Monday, December 05, 2005

The Outcast Actant

In the texts Brave New World, The Republic of Plato, and 1984, there exists a common actant, or character role, of an enlightened individual. This enlightened individual provides the means necessary to dissect the workings of their world’s government and society. It is of note as well that these characters each belong to a department close to the government, or are of an upper class, allowing them a closer and more intimate relationship with their society.
Without the presence of this character, the book would provide a glimpse at a society, but with no thoughts of resolution or manner of analysis. 1984’s Winston Smith, Plato’s Socrates, and Brave New World’s Bernard Marx fill this role, along with the support of the minor characters in each novel, most notably Lenina’s contrast in World and Goldstein’s presence in 1984.
Brave New World’s Marx provides the perfect example of this actant: his place in the department of psychology in this world and status as an Alpha caste member allows him full utilization of the benefits of the world, as well as a good place to analyze its workings from. For example, he works directly with Mustapha, one of the Commanders of the human race, and has full biological potential for development due to the cushy prenatal conditions that he was provided with.
In 1984, Winston Smith works in the Ministry of Truth, aptly named, for he discovers the ‘truth’ behind his society through his own discovery. It would be impossible for him as a prole to make this discover; in fact, it would dissuade his interest from these workings. His personal dissatisfaction stems from his ability to gain insight on the world around him. Because of his access to books and literature, he is able to investigate further into the motivations and past transgressions of The Party, and eventually discovers the hideous Truth behind the world.
Finally, The Republic of Plato is perhaps the best representative of this thesis. The entire text is centered around the discussions of government with Socrates, the epitome of an enlightened individual that sets himself apart and often at odds with the established society. His opinions are countered by those around him, and his series of discussions is, as he proclaims himself, validated by the fact that he is a philosopher; an enlightened individual of society. His ‘gold, silver, and bronze’ standard system is his own way of separating those capable of philosophy from those that must be led by the more capable.
Socrates sets himself against the established norm of society to create what he believes the perfect aristocracy, he considers himself a champion of justice and this even leads to the vehement disagreement of other intellectuals throughout the course of the text. However, he stays sure of his opinions, and true to the nature of this ‘outcast’ or ‘individual’ actant, refuses to concede to the opinions of others.


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