Nineteen eighty-four by George Orwell is a popular novel that was published in 1949. The novel attempts to paints a picture of what the future will look like by describing the state of the world in 1984. The novel’s setting is London after World War II. There has been unrest throughout the land and as a result new governments have emerged with the expressed purpose of controlling the masses. Throughout the novel Orwell reveals the condition of a state called Oceania in which the government takes complete control of every aspect of life and people are forced to act in ways that are contrary to their will.
One of the major tools that the government uses to control the people is monitoring. The state has even develop laws by which people can be prosecuted for their thoughts when they are inconsistent with the opinions of the government. The state even has a Though Police who are charged with enforcing punishment for thought crimes. The main character in the book is Winston Smith. He is a member of the outer party. He does not like the government or the strategies that it uses to make the people comply with their wishes. As a result he writes a journal concerning his desire to overthrow the government and free the people of Oceania from their rule. His journal also shows that he is thinking about the ways in which society was different before Big Brother came into power. He seems to long to know and understand a society in which freedom is allowed.
Winston understands that the thoughts that he is expressing in this journal will be considered thought crimes because they seek to usurp the authority of Big Brother. Eventually Winston befriends a man that he believes shares the same beliefs. However this individual, Obrien, is actually a double agent who has be sent by big brother to re-educate Winston. Once the truth of Obrien’s identity is revealed Winston is forced undergoes some torture and is re-educated to believe that Big Brother knows best and that he should have ideas that are contrary to this belief.
Winston was also forced to abandon his love interest, Julia, because of the political party that she belonged to. He had to reveal what he knew about her as a part of his re-education.
From a literary standpoint the book is rather complex. This complexity lies in the subject matter which displays that Orwell had a profound understanding of philosophy and the manner in which social systems operate. Although the book is a novel. Orwell’s tone provide an underlying social commentary. It also seems that he is attempting to provoke the reader to thoroughly consider the interaction that government has with society.
At the time the book was published some of the ideas contained in the book may not have been conceivable. However, Orwell’s writing style is rather convincing and encourages the reader to use their imagination. Orwell’s writing style is also unique in that he explores complex social situations in a manner that makes the reader believe that such circumstances are possible.
Orwell utilizes imagery and other literary devices to describe the state of Oceania and its people. Wiston represents the desire that people have to be free and to be agents of their own will. However, is systematically traumatized until the desire to rebel no longer exist.
It is also important to point out that in the novel Winston actually works as an anti-historian. Winston is responsible for re-writing “the past in the Ministry of Truth, so that it conforms to the latest changes in the party’s line. The idea was derived from Orwell’s experience during the Spanish Civil War, where he saw the newspapers of the rival parties alter facts to suit policy, with no regard for truth whatsoever (Stansky, 1982).” This idea of rewriting the past or rewriting history for the purposes of distorting the truth and making people believe certain things about leaders and the function of government in their daily lives. It is interesting that Orwell added this facet of his experience to the novel. In doing so he illustrates the complete and total control that a government can have over people. Even to the point where what is reported in the history books is designed to perpetuate certain ideas and establish certain social norms.
Another interesting aspect of the book is the names give to some of the government organization such as the Ministry of Truth, Ministry of Love, and the Thought police. In all actually the name denote the opposite of what these organizations stood for. For instance the ministry of truth specialized in lies and the rewriting of history. The ministry of love actually tortured people who attempted to rebel against the totalitarian system. The thought police existed for the purpose of punishing anyone who had thoughts. Orwell used these titles to convey certain ideas about the society and the manner in which the government operated. These titles make the reader understand that things are not always what they appear. As such caution should be taken in life and in the relationship that citizens have with their government.
According to Lyons and Orwell (1961) Orwell is able to demonstrate the harsh realities of the lives of the people through direct statement and illustration. The authors further assert that
“The life Orwell describes in 1984 is just about as solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short as it can be. We are not only presented with the frightening theoretical documents of this society, but every incident from the daily Two Minutes Hate to the brainwashing of Smith completes this picture. Even the love affair with Julia seems more sordid than pathetic. The reader’s sense of a tawdry world is also intensified by the absence of any but hard and brittle objects in Winston Smith’s life (Lyons & Orwell 1961, 40) .”
The book presents the concept of dystopia. Dystopia is defined as “An imaginary place or state in which the condition of life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terrorâ€¦A work describing such a place or state (“Dystopia”).” This is also referred to as anti-utopia.
Many other literary works explore society as a utopia in which all the needs of the people are met and people live together in harmony. One such work is Jonathan Swift’s Utopia. In fact, according to Lyons & Orwell (1961, Nineteen Eighty-Four was inspired by Utopia. Instead of writing about a perfect world. Orwell explores a world in which the society appears to be a Utopia in that there is very little crime and war is not a problem. However, more sinister crimes are being committed because the people are being controlled; the people do not even have control over their own thoughts. According to Stansky (1982)
“When Orwell sat down in his farm on the island of Jura in 1947 to write 1984, he was animated, as he was in so much of his writing, by a nostalgia for the sense of community he felt had exsted in the past-up to, say, the out-break of World War
I — and that he thought could exist in the future, under a true and fruitful socialism (Stansky (1982).”
The author further explains that eventually the book became cynical and Orwell began to focus on all of the negative things that could occur if socialism became totalitarian in nature. In many ways Orwell’s work sought to dismantle the idea of utilitarianism by exposing the sinister motives that can linger within the governments of such societies. According to Resch (1997) “Orwell’s conception of totalitarianism has important ideological, as well as analytical, implications. Totalitarianism is a complex term unifying and transcending a contrary relationship between the nihilistic will to power of party dictatorship and the rational, bureaucratic organization of state power (Resch 1997, 142) .
Although Orwell is brilliant in the manner in which he seeks to expose the problems associated with totalitarianism, the novel also carries a tone of cynicism ass it relates to government. In Nineteen Eighty-four and many of Orwell’s other writings Orwell seems to have a clear disdain for governments or political systems that attempt to oppress people.
In my opinion, Goerge Orwell’d 1984 provides an insightful look at how totalitarianism could destroy a nation state. Although this book may not have seemed realistic in 1949, the information contained in this book seems to be relevant for today. It often seems that the powers that be have more and more control over our lives. In some ways it feels as though many people are asleep because they are distracted by debt, materialism and all the other vices our society offers. By the time that everyone wakes up they will no longer have the ability to think for themselves and there will be nothing that they can do about the situation.
In many ways the novel explains the type of power that a government can have if the people of a nation allow themselves to be controlled. The book even goes beyond this assertion because in Oceania Big Brother even controlled the thoughts of the people. This made it impossible for people to rebel because rebellion cannot be carried out without ideas and the cooperation of many people.
The novel also focuses the reader to consider the power of their thoughts. In the book a government believed that though was so powerful that it created a system in which free though was discourages and even punishable unto death. Big Brother understands that thoughts lead to action and rebellious actions could threaten the authority of the government. In addition, punishing people for thinking the wrong way was designed to deter others from having thoughts that were not sanctioned by the government. This was a fear tactic used to maintain control.
Interestingly enough Orwell had great difficulty publishing many of his novels because of the thoughts that he expresses. In addition, even when his books were published they wear often met with a great deal of controversy. For instance. “Nineteen Eighty-Four got an icy reception in leftwing circles and was violently attacked in the communist press (Meyers, 1).” Indeed people were vehemently opposed to his work because of the social and political issues that they exposed.
Through this novel, Orwell establishes how total population control can occur and why it must be avoided. According to Atkins (1984) “In Orwellian terms, 1984 means menace; it stands for the triumph of Totalitarianism a useful word with which Orwell familiarized usâ€¦(34)” The characters demonstrate how deception and deceit can cause people to act in ways that are contrary to their character and even contrary to the nature of human-beings. With this understood social conditions should never be ignored and people should always have free will to choose. This does not mean that laws don’t exist. Instead it simply means that the laws do not hinder the right to free expression or to think as one chooses.
In reading this novel it also interesting to note the influence of Orwell and this novel in particular on pop culture and political identity. This is particularly evident in the use of the words Big Brother. Today these words have become synonymous with government practices that are overbearing. In addition, there is a television show entitled Big Brother in which contestants are constantly monitored. In many ways that ideas presented in the book have become a subconscious part of society. In this way Orwell’s influence in unique among writers because he established a certain shift in the paradigm concerning what constitutes good social and political structure and how in the absence of the correct structures a society can devolve into chaos. Many of Orwell’s works take on this challenge and Nineteen Eighty-For is no exception.
Overall the book serves as a reminder that people in positions of power do not always have the best interest of the people they serve in mind. In some instances, their motives are selfish and their desires are to harm people. Orwell does an excellent job of warning people concerning the pitfalls of totalitarian rule. The novel will continue to provide important social commentary for years to come.
Atkins J. Orwell in 1984 College Literature, Vol. 11, No. 1 (1984), pp. 34-43
dystopia. (n.d.). The American HeritageÂ® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved March 26, 2010, from Dictionary.com website: http: / / dictionary. reference.com/browse/dystopia
Lyons J.O. And Orwell G. (1961) George Orwell’s Opaque Glass in “1984” Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, 2 (3), pp. 39- 46
Meyers J. (1997) George Orwell. Routledge Resch R.P. (1997) Utopia, Dystopia, and the Middle Class in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Boundary 2, Vol. 24 (1), pp. 137-176
Stansky P. (1982) Utopia and Anti-Utopia: William Morris and George Orwell. The Threepenny Review, 10, pp. 3-5
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