The Concept of Disgrace in Literature

The focus of this paper is a comparison of four quotes – two from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and two from 1984 by George Orwell. The four quotes are compared in terms of the authors’ messages in reference to the concept of disgrace and its meaning.

The first pair of quotes includes “My kid made sure he was some kind of enemy agent” by Orwell and “not men, squealers” by Solzhenitsyn. The extract to which the first quote belongs presents a story told by Parsons about his seven-year-old daughter who was accompanied by two of her friends while they followed a stranger for hours and eventually handed him over to the patrols in Amersham. The man is proud of his child for being a dedicated servant of her state and working hard to detect suspicious individuals. The following dialogue reveals that the man could have been executed, but that did not prevent Parsons from priding himself in his daughter’s actions even though she turned the random man in based on the way his shoes looked to her.

The quote by Solzhenitsyn comes from a conversation of prisoners one of whom was worried by the fact that two of their mates were killed in the night. The response “not men, squealers” is intended to sound in a comforting manner persuading the opponent that he had nothing to worry about and only “squealers” deserve to die.

The two quotes revolve around the explicit and implicit discussions of life and death and the bases for the decisions of who should die and who should not. In both quotes, the people who are judged as deserving of death are considered disgraceful by the speakers. However, this point of view is not shared by their opponents. In that way, both authors offer their readers an ethical challenge while deciding which party they should agree with. This is the similarity of the messages in the two quotes. At the same time, there is a significant difference. In the quote by Solzhenitsyn, the squealers are the people who betrayed their fellow prisoners and thus they are judged as deserving of their punishment. In other words, betrayal is viewed as a wrongdoing crucial enough to be punished by death. In the quote by Orwell, reporting a stranger to the patrols and practically sentencing him to death is seen as an admirable choice ensuring the safety of the state and the citizens. Both of the speakers refer to betrayal as a method to achieve certain goals; however, in the quote by Solzhenitsyn, this approach is deemed extremely unworthy, and in Orwell’s quote it is seen as a smart and exceptional measure demonstrating the practicality of a doer.

The second pair of quotes includes “Anything that hinted at corruption filled him with a wild hope” from Orwell’s 1984 and “They couldn’t afford to make a mistake” from Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The extract incorporating the first quote refers to a sexual scene between Winston and Julia. Both of the protagonists are said to participate in the sexual act due to their own reasons but not the affection they felt towards each other. In particular, the cause of Winston’s excitement was corruption, and Julia’s statement that she was corrupt all over awakened his sexual drive. Winston is portrayed as a person whose sexual desire was caused by the feeling that sex was a form of rebellion. In that way, this quote indicates that something that was perceived as forbidden produces an arousing effect on the character. In other words, it is possible to notice that Winston was excited by the feeling of making a secret mistake; and he was making it on purpose. In fact, he seems to be blaming the Party and its restrictions for his way of thinking.

As for the second quote, it comes from an extract where the officers count prisoners before letting them out of the labor camp. It is clear that making a mistake was not an option for the doers because the punishment for the smallest error is very severe. Comparing the two quotes, it is possible to point out that both of them refer to wrongdoing and personal response to a possibility of committing a wrongful act. In the first quote, wrongdoing serves as the source of excitement whereas in the second one it is the source of fear. The difference is that making his intentional mistake Winston is aware that there would be no punishment. At the same time, the officers at the prison camp know that their errors are going to be detected and punished right away. Even though both of the wrongful acts are tightly connected to the feeling of disgrace, it is not this feeling that drives the doers’ actions and decisions but the possibility of being caught and punished. It looks like both authors demonstrated an interesting aspect of human nature – the moral judgment that weakens significantly when there is the awareness that no punishment would follow.