Common Module: Nineteen Eighty-Four

common module nineteen eighty-four doublethink meme

Nineteen Eighty-Four. A time in the past, a time in the future. George Orwell has been one of the most influential writers of the 20th Century. Since its publication in 1949, millions of people have been subjected to a world where two plus two could equal five.  Thinking back to my first reading of the book still conjures a physical reaction in my body where a tumor of sadness perpetually travels between my throat and stomach. My personal experience with this book was not positive, it is also one of my favourite books.

Call it doublethink if you must but as someone who both loves and hates this work, I can tell you why it was as successful as it was and why you don’t just need to read it, but have to study it. Nineteen Eighty-Four is going to be studied in the common module for the HSC exams falling  between 2019-2023. The book has been a part of the syllabus before and will probably still be in it for years to come. So why must you study a book from the past about the future? The new common module encompasses everyone who has elected to study English Standard, English Advanced or English Studies.

A Story About Textual Form

It was two days before Christmas at my girlfriend’s mother’s house on the Sunshine Coast when I realised just how deeply embedded technological systems have become in our modern world. In the book Orwell introduces the reader to telescreens that must be in every citizen’s house and can’t be turned off. They examine your face and auditory tone to make sure that you love Big Brother and are not planning anything untoward.  Ironically we were watching an episode of Black Mirror called ‘Arkangel’, a story about an overbearing mother who puts a chip in her child so that she can watch her every move through an iPad. I spent the next thirty minutes becoming more horrified and frustrated by what I was watching. This wasn’t some invisible political system that wanted to check up on Sara’s every move, it was her mother ‘Marie’. The end of a Black Mirror episode usually leaves you feeling a little bit ill and sad but on this day I had found myself particularly crushed by the dystopic prospects of the future.  Deflated and frustrated I ended our viewing experience with the authoritative command, “Xbox turn off”—and it did.

In 1948 they might have had the atom bomb but they definitely did not have voice recognition software. Studying the HSC is not just about competing in a race to enter university. You are being given an opportunity to see a tiny fragment of the puzzle that connects us all in our humanity, regardless of context.

In this common module students deepen their understanding of how texts represent individual and collective human experiences.

NSW Education Standards Authority

What I have done in this article is shown you how you can:

1. Examine how texts represent human qualities and emotions.

2. Appreciate, explore, interpret, analyse and evaluate the ways language is used to shape these representations in a range of texts in a variety of forms, modes and media.

3. Consider the role of storytelling

NSW Education Standards Authority

This is an example of how I personally engaged with two texts that have distinct similarities and have recognised how my understanding relates to the common module. You have to engage personally with each text in your own way and pay attention to how it fits in to not just its own time period but also the one that you are currently living in.  An essay should not be written just because you desperately need to be the student on top of the intellectual pile. Think about why your teachers bothered putting the text in the syllabus in the first place. Once you know your author you’re ready to start thinking about how his work might fit into a piece of writing that you construct.

By Bernd Pohlenz [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

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