The Darkest Novel

May 6, 2016

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

I recently attended Great Books Chicago 2016 to discuss utopias and dystopias. One of our readings for this event was George Orwell's 1984. At the end of the session, someone asked me whether I believed 1984 to be the darkest novel I have ever read. My immediate response was no, but I have been thinking about this question ever since. I typically enjoy 'dark' literature, and so I have read a number of different novels that would fall into this category. After thinking over the question some more, I am going to stick with my previous answer for a few reasons. While 1984 is certainly not shining a ray of sunshine on me, I do not think it is the darkest novel I have ever read. Here are some reasons for my decision. I welcome other ideas and comments on my reasoning or on the novels themselves.

First, Big Brother allows the proles to exist in a semi-catatonic, but also, semi-autonomous state. Since there are so many proles, I have hope that a future resistance is not impossible.

Second, Winston's journal exists only because there was a shred of doubt (hope?) in Winston himself. He mentions that he writes the journal for O'Brien, in fact to O'Brien. Of course, this is before he understands who O'Brien truly is. The gesture can also be interpreted in the sense that at some point Winston may influence O'Brien. If minds can change, I saw no evidence to tell me that O'Brien's mind is not also susceptible to that struggle.

Third, the clearing where Julia and Winston first meet gives me hope. If this green, pristine and edenic spot physically exists, then a chance for someone else to desire Eden also exists. As long as an Eden exists in this world, then the idea of redemption exists.

In my mind, a novel like William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying is much darker. The shame, degredation and deprivation of this world is unavoidable. As the Bundren family travels it literally carries death to all the neighbors and towns, even the reader. Not only do they influence minds and opinions, they introduce futility into each characters' life. For example, the shop-keeper clearly does not want to sell cement to Darl as a cheap form of cast for his brother's shattered leg. However, the shop-keeper gives in and from this experience learns of regret, of disgust and helplessness in the face of an uncontrollable force. The family persists in the utterly ridiculous, dark narrative of finding a burial spot for Addie Bundren. Therefore, I would list a novel by William Faulkner or perhaps Cormac McCarthy as the darkest I have read. I am sure, however, that there are many opinions that would disagree with mine and I appreciate any thoughts on the novels listed in today's blog.

To post a comment, click on the title of today's blog and scroll down.