March INP Post #1: Character Analysis – Spotlight on Boxer

In George Orwell’s renowned book “Animal Farm”, which tells the tale of a farm taken over by its poorly treated animals, there is a character named Boxer – a horse – who poses as a model for hard work and loyalty. With the multitude of physically demanding jobs on the animal-run farm, Boxer has established two personal motifs that the self-proclaimed leader, Napoleon, encourages every animal to take to heart: “I will work harder” and “Napoleon is always right.” Possessing bulging muscles that provide his gargantuan strength capable of matching an elephant’s, Boxer has lent many a helping hand (or hoof) in the construction of the windmill and ordinary farmwork in general. Besides taking on additional voluntary work after the normal working hours, he also wakes himself up earlier than any other animal to get more work done. Needless to say, Boxer is very devoted in contributing the maximum amount of effort he can provide to the development and prosperity of the farm. However, in the book, he can be interpreted as a symbol of innocence and naiveté.

Before this character analysis goes into the flaws of Boxer’s ideology and beliefs, let us first consider how he has changed throughout the progression of the plot. Physically, he has changed: as old age catches up to him, his once awe-inspiring strength deteriorates, finally collapsing with a damaged lung. However, when we go deeper than his appearance, his beliefs and dogma have not changed the slightest bit: until his end, he still vehemently believed that “Napoleon is always right”, revealing his childlike dependence on a powerful and seemingly all-knowing leader. Furthermore, he is also mentally wired to accomplish as much work as he can throughout the entire story, illustrated by his first motto “I will work harder.” In a sense, Boxer is both a “flat”(non-changing) and a “round” (changing) character, both changing and not changing in certain senses. However, in the context of the storyline, which revolves mainly around the ideology of Napoleon, one’s mindset is more important than one’s physical appearance, establishing Boxer as a “flat” character.

Boxer also provides us with a stunning example of a character who is extremely devoted to other animals’ well-being, not thinking about the potential consequences the workload he assumes unto himself could possess. In the book, George Orwell has cast Boxer as the somewhat “unintelligient” animal, proven by his inability to learn more than the first four letters of the alphabet. As soon as Boxer contacts Animalism, he throws himself into the cause, proving to be a valuable soldier in the Rebellion and struggles with humans seeking to regain control of the farm. Along with being a valuable soldier, he is a valuable worker, his massive strength finishing many jobs in little time. But what is his motivation for his strenuous daily work that leaves him worn-out and fatigued? The driving factor is his belief that all his efforts aid the expansion and prosperity of the farm.

However, Boxer’s devotion and unintelligience is “harvested” by the cruel pigs. Acknowledging that Boxer is a “hope” and a sort of “role model” that is holding the farm’s animals together (during the harsh winter days with little food, the animals looked up to Boxer, thinking his hard work will bring them more food), the pigs used him as an individual not only to influence the thoughts and decisions of others, but also help themselves achieve their goals. When the pigs issue an order and Boxer throws himself wholeheartedly into the cause, any doubts other animals secretly possessed about the justification of the decision instantly vanishes. In fact, I believe Boxer is even more effective than the propaganda-broadcaster Squealer: the animals believe that since Boxer is helping the farm in so many ways, his decisions must be justified and right. Alas, that is not always the case.

Old Major has previously warned Boxer that he was “disposable” towards the beginning of the book: “‘The very day that those great muscles of yours lose their power, Jones will send you to the knacker, who will cut your throat and boil you down for the fox-hounds.'” When the animals take over, Boxer naïvely believes that that prospect is no longer tangible, that he will live out his old days in the small field set aside for retired animals, happily learning the rest of the alphabet. However, the pigs taking control only meant that he had a new species to fret about, although he couldn’t figure it out himself due to his unintelligience. When Boxer finally collapsed, I believe that the pigs saw Boxer as a depleted battery that is no longer of any use, with the possibility of driving other animals sad, lowering productivity. In other words, he was now useless. As the pigs send him to the knacker’s to be slaughtered, he served as an example of how dramatic the pig’s betrayal was, and to what extent their wickedness could stretch.

Now it’s time to analyze who Boxer represented in the Russian Revolution, an event that this book’s plot was modeled upon. Boxer didn’t represent a particular individual; he represented the exploited Russian working-class (proletariat) during the time of the Russian Revolution. Boxer suffered from the same flaw Orwell had identified as a weakness in the proletariats: an inability to think deeply about their current situations and failure to recognize even the most obvious and glaring instances of government corruption. Boxer was not smart enough to ponder the possibility that Napoleon was corrupt, and that he was simply being exploited; the proletariats were too brainwashed to comprehend their current situations. Boxer’s work and dedication was a force that held Animal Farm together; the proletariats’ mostly invisible labor held the Communist nation together economically and financially. In the Russian Revolution, the proletariats were also viewed by the leaders as “disposable” people, since there were so many of them and they were so easily brainwashed with Communist ideology, translating to many people working for the benefit of the leaders. It is striking how similar Boxer is to the proletariats; as mentioned earlier, he was viewed as “disposable” as well, and was too stupid to think for himself.

Alas, after the analysis, it can be concluded that Boxer is the genial and benevolent individual (or class) that cares for the farm (or nation), but is unfortunately exploited by the pigs (or Stalin) due to how easily brainwashable he was. Corrupt, cruel, and atrocious leaders were something Boxer couldn’t work harder to overcome.

MLA Citation:            Orwell, George. Animal Farm. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1954. Print.

January INP Post #2: Visual Representation of the Mystery of the Century

I recently finished reading the book Flight MH370: The Mystery by Nigel Cawthorne. As the title suggests, it illustrates the “mystery of the century” regarding the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 that disappeared on 8 March 2014. In this insightful book, Nigel Cawthorne provides a plethora of facts about the event that has confounded flight analysts and NTSB officials for almost two years, as of now. Along the way, Cawthorne also provides his own analysis and theories gathered from some of the world’s top experts in aircraft accidents. After finishing this book, I put together a visual representation of the facts, with symbols representing major aspects of the mystery.

 

Representation of MH370

Explanation:

First off, the dark and gloomy backdrop of the sea and the sky represents the sadness of the event, which involved the disappearance of 227 passengers. Also, the fact that the mystery is still unsolved is another meaning of the dark setting, being shrouded in an atmosphere of uncertainty. The plane silhouette in the centre represents the ill-fated plane, as it plunges into the dark depths of the ocean. The question mark to the left represents how the plane’s disappearance has bamboozled all of the world’s flight analysts, as the search for the plane has been going on for nearly two years with minimal success. The stopwatch on the top right corner represents two aspects: the first one is how the time was running out for search and rescue teams to locate the black boxes of the plane, which had a 30 day battery life for sending out signals from a beacon. Alas, this deadline has been reached long ago, leaving the teams looking for the wreckage searching blind in the vast expanse of ocean. The second aspect it represents is how the time is dragging on, as to the family members and friends of those aboard the flight, the longer they are stuck in unknowing, the more agonising it is.

The investigator staring into his clipboard with a pencil to his chin illustrates how many people have tried to solve the mystery, and how they are still struggling to come up with a valid conclusion based on the limited evidence. He seems to protrude from the dark depths of the water, as everyone investigating this peculiar incident is swamped waist-deep in uncertainty, lack of information, and rapidly drying funds to recover more evidence. Finally, the ship equipped with sonar on the right represents all the efforts that are being made to find the wreckage, and the black triangle of the sonar represents the futility of search efforts so far: all they’ve come up with were a few ancient shipwrecks, but they are mostly in the dark of what really happened aboard the final moments of MH370 and its current whereabouts.

The overall mood I intended to set with the image is a somber one filled with gloom. The colours I chose to use were all dark, and the silhouette concept was selected because the entire world was in the dark of the flight and everyone on it. After reading this book, I felt immense sorrow for the loved ones of all those aboard the plane, now knowing how deprived they were of much-needed information. I also felt outrage that this mystery has not been solved yet, as in an age of constant surveillance, it seems extremely unlikely that a plane the size of a football field could simply vanish without being found for almost 2 years. This book has let me contemplate many new theories I never read before, and it was a process I greatly enjoyed.

One note before I end: If you are someone who is afraid of flying, this is not the book for you.

January INP Post #1: At Last, a Trustworthy Account of the Future!

I have stumbled upon my favorite book so far in 2016. Granted, it’s only been 15 days, but I have already zipped through 5 of them due to extreme boredom dished out by outrageously unpredictable bus and flight schedules. On the day I “discovered” this book, I was sitting in Shanghai’s Pudong Airport, painfully counting by the hours the plane I was taking back to Hong Kong was delayed for. I had finished the books – yes, books – I was carrying in my backpack, and none of them seemed to strike a chord in me. Wanting to experience books about math for the first time, I packed my bag chock full of books about trigonometry and calculus, and began to regret my decision three pages into the first one. Although I enjoyed nonfictional novels, these books set a new standard for boring. Page after page of dense equations and formulas filled the thick volumes, all of them stating how to tackle complex problems of math, but never why that method worked. I was the type of person who only appreciated how to do something only after I knew why it worked, so these books left me flipping through all their pages looking for a description of the formulas mentioned and deeply disappointing me. This is the reason why I am not writing a reflection on those books. Not only do they present ideas that is impossible for unique interpretation and thought, they also bored me to a point where I felt like my eyes were going to fall out of their sockets.

As fate would have it, my flight back to Hong Kong was delayed for 4 hours, and coincidentally my phone ran out of battery, with my charger buried in a suitcase that was making its way into the cargo hold of the plane. I would have accepted this situation if I had a juicy book I can bury myself into, but I only had thick volumes of facts as dry as the paper they were printed on. Since I had no other choice, I investigated the world of trigonometry, and then calculus, and then statistics, and then algebra. That took up only two hours, so I desperately needed entertainment for the following two. The airport television silently broadcasting Chinese opera was not helping, so I decided to pay a visit to the airport café. However, on the way there, a newly-opened book store caught my attention. Wanting to see if it was any good, I strode in, and made a beeline for the English section.

The English section had about fifty books on the shelf, most about Chinese development and politics. However, one of the books in the corner stood out to me: “Physics of the Future” by Michio Kaku. The title instantly intrigued me, so I purchased it and made it back to the gate, completely forgetting about my café visit.

With still an hour and a half left to boarding time, I plopped myself down in the hard airport seat and started reading. I was reading when the arpeggio announcing boarding came on through the airport intercom system. I was reading when the plane took off. I was reading when the plane landed two hours later. I finished the last pages in the taxi home. In other words, the book had me completely hooked.

There aren’t many books that are able to hold my attention for hours on end like this book did. So what made this book special?

For one, the topic this book focused on was one of great interest for me: future technology and the tangible physics behind it. Descriptions of internet contact lenses, printable furniture, sophisticated robots, and space elevators all captured my attention. However, I had read books about future technology before, and was not as impressed by them as I was after reading this one. This was because Michio Kaku was the first to base descriptions of future technology on current technology and rate of enhancement, thus making all the ideas illustrated in this book tangible. It was simply a relief to read a book about a topic I loved that was trustworthy, not written by fanciful science fiction fans. Michio Kaku, during the course of writing this book, personally visited several laboratories developing groundbreaking technologies that will be the first generation of sophisticated tech gadgets we all dream of. Furthermore, he also interviewed the world’s top 100 scientists, gathering their views on what the next century in technology will look like. Assembling all the information gathered, we have a holy grail of future technological advancement description.

This book provided easy-to-follow analyses of how the scientists’ answers and current technology illustrated future technology. For example, in the description about the mouth-watering potential of internet contact lenses, Michio Kaku draws upon current prototypes and uses the opinion of the top scientist heading research to convey the everyday applications of this technology, and a reasonable date to expect it being integrated into common everyday life. The entire book was a host of logical analyses, and it made me feel extremely optimistic about the future. According to the book, my generation is supposedly the first that will be able to genetically engineer our children to prevent diseases, along with the first to see a space elevator, driverless car networks, a shift from fossil fuels to green sources as energy, and many, many more technological advancements that seem like science fiction in today’s world.

Finally, this book ended on a strong note, writing a short story set in the year 2100 incorporating all the technologies mentioned in the book. Michio Kaku seamlessly weaved the technologies into the everyday life of the average Joe, while making the story an enjoyable read. That was something I found interesting, and also something I never contacted before in any other book about technology I read previously.

In conclusion, this book stole my attention for a full 4 and a half hours, and gave me a highly enjoyable and tangible account on technology I would most likely see in my lifetime. Now I can’t wait until the year 2030, when the omni-directional treadmill, paired with the third generation of Oculus Rift, will make video gaming an awe-inspiring experience. After all, visualise this: with this technology, the game Call of Duty will require you to physically run through the battlefield on the treadmill, with your kneeling, neck rotations, and lying down all affecting how the image is broadcasted into your eyes by two small beads in a contact lense worn in both eyes. In other words, it will seem like you are actually on the battlefield, holding a real gun and dodging real bullets. Oh boy!

December INP Post #1: 451 Degrees of Familiarity with Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451: The Temperature at which Books Burn. Doesn’t just the title stimulate motivation to read it? That’s exactly what I experienced when I came across the book in the library. I had heard other friends talk about this book before, and apparantly it was regarded as a masterpiece of Ray Bradbury. In other words, it was exceptionally good. Therefore, I immediately checked it out, ready to indulge in some great literature.

And now, with the back cover recently closed over the last page, I was not disappointed at all with what I just experienced. The future world painted by Bradbury in the reader’s mind is interesting and horrifying, the plotline intriguing, and the word choice and tone unique. But what I found the most remarkable was how the theme of censorship outlined in the book was applicable to contemporary society. However, before I dive deep into that, I would first like to iterate my applause for the outstanding ideas possessed by the book.

Imagine a world where firemen were not mobilised to put out fires, but to start them with a kerosene hose equipped with a lighter. That was the world Guy Montag, the main character of the book and a fireman himself, lived in. In the futuristic society, books have been banned from reading, as it “misleads” individuals from the greater good, which is constantly broadcasted into everyone’s minds by radios worn in the ear. The firemen were called upon to burn down the houses where books were hidden in, and take the smugglers into custody. Think about it! Bradbury had imagined a world so unlike ours, but yet so understandable. He had turned firemen into the bad guys working for a corrupt government, instead of the good guys we are used to who save lives. He has woven a world that is so fantastic and complex that it is almost impossible for one to think that a person can conjure up this world in their mind.

Along the plotline, as Montag realizes the corruption in the system, he takes actions that jeapordize his own life and the future of his wife. Of course I won’t reveal his actions, but all I can say is that as you read this captivating book, it will be hard to tear your eyes away.

Praise for the plot aside, I have noticed several links to the real world when reading Fahrenheit 451. When reading the detailed descriptions Bradbury gives about the society, I kept asking myself: “Are there any similarities between the society of this book and our world today? How is our modern society like the one illustrated in the book?” Even though I was not usually one to ask questions when reading a novel as engrossing as Fahrenheit 451, I was led to do that because I maintained a feeling that the world I was learning about was not much different from ours. I just didn’t know how. As I kept reading, I formulated my answer chapter by chapter. It is the end result that I will share now.

Towards the beginning of the novel, a female character named Clarisse tells Montag says everyone wants to go extremely fast in that world. She informs him that the billboards along the highways are 200 feet long since cars rocket past so fast, requiring an elongated board for drivers to actually read the text on them. Needless to say, our society desires speed as well. This is the connection I made when reading that particular chapter and stumbling upon this part: we like speed. Whether it’s physical speed or digital speed, we want it. Today’s society is pouring money and minds into faster trasmissions for phones and other digital devices, along with investing in vehicles that will travel at unimaginable speeds. Needless to say, we all want fast internet, and no one likes a slow connection. We are also tossing money at the idea of planes that will travel at 10 times the speed of sound (Mach 10), theoretically transporting us from Sydney to London in just 90 minutes. In the world of Fahrenheit 451, the cars cruise at a mere 120 miles per hour on the highway, and the subway, when coming into the station, seems to instantaneously stop and hurry into the tunnel. I noticed that the desire of speed is present in both societies.

Also, when Captain Beatty – the captain of the firemen – was at Montag’s house, talking to him about their society, he says that people in that time wanted progressively shorter and useful amounts of information, leading to books being condensed and turning bland.  Our world, similarly, hates the prospect of browsing through a library to locate information, even though it was employed no less than a few decades ago. That is because that option requires too much information to go through. Instead, we turn to the internet, where the short bite of information we need is only just a typing of a keyword away. However, we haven’t gotten to the extreme of burning books, but again, a similarity is seen between the two societies.

Beatty also also talked about political correctness and how that made writers and publishers take out anything deemed offensive to any group. I made one of my biggest connections to the real world after I read this. Political correctness is a huge factor of a writer’s work in our society today. For an example of it, simply look at a Chinese textbook used in a Chinese local school compared to an American textbook used in an American public school that teach the same topic: Chairman Mao. The Chinese textbook glorifies Chairman Mao as a hero and god-like being, whereas the American textbook depicts him as a flawed leader. It is the background and environment of the authors, alont with the topic they are writing about, that influences the biases and stereoptypes seen in their writing. In order not to hurt Chinese views of Mao as a hero, the author of the Chinese textbook removed the “flawed decisions” column. Similarly, in order not to be seen as propoganda supporting the legacy of Mao, the authors of the American textbook removed the extreme praise for Mao and added a slightly more critical approach to his accomplishments. This form of censorship is seen in our world today. No toleration is shown towards articles that denounce or harshly criticise any one group of individuals. Beatty stresses that in Fahrenheit 451, and I instantly connected to how siginificant an impact political correctness has on modern literature.

Finally, the world illustrated in Fahrenheit 451 is of one where people want to be entertained, and they want it on demant and immediately. Entertainment is a gargantuan component of the lives of the people in the book’s world, and isn’t that part of our society as well? We pay people who entertain us, like Jon Stewart of the Daily Show or Taylor Swift, huge sums of money while those who protect us and teach us – police officers, doctors, even college professers – are on the lower levels of the pay scales. This is how much our society values entertainment, similar to the society told in Fahrenheit 451, and that is yet another similarity established between the two.

Undoubtedly, countless interesting connections have stemmed from reading this book. I guarantee that many Middle and High schoolers will enjoy this book, if they have not already read it. I did, and it is among my favourite books I read this year.

October INP Post #1: Deeper than Deep in Knowles’ Work

I recently finished reading the book “A Separate Peace” by the renowned author John Knowles. Being one of the numerous classics I read this quarter, this book seemed to fortify the same quality I observed in all the classics I read so far: the quality of possessing a deep plot open to all manners of interpretation, the quality of the ability to instill all manners of emotions within different readers, and the quality of stimulating reflections within readers long after the end of the novel. “A Separate Peace” achieved all of those aspects, and my contemplations of the text are still going on presently.

Furthermore, I can boldly proclaim that this novel is one of the deepest I have ever read. The central idea is a unique one that I never before experienced: two characters, one excelling in sport (Phineas) and another in academics, maintain an enviable friendship while at school in World War 2 New Hampshire. However, when the studious character discovers that Phineas was trying to bog him down in his studies in order to catch up and seem even more outstanding, the scholarly character is not pleased. His abhorrence after finding out caused him to do one action that injured Phineas so severely it lead to his withdrawal from sports. The rest of the novel illustrates the struggles the studious character struggles through; struggles like depression, emotional inbalance, and overarching guilt. After all, Phineas had never suspected him of the henious crime, and carried his belief that the main character was innocent to his premature death.

I’ve turned this central idea John Knowles implanted in my head over and over again. I’ve mused its applications in real life and come to the conclusion that this moral does not terminate with the book. It governs a large variety of the negative, sometimes detrimental actions we do to friends. Briefly ponder this: have you ever felt that someone else was better than you in some way? And instead of working harder to match their proficiency, you find it easier and faster to drag them down? If your answer is no, I hold no offense in this accusation, but you’re a liar. Everyone has experienced those emotions once in a while. Everyone wants to surpass everyone else. However, this is not possible. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. The root of the problem is how people tend to take their weaknesses in an area and compare it to the strengths of others in that same area. This stirs up resentment, thoughts of “why does he have to be so good?” and “why can’t I be that good?” reverberate in their heads. As a result, it leads to the conclusion that tainting the outshiners dishonestly is the best solution, and the formulation of plans to hinder the progress of better individuals begin.

When the plan is carried out, but it goes too far, I want you to now imagine what that will feel like. You have taken away the only thing your friend can proudly state he is good at. Now he’s a nobody, whose strengths were demolished by your actions. Although this won’t happen often in real life, smaller issues are often based on this greed to be better than peers. Or simply revenge: if your friend is obviously trying to hurt you, you turn around and cuff them. This will only escalate problems, leaving the situation worse off than before.

John Knowles, I realized, based his entire novel on the human nature of greed and conflict within the narrator, a conflict with himself and guilt. His greed had made him to commit an atrocious wrongdoing. All I can say after reading this book was “wow”. The deepness of its thought astounded me, and its moral lessons applicable for my entire life. The lessons are not merely present in paper form, but extended beyond the confines of pages and wound itself into everyday life.

INP Blog Post #1: Teacher Calamity

I recently finished reading the extremely interesting and deep “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. This American classic, aside from being a symbol of American literature, is open for “countless ways of interpretation of the deeper meaning and provides a myriad of opportunties for connections”, according to the New York Times. I wholeheartedly agree to the second component of that quote: I had a plethora of connections just within the exposition of the novel. It will be of my great enjoyment to share and elaborate on just one of the connections I made with the characters and setting in the first 27 pages.

The connection that I would like to share is the uncanny relation between Mrs. Caroline, Scout’s first teacher during her first year at school, and my fifth-grade teacher Mr. Cooper. As a newcomer into Maycomb county, Mrs. Caroline was ignorant with all of Maycomb’s intricate traditions and mutual understandings. As a result, Mrs. Caroline was largely unsucessful in effectively controlling the class, and her actions were laughed upon by every student. For example, it was of common knowledge that the Cunningham family was financially pitiable, and that the only way they paid for goods and services was through a barter system. Their actions slowly became acceptable within the Maycomb community, but Mrs. Caroline wasn’t aware of it. Walter Cunningham, a boy in the Cunningham family, had classes with Mrs. Caroline. Ignorant as she was, Mrs. Caroline persisted in offering Walter a quarter for lunch downtown, which humiliated Walter greatly because of his inability to pay her back. This, in turn, embarrassed Mrs. Caroline, and she felt extremely pressured to learn all the ways of Maycomb in order to make it a beneficial experience for all students. In fact, the pressure was so great that Scout found her “…with her head buried into her palms and crying hysterically, her back trembling with each gargantuan sob.” (page 31).

This experience Harper Lee outlines vividly is reminisce of an experience I had in Mr. Cooper’s classroom. Although it didn’t get to a point where Mr. Cooper let loose a barrage of waterworks, it did embarrass him greatly. We had a student who was autistic, and his speech was uninhibited by any inhibitions. During the second class we had with Mr. Cooper, that student stood up and said in a brash voice: “Mr. Cooper, I don’t understand why I can’t say s***, because I like the sound of it!” This remark made a profound impact on Mr. Cooper, as we watched his face flash through the spectrum: from normal to red to purple to violet. Long story short, they fired phrases at each other unsuitable to be repeated in this blog post, and resulted in the student crying hysterically, and Mr. Cooper apologizing profusely for not “understanding his condition”. We all felt a pang of sympathy for Mr. Cooper, as he was new that year and started off on the wrong foot.

If you think this connection is elaborate and complicated, briefly contemplate this fact: I experienced four of these just in the exposition! This intriguing novel encourages deep thinking and connections, and I really enjoyed experiencing all those throughout the course of reading it.