1. What is it?
Revolution is the overthrowing of governments or authorities by the people. It is a common theme in literature, particularly epics.
The most common revolutions depicted in western literature are the French (1789-1799), Russian (1917) and American (1775-1783). However, other revolutions do appear, including those in Spain, England and South America.
2. How is it made?
|A scene of injustice against the poor or proletariat.||Characters upset with society who desire change.|
|Characters gaining from inequality who have no desire for change.||An ignition point that leads to conflict.|
|A mix of political idealists, cruel authoritarians, benevolent figures, a working class or peasant victim, and morally empty opportunists.|
3. Examples in literature
Know Your Book
by W.B. Yeats
Title: Easter, 1916
Author: W.B. Yeats (1865-1939)
Genre: Poetry; political poetry; reflection
Synopsis: The Easter Uprising of 1916 was by Irish republicans against British rule. The uprising was unsuccessful, and many of the republican leaders were executed for treason. In his poem, Yeats reveals how his initial apathy towards republicanism turned into avid support after the British opted to execute the leaders. He also weighs whether revolution is as effective as politics, and at what point the sacrifice of revolution is enough.
Excerpt, Stanza 4:
Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse –
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
|Skimming, Scanning and Basic Comprehension|
1. When did the attempted revolution take place?
2. How did the attempted revolution end?
3. Which four Irish names are mentioned in the stanza?
4. What rhyme structure is used within the poem?
5. What oxymoron is used at the conclusion of the stanza?
6. What euphemism is originally used for death?
7. What are the first two lines of the stanza suggesting?
8. ‘To murmur name upon name’: to what names is the poet referring?
9. What ‘love’ is meant in ‘And what excess of love / Bewildered them until they died?’
10. Which lines in the poem say that every Irish nationalist will forever be affected by the events?
11. How does the Yeats frame the idea of revolution? What are his feelings about it?
12. Ireland eventually gained independence in 1949 through political means. Do you think the 1916 revolution was worthwhile?
13. In the case of revolution, is a country’s government or leader justified in killing its own people?
14. Whilst some revolutions seek a change to an entire country, some are fought in the name of self-autonomy for a region. In your opinion, how should leaders deal with those wanting regional self-autonomy or independence?
Know Your Book
by Borìs Pasternàk
Title: Дóктор Живáго (*trans: Doctor Zhivago)
Author: Борис Пастернак (Boris Pasternak) (1890-1960)
Genre: Fiction; novel; historical novel; romance
Plot: Orphan Yuri Zhivago is a medical student and amateur poet. He marries his sweetheart Tonya, but the Russian revolution will send him to serve as a medic on the front line. There he will meet Lara, a young woman who has been mentally abused in her upbringing and is now in a relationship with a revolutionary. Lara and Yuri begin a love affair in a field hospital, but Russia is heading into a dangerous socialist revolution, where the educated and wealthy are targets.
Setting: Moscow; Yuriatin in the Urals; Battlefield hospital in Meliuzeevo; 1902-1937
Characters: Yuri Zhivago; Lara; Tonya; Victor Komarovsky; Pasha
Excerpt from Chapter 6 (translated from Russian):
Nikolai Nikolaievich burst into the room as impetuously as the wind coming through the open window.
They’re fighting in the street, he reported. There is a regular battle between the cadets who support the Provisional Government and the garrison soldiers who support the Bolsheviks. There is skirmishing all over the city. I got into trouble coming here once at the corner of Bolshaia Dmitrovka and once at the Nikitsky Gate. Now you can’t get through directly, you have to go around. Hurry up, Yura! Put your coat on, let’s go. You’ve got to see this. This is history. This happens once in a lifetime.
But he stayed talking for a couple of hours. Then they had dinner, and by the time he was ready to go home and was dragging the doctor out, Gordon burst in, in exactly the same way as Nikolai Nikolaievich and with much the same news.
Things had progressed, however. There were new details. Gordon spoke of increasing rifle fire and of passers-by killed by stray bullets. According to him, all traffic had stopped. He got through by a miracle, but now the street was cut off.
Nikolai Nikolaievich refused to believe him and dashed out but was back in a minute. He said bullets whistled down the street knocking chips of brick and plaster off the corners. There was not a soul outside. All traffic had stopped. That week Sashenka caught a cold.
|1. Nikolai Nikolaievich’s attitude to the events outside is one of|
|2. The actions of the main characters suggests|
a) disdain for the working classes
b) sympathy for the oppressed
c) a social divide between them and the revolutionaries
d) anger at the state’s actions
e) ignorance to what is occurring in the country
|3. When Nikolai returns from the street for the second time, his news|
a) is deemed unbelievable and ridiculed
b) causes the doctor to rush outside
c) reveals how quickly the situation has developed
d) is based purely on hearsay
e) simply re-states everything Gordon said
|4. The final line is an example of|
e) cosmic irony
|5. Comparing the attitude of the characters in Doctor Zhivago to the tone of Easter 1916 what change could be said to occur between the beginning and end of a revolution?|
a) Idealistic fervour turns to grim reality
b) Public apathy changes to widespread unity
c) Authoritarianism concedes to the need for change
d) Communism collapses into elitism
e) Class divides are removed by patriotism