One of my favorite things about fiction, particularly speculative fiction, is its ability to comment on life in the context of story. That's what my #TruthInFiction series is all about.
Today’s #TruthInFiction comes from Chapter X of 1984 by George Orwell, in which the main character, Winston, looks out a second-story window and notices a working woman hanging laundry on the line.
Tirelessly the woman marched to and fro, corking and uncorking herself, singing and fallen silent, and pegging out more diapers, and more and yet more. He wondered whether she took in washing for a living, or was merely the slave of twenty or thirty grandchildren. Julia had come across to his side; together they gazed down with a sort of fascination at the sturdy figure below. As he looked at the woman in her characteristic attitude, her thick arms reaching up for the line, her powerful marelike buttocks protruded, it struck him for the first time that she was beautiful. It had never occurred to him that the body of a woman of fifty, blown up to monstrous dimensions by childbearing, then hardened, roughened by work till it was coarse in the grain like an overripe turnip, could be beautiful. But it was so, and after all, he thought, why not? The solid contourless body, like a block of granite, and the rasping red skin, bore the same relation to the body of a girl as the rose-hip to the rose. Why should the fruit be held inferior to the flower?
When I first read 1984, this was one of the most vivid scenes in my memory, and I recently remarked on it to a family member as we discussed perceptions of beauty. Then, of course, I had to dig it back up to see if it really was as powerful as I remembered—and it was. I think what ingrained this scene in my mind was the fact that, like many other women, I’ve always been a little self-conscious about my body type. I could easily imagine myself with similar dimensions at fifty as this working-class woman had, and it embarrassed me. But through Winston’s eyes, I saw the incredible beauty of a body that had born both children and hardships. This body’s very shape was a testament to its strength, and to the love of the heart within it.
This passage gave me a fresh perspective on the beauty of the aging mothers—the beauty that perhaps I will someday share with so many others. I recognized a truth about beauty, hidden in fiction.
“She’s beautiful,” he murmured.
Have you read another fiction book with a great perception on beauty? What is your reaction to this passage from 1984? Share your thoughts!
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I write YA/adult fantasy & sci-fi that burns through the darkest realities with truth and redemption.
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