, evicted at will, and forced to practice the same religion as the King himself. The parallels then to Satan’s doomed conflict are then apparent as why would anyone attempt to overthrow the monarch?
Sharing Milton’s comparison between God and a monarch, Monty Python gives us this clip.
In many ways, the old adage of a picture is worth a thousand words is upheld through the use of word clouds. By focusing on the most abundant words in any given novel, a greater meaning can be found through a meta-language analysis of the text. As evidenced throughout this discussion, novels such as Brave New World and Paradise Lost receive a new lease on life through such an analysis. Both of these novels tackled heavy social themes that can withstand the passage of time. While ultimately arriving at different points of blame, both Aldous Huxley and John Milton stress the importance on society’s pressure on the individual. Whether having its influence being derived from a unilateral or multilateral holder of power, the individual is under constant pressure to conform to societal pressures. What is important to note however, is that neither John or Satan truly conforms to the will of this powerful entity; instead choosing to fortify their individuality through force of will. It is only when the individual rebels against the system, either passively or aggressively, that they receive power in the form of their own identity. Perhaps only a figurative victory at the very least, this identity nonetheless separates them further from the omnipotent force in their lives.
“Brave New World Cover” http://bookcoverarchive.com/images/books/brave_new_world.large.jpg
“Brave New World Tank” http://mnorth52.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/brave-new-world-2.jpg
Coogan, Micheal D. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New York, NY. Oxford University Press, 2007.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York, NY. Harper Collins Publishing, 2006.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. W. W. Norton and Company, 2004.
“Paradise Lost Cover” http://solusipse.edublogs.org/files/2010/12/john-milton-paradise-lost-cover-1wyeqzu.jpg
“Satan Cast Out” http://collider.com/wp-content/uploads/paradise-lost-milton.jpg
Tully, James. An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts. First Edition.Cambridge, UK. Cambridge University Press, 1993.