True History of the Kelly Gang

by Peter Carey

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How could I compare True History of the Kelly Gang with 1984 by George Orwell for my English coursework?

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One could compare True History of the Kelly Gang with 1984 by examining similarities between the respective central characters.

Both Ned Kelly, the famous Australian outlaw, and Winston Smith, the protagonist of Orwell's classic dystopian novel, start off as ordinary members of society only to end up violating the laws of their respective societies.

Kelly, who comes across as having been quite a good young man in his youth—he once saved a boy from drowning—eventually falls into a life of crime, largely through circumstances.

By the same token, Winston Smith, a member of the Outer Party and a worker at the Ministry of Truth, eventually falls into subversion, perhaps the most serious crime that anyone can commit in Oceania.

In neither case can one say that we are confronted with a natural-born criminal, if indeed such people exist. They are both shaped to a considerable extent by their environments. And those environments are incredibly harsh: Ned Kelly lives in the Australian Outback, with all its heat, dust, and lack of economic development; Winston Smith lives in a nightmarish totalitarian England ruled by a brutal one-party dictatorship.

To some extent, then, the transgressive behavior in which Kelly and Smith indulge can be seen as a reaction to an environment in which it is nigh impossible for people to develop themselves without resorting to crime.

Yet at the same time, both men are acutely aware that one day they will be caught and get into serious trouble. Neither man romanticizes his fate; they both know that they're living on borrowed time.

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