Biff America column: An open book of character
“Four legs good; two legs bad.”
The above is a quote from the book “Animal Farm,” written by George Orwell.
My now famous 11th-grade essay, analyzing the storyline and symbolism in that book, was the high point of my high school academic career.
I’m not one to toot my own horn, for it is both self-aggrandizing and hard on my back, but I’m pretty sure I received a B-minus for that essay. My English teacher, Mr. Boccalini, (Mr. “Bocc”) said it might have been the best synopsis of Orwell’s classic ever penned by someone who had never read the book.
After he gave me what I think was my highest test score of those four years, Mr. Bocc asked me if I would mind returning my copy of the book so it could be used the following semester. This put me in a quandary because I had never even opened that book and had no idea of its current location.
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The theme, characters and symbolism I gleaned from listening in class (when I was awake) and also from my buddy Joey Regan. Joey was a voracious reader and good student. He loved that book and would often lecture me about it as we lifted weights at Brother Joe’s Gym.
CALLING ME ON A LIE
Mr. Bocc asking for the book back put me in a delicate situation. As often was the case in my youth, I felt the best course of action was to lie. I told my teacher it was sitting on my desk at home and I would bring it in soon. But I never bothered to look on my desk at home because I didn’t have a desk at home.
A few days later, I finally had to change my story and say that I lost the book and would have to buy a copy to replace it. When I inquired of the cost, Mr. Bocc (who was also my track coach) said there would be no charge. I thanked him profusely. As I was walking out of his classroom, relieved, he called over my shoulder, “Do you know why there is no charge?” I answered, “Because you like me and I aced the test with a B-minus?”
He looked at me over his glasses and said, “No, because you never checked that book out and I don’t think you ever read it.” He had me there. He added that if I put the same effort into studying as I did trying to game the system I might get more B’s and fewer D’s. He did admit mine might have been the best synopsis of “Animal Farm” written by someone who had never opened the book.
But back to Orwell’s assertion of “Four legs good; two legs bad.” He wrote the books in the ’40s and was inspired by the Russian revolution and life in Stalin’s Russia. In the book, the animals are in charge and man is subservient (at least, that is how Joey tells it).
As I recall, the humans are treating the animals poorly, so the animals revolt. Somewhere on the way, the animals get in charge and treat the humans far worse than the humans had treated them. If you want more detail you should probably read the book — I hear it is very good.
OUR MODERN MINDSET
But the term “Four legs good; two legs bad” to me resonates in these times. The gray area of respectful but dissenting opinions has been replaced with blind endorsement or condemnation. Replace liberal with either two legs or four and conservative with the other, and you have the mindset in recent years of both parties.
We divide each other, not in terms of political and social beliefs but rather good, bad, smart, stupid, moral and evil. Few peoples, politicos or pundits allow themselves to look at the other side with anything but criticism. And what is worse is this hateful blanket denouncement of the other side breeds anger and bigotry to those too intellectually lazy to form their own opinion.
Now, my politics lean to the left. But that said, there are right-leaning people and policies that I like and respect. Democrat, Republican, Liberal, Conservative, Progressive and Constitutionalist are simply labels. More important to me are the labels, good people or jerks, kind folks or mean, leavers or takers, honest or dishonest. It is my belief that most people and policymakers — even those with whom I disagree — fall on the good side on that line. Though a few don’t.
You can’t judge a book by its cover? Well, my world-famous B-minus grade dispelled that myth. I also would suggest that, in a few isolated cases of people and politicos, all it takes is a glance at the cover to know the plot is not good for a country we love.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book, “Mind, Body, Soul,” is available at local shops and bookstores or online at http://www.shop.holpublications.com.