Comparative - Literary Genre - Sample Essay: 1984, Rear Window, The Song of Achilles

“Studying a selection of texts helps to highlight how some authors can make more skilful use of the same literary technique than others.” 

Choose one literary technique common to three texts on your comparative course, and compare how skilful the different authors are in using this literary technique in these texts. Support your answer by reference to the texts.

I can certainly attest to the accuracy of this statement with regard to three texts I have studied which include: ‘1984’ by George Orwell, ‘Rear Window’ (RW) directed by Alfred Hitchcock and ‘The Song of Achilles’ (TSoA) by Madeline Miller. A literary technique used to progress the story seen in each of these texts is setting. In each text, the creator uses this technique as an instrument to progress the plot.

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In TSoA, Miller uses the ‘Age of Heroes’, the fictional era of Ancient Greece during the time before and during the Trojan War, as a backdrop for her story. The age that Miller writes about is famous in literature and it has been given hundreds of renditions. However, Miller’s depiction stands out to me because of the depth of knowledge and certainty with which she approaches the time. The setting of TSoA is made rich and expansive by her use of Greek words, names, places and customs, all of which complement each other to create the era of the Trojan War in Greece. Greek terms such as “therapon” and names like “Agamemnon” bring the world that Miller has written to life. This clever technique utilised by Miller is also incorporated by Orwell into ‘1984’. Just as setting plays a crucial part in TSoA, it similarly plays a large role in ‘1984’. Orwell bases his novel in a futuristic setting; in it the population of Oceania is governed by a totalitarian regime. As is also seen in TSoA, Orwell creates a setting-specific vocabulary in ‘1984’. The place names of “Oceania” and the term “Proles” add depth and believability to the narrative. Orwell skilfully uses this technique to illustrate to the reader how strong and overpowering the setting of the totalitarian state is in this world. The same level of depth and background of the setting presented to us by Miller and Orwell in their novels is not shown to us in RW. Although the physical location of RW in an apartment block is crucial to the story - I will elaborate on this later - the actual 1950s era that RW takes place in is of no real significance for the plot progress. In other words, if RW was set in today’s time, it would still function and serve as a coherent film, unlike Miller’s novel, which relies heavily on the ancient backdrop. In this way we see that Orwell and Miller make greater use out of the time in which their novels are set in with TSoA and ‘1984’ than Hitchcock does in RW.

In all three texts, the setting furthers the plot through its presentation of obstacles to the main characters. In TSoA, the setting of the time of the Trojan War comes to the foreground mid-way through the story and threatens to break the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles which has been the primary focus of the novel thus far. The setting of the Trojan War not only changes to location the story is set in but it also alters the narrative. The story and how its told changes as more characters are introduced, which have profound effects on the story, but also the narrator, Patroclus, is changed and hardened by the circumstances the Trojan War has put him in. Before the Trojan War, Patroclus is boundlessly in love with Achilles; “I will never leave him. It will be this, always, for as long as he will let me.” This expression of love is diametrically opposed to the feelings of hatred Patroclus expresses toward Achilles as a result of what happens during the Trojan War, “My rage towards him is hot as blood”. Here we clearly see how the setting is used by the author to tell the story and progress both the plot and character development. In the same way, the setting of ‘1984’ presents the characters with challenges. Orwell’s despotic setting similarly invites challenges into the characters’ lives. The government control the citizens with fear and distrust of one another, “It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children”. Within this setting the government’s ban on all relationships and independent thought prove to entice the main characters, Julia and Winston, to participate in such activities, “Almost as swiftly as he had imagined it, she had torn her clothes off, and when she flung them aside it was with the same magnificent gesture by which a whole civilisation seemed to be annihilated.” By the actions of the protagonists, the plot is made more suspenseful and interesting as we see how the characters try to live freely in this authoritarian state. Orwell’s use of the setting as a tool to provide an obstacle is compelling and skilful, although not wholly original. The same use of a confining setting is seen in RW. This film is set in an apartment looking out onto a courtyard surrounded by high apartment blocks. The courtyard comes across as an oppressive and claustrophobic place, similar to the setting of ‘1984’.  In addition to the walled-in physical impression the audience gets from the courtyard, the film also takes place during a summer heatwave in New York. This heat, intensified by the concrete courtyard, would contribute a feeling of unease and agitation to the already oppressive setting. Using the setting as a storytelling technique is a subtle and nuanced way of subconsciously conveying a theme to the audience. 

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By all three creators, the setting is also used as a tool to bring characters together and facilitate their growth. In TSoA, the era of Ancient Greece is a time when bonds are so incredibly crucial to a person’s life. One of the most important relationships that can form is a ‘therapon’ bond. Miller describes this relation as “A brother-in-arms sworn to a prince by blood oaths and love. In war these men were his honour guard, in peace, his closest advisors”. This relationship, which is exclusive to this setting, allows Achilles and Patroclus to spend a lot of time together and also justifies their intimacy which leads to the romantic relationship. Miller makes use of the setting to allow her to forge strong bonds between characters in a suitable and interesting way. In ‘1984’ we see a similar use of setting to forge bonds, although in a much different way. The society in ‘1984’ does not facilitate relationships at all; instead it forbids them. However, Julia and Winston are brave enough to actively form a relationship. Not only is it infatuation which draws the two together, but it is also the awareness that they are both participants in criminal activity, which strengthens their bond as it forces a level of trust between the two. This is similar to the ‘therapon’ relationship in TSoA as it forces the two parties to truly confide and give themselves over to the other person in a way which would be less likely in other circumstances. The use of setting to strengthen a relationship is also seen in RW. In Hitchcock’s film the two main characters spend most of their time in the hot, confined space of Jeff’s apartment where they investigate the becomings of a crime. A similar bond which is seen in the two other texts is also presented to us here. Jeff and Lisa believe they are following a murder case; this thrusts upon the two a certain level of responsibility and anxiety which brings them together. By watching and trailing the actions of a suspected killer, the couple are drawn together. This relationship could not be facilitated in another setting as the apartment setting forces them to be close to one another and additionally allows them to see Mr Thorwald’s actions from the window. Each author uses the setting skilfully to progress and add depth to the story. 

To conclude, each creator used the setting as a technique to enhance the story. By incorporating culture and customs of the environment to add depth and create authenticity like Miller, by allowing the time of the shape the characters’ outcomes, by establishing the context and using it to develop associations like Hitchcock did in RW, the authors used the technique of setting to skilfully progress and subtly steer the story. 



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