Posted by: oneyearbook | June 9, 2009

Only so many stories to tell …



Today the Guardian asks, does it matter that George Orwell’s 1984 appears to steal the bulk of its plot from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We? There is a heck of a lot of overlap, as becomes clear in the first paragraph of the article. Orwell was more than familiar with the Russian book, having reviewed it in the years before he wrote his masterpiece. Essentially the article ends up deciding that, perhaps, Orwell’s use of the material makes it acceptable. “So does it matter that Orwell borrowed plot and characters from the earlier book? After all, it seems clear that he made a superior work of literature out of them.”

The commenters immediately chime in about how pretty much everyone out there has done this (Shakespeare, I think, may be the most famous for taking old plots and ‘making a superior work of literature out of them.’ Here’s an All Things Considered chat on the topic of Hollywood using Shakespeare’s own tactics by adapting his plays.)



“Come on people don’t make me give the ‘only seven stories in the world… all full of the usual suspects and archetypes’ lecture,” says commenter maxkitty.

Oh, right, the seven stories. It just so happens that I mentioned the seven plots idea to my boyfriend the other day, but could only get as far as man vs. himself and man vs. man in the list. I had to look it up; the Internet Public Library came through for me.

  1. man versus nature
  2. man versus man
  3. man versus the environment
  4. man versus technology
  5. man versus the supernatural
  6. man versus self
  7. man versus religion

When I think about my book (which, as far as I know, has no particularly obvious parallels in older literature, as Orwell’s did; of course there are many books that cover some of the same territory, but not all of it, not quite in the same way) I can’t quite decide if I can slot it into one of these obvious categories. There’s an element of man versus man, and an element of man versus the environment, and maybe even, in a roundabout way, the supernatural … maybe what this all means is that I don’t have the conflict as well defined as I’d like.


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