The Changing Face of Dystopia Represented in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil: A Cultural Materialist Study
Öke Prettyman, Burcu
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One of Raymond Williams’ biggest contributions to the field of cultural studies is his development of cultural materialism and his introduction of a new way of thinking historically about culture. Describing culture as “a whole way of living”, Raymond Williams enlarges the definition of culture and focuses on the materiality of cultural experience and draws our attention to the matter of culture, its ontology and experiential nature. In Williams’ approach, instead of thinking of culture as an “intellectual attitude”, culture is understood in its entirety. In other words, culture is dynamic and forms in relation to the economic, political and social components of a society. Literature, deeply intermingled with all of these components, can reveal to us the changing character of a society and the material conditions that affect its members most profoundly. A meaningful attempt to read literary texts can be made by seeing them as material products of a society. Dystopias, though not necessarily accurate representations of reality, are also reflections of cultural materialistic conditions and can be analysed in detail in order to better understand both the conditions in which they come about as well as the works themselves. This thesis examines George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) along with Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film Brazil to study the role of material culture in shaping the dystopian visions in these works. Material culture in these works is analysed using the framework provided by the cultural materialist approach. By looking at the material conditions as well as the historical context of the works in question, it is argued in the thesis that contemporary living conditions have an important and determining role in shaping ideas of dystopia in these works. The thesis demonstrates how the material circumstances of the writers in question changed from the middle twentieth century to late twentieth century, and how this affected their ideas of a dystopian future. Finally, the works are examined with respect to Raymond Williams’ framework of dominant, emergent, and residual cultural forms. The study takes an interdisciplinary approach using resources from literary studies, cultural studies and history.
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