Advanced Placement 12 Literature
25 March 2010
By George Orwell
George Orwell’s ingenious paradigm of a totalitarian government in his novel 1984 serves as a warning to the 1949 readers the possibility of being stifled of human individuality and intellectual ability. The novel scrutinizes the mental manipulation and physical control of an oppressive government that distorts reality and alters history. This government is referred to as the Party, whose ultimate objective is to contort data and information, contract human emotions, and annihilate rebellious behavior or thoughts. Orwell majestically juxtaposes the variations among human society based upon the credibility of external reality and individualism.
1984 describes the treachery that underlies the motives within Oceania’s totalitarian government and how it coincides with the diminishment of human culture. When the privilege to pursue individual happiness has become obsolete, a human’s primitive emotions diminish. When the government begins to dictate an individual’s memory and their understanding of what is probable, the human mentality is annihilated. Orwell dissects the human conscious and presents a perspective of metaphysics that helps the reader to sympathize with the protagonist’s self-destructive mentality. Ultimately, 1984 analytically criticizes the demeanor of a totalitarian regime and serves as a warning to the fate of humanity.
While this dehumanizing government makes an effort to prelude to a utopian society, the demonstration of repressive control systems and the absence of individuals’ rights present a dystopian society. Orwell magnifies human subjection and highlights the mental and physical injustices of despotism. When human behavior and thought are systematically limited through technology and language, individuals are deprived of simplistic pleasures. This includes free thinking, leisure, entertainment, culture, sex, and relationships. When compared to a contemporary, democratic society, it is apparent how brilliantly Orwell unveils the inhumane tendencies of absolutism.
Orwell majestically explores the human psyche through his protagonist, Winston Smith. Winston’s contradicting mentality illustrates his uneasiness to conform within a society that views his humanistic consciousness and behavior harmful to himself, the people of Oceania, and ultimately, the Party. As Oceania showers the Party’s political leader, Big Brother, with admiration, Winston displays a hidden empathy toward Emmanuel Goldstein. Goldstein never appears within the novel but Oceania’s ferocious hatred is aimed toward this man who was once part of the Party but then rebelled. He is described to be leading the Brotherhood, a secret society that aims to overthrow the atrocious practices of the Party. Although the existence of the Party is inevitable, the same cannot be said for the Brotherhood. Winston does have doubts of its existence, but in the secrecy of his own thoughts, he lingers on the hope that one day he will establish an alliance with the man whom he feels no malevolence for.
Big Brother’s slogan is a paradox in itself. “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength.” (Orwell 17). It is implied that society’s abhorrence must be channeled at one common adversary for the Party to secure more power; therefore, Oceania consistently remains at war with Eurasia or Eastasia. Freedom is slavery dissects the notion that individually humans cannot amount to much, but when bounded by the Party’s platform, their servitude can be used to immortally power the government. Furthermore, the Party can keep the people of Oceania ignorant of external reality by manipulating the past and present, thus strengthening the Party’s control. While the people remain oblivious to the truth and oblige by the Party’s manifesto, the totalitarian regime is never questioned of its injustices and continues to grow exponentially in power.
Parallels of a controlled society, an authoritarian government, and psychological manipulation are demonstrated between 1984 and Orwell’s other classic work, Animal Farm, a political satire. The government control among the society of animals in Animal Farm is similar to 1984 in that both populations are subjugated through isolation and mind control. Napoleon in Animal Farm can effectively be compared to Big Brother in 1984 because they are both leaders of a totalitarian regime. Both these characters oppress individual rights to seize absolute power. Orwell recreates two diverse societies to highlight the corruptness of a totalitarian authority and its self-destructive nature.
In Isaac Asimov’s science fiction, I, Robot, The Three Laws of Robotics are presented, which are similar to the three paradoxes that revolve around the Party’s control.
“1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.”
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.” (Asimov 27)
A parallel is seen between 1984’s totalitarian regime and I, Robot’s robotic regime because both establishments attempt to alter the human race and diminish individuality. While the Party feeds off Oceania’s vulnerability to absolutism, the robots use this same vulnerability to refine humanistic ways in a destructive manner to perfect society.
Winston’s non-conformist methods are apparent when he purchases a diary to transcribe his anti-Party thoughts. This was Winston’s first notorious act; an act of thoughtcrime. Thoughtcrime in Oceania was having any thoughts that are pessimistic or not in accordance to the Party’s values. Having even the slightest demeaning thought about Big Brother or rebellion was reason for the Thought Police to arrest individuals and interrogate them mercilessly. Within his diary Winston writes, “Thoughtcrime does not entail death; thoughtcrime IS death.” (Orwell 27)
Any maverick within Oceania whose eccentricity could blockade the Party’s path toward power was vaporized. When an individual was vaporized, their name was diminished from Oceania’s records and the very memory of their existence was obliterated. These individuals had not so much “died” as they had been “evaporated” or reduced to nothingness. People were vaporized at random and Oceania accepted the notion that the demolishment of an individual’s existence should not be questioned or even thought about. These “unpersons,” as they were called in the book, were primarily extracted because of their thoughtcrime. The Party eradicated their existence to prevent the spread of rebellious notions. While a few returned after some time, majority were extinguished from human memory or became fabrications of the imagination. Winston adds that thoughtcrime is not the only cause of being vaporized, but having the ability to over familiarize oneself with the Party’s motives as a means of displaying loyalty can prove self-destructive.
“One of these days, thought Winston with sudden deep conviction, Syme will be vaporized. He is too intelligent. He sees too clearly and speaks too plainly. The Party does not like such people. One day he will disappear. It is written in his face.” (Orwell 47)
Syme, who was a specialist in the language of Newspeak, symbolizes excessive admiration for The Party and an intelligence that exceeds the limits of the Party. The Party encourages the use of Newspeak for verbal communication as a method of psychological manipulation and subjugation of individual thought. By simplifying vocabulary, refining words, and condensing the range of original thought, the Party seeks to exterminate the ability to conceive disobedient ideas. By destroying words that can lead to thoughtcrime and slaying the ability to perceive such notions, the Party takes command of human mentality.
“In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten…Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller.” (Orwell 46)
The Party is able to dictate Oceania’s every movement and thought through a technological tyrant. Individuals are rarely able to maneuver away from the telescreens’ menacing radar. Winston’s life is supervised, manipulated, and distorted by the telescreens, who’s every command and information, regardless of how contradicting it is, is viewed as the “truth.” These contradictions lead to the concept of doublethinking in Oceania.
Doublethinking emerges when an individual is holding two contradictory thoughts in their mind simultaneously. Orwell implies that when the reality of events and the information is it is illustrated with are incoherent, a disorder of thought emerges among those that are not yet consciously weak. Thus, this manifests Winston’s psychological struggle with what he remembers and what is being presented to him as the truth.
Winston’s dreams of his past with his mother and sister illustrate his “immortal” consciousness, which mutilate his loyalty toward The Party. When his memories are not easily disfigured like the rest of Oceania’s, insubordination transpires and Winston displays disobedience. One of the recurring themes within 1984 is Winston’s general notion that if the proles, Oceania’s working class that is free of the Party’s control, were to revolt and overthrow the repressive state, the Party could be dismantled. The majority of Oceania’s population is the proles and Orwell brutally juxtaposes their lifestyle with that of Winston’s. They represent a mass of people who have retained primitive emotions and thoughts, and are not burdened by the strict, heartless totalitarian regime. When Winston walks through the neighborhood of the proles, their destitute state is apparent; however, he acknowledges that their existence has preserved the essence of life and the genuine human condition. Orwell exploits the proles to denote the inability of an ignorant mass of people to dismantle an unjust establishment. In spite of this, the proles also symbolize the spirit of human emotion and quintessence of independence. A shift in Winston’s conscious is illustrated when he gains a deeper insight into the physiological condition of the proles.
“They were governed by private loyalties which they did not question. What mattered were individual relationships, and a completely helpless gesture, an embrace, a tear, a word spoken to a dying man, could have value in itself. The proles, it suddenly occurred to him, had remained in this condition. They were not loyal to a party or a country or an idea, they were loyal to one another. For the first time in his life he did not despise the proles or think of them merely as an inert force which could one day spring to life and regenerate the world. The proles had stayed human. They had not become hardened inside. They had held onto the primitive emotions which he himself had to relearn by conscious effort.” (Orwell 136)
When Winston takes a keen interest in the proles, he walks through the neighborhood and visits an antique shop. The owner of the secondhand shop, Mr. Charrington, embodies betrayal and deception within 1984. Mr. Charrington’s antique possessions arouse Winston’s interests and enable him to trust the man who is actually a part of the Thought Police. Winston’s appreciation for the memory and authenticity embodied by the antiques further instigates his spitefulness toward the Party’s attempts to demolish the legitimacy of historical records and alter the past. Mr. Charrington also provides Winston and his lover, Julia, a small room to continue their love affair in secrecy. This room temporarily embodies Winston’s “fantasy” world; one that excludes the Party’s ominous presence and detrimental mentality. Within the room, Winston conscious anticipates an insurgency from the proles, sympathizes with their human spirit, and breathes in the very essence of living. He purchases a glass paperweight that symbolizes his efforts to rekindle the past, the tranquility of his love affair, and his admiration toward individualistic beauty.
Julia is a less complex character whose motives behind nonconformity juxtaposes with that of Winston’s. Julia’s raging hormones lead her to have illicit sexual affairs with numerous Party members; therefore, it is understood her open rebellion is not for the common good, but for personal pleasure. Although it can be argued her motivates are not entirely selfish if she sincerely loves Winston, her cunning nature and pragmatic notions demonstrate her experience in the art of disobedience under the Party’s control. She wears an Anti-Sex sash around her waist and fervently participates in the Two Minutes Hate to veil her unlawful conduct. However, Julia is unable to escape the Party’s menacing radar and is arrested by the Thought Police. Upon confessing and betraying Winston’s love, which may display symptoms of selfishness, she was released.
O’Brien, a crucial member of the Inner Party, is a character that symbolizes the Party’s extreme control and immortal mentality. Although O’Brien openly deceived Winston by pretending to be a member of the Brotherhood and allowing him to take an oath of loyalty toward the secret organization, it is inevitable that a hidden “loyalty” is apparent among the two. Winston dreams of O’Brien on numerous occasions and feels a mental connection with him; one that is almost humanistic and spiritual. In his dreams, O’Brien continuously reminds Winston, “We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.” (Orwell 22) What Winston does not know is this place is a merciless interrogation room that he is sent to after being deceived by O’Brien and Mr. Charrington. Although O’Brien’s loyalty toward the Party is eternal, he does have a voice of sympathy for Winston. Therefore, the reader may assume that O’Brien had once rebelled too. However, it may be that O’Brien employs doublethink exceptionally well, which allows him to successfully force Winston to adapt to the Party’s manipulative mechanisms.
“We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull. You will learn by degrees, Winston. There is nothing that we could not do. Invisibility, levitation- anything. I could float off this floor like a soap bubble if I wished to. I do not wish to, because the Party does not wish it. You must get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of nature. We make the laws of nature.” (Orwell 218)
Climatic tensions and a shift in Winston’s conscious erupt when O’Brien physically tortures him until he obeys, understands, and comes to love the philosophy that underlies the Party and Big Brother. It has no longer become a matter of accepting the idea that two plus two equals five only because the Party says it is. The Party’s ultimate objective is to force Winston to inherit that belief and take it in with a sincere love for Big Brother. Earlier in the novel, Winston had said, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.” (Orwell 69) A defeat in his mentality is seen when Winston is forced to abide by the opposite notion.
Orwell symbolizes the concept that physical pain will overcome human reason through Room 101. Room 101 is the torture room the Party uses on its criminals and subjects them to his or her worst fear. When Winston was presented with his nightmare, a cage of rats that could potentially devour his face, he lost all rationality in his thoughts and betrayed his love for Julia by insisting that she were made victim of this horrid act. This infidelity is enough for O’Brien to acknowledge the complete transformation in Winston’s subconscious and his sincere love for Big Brother. Winston’s humanistic conscious gradually diminished as he became afflicted with more physical torment. After being released, he conformed to the society he had once loathed and found barbaric. Winston could no longer rekindle the false hope of revolutionizing human mentality and adapted to the unscrupulous nature of the Party.
Winston’s psyche can be related to Sigmund Freud’s model of the unconscious, pre-conscious, and the conscious. There are three aspects of the mind that work together to produce an individual’s complex behavior and thought. The conflict between the id and superego, although negotiated by the ego, can lead to one of the most fundamental psychological battles every individual faces. The id is the emotional, selfish state of the mind and revolves around the pleasure principle. The id is the strongest as a child, which is demonstrated from Winston when he is willing to steal portions of food from his mother and sister to satisfy his own cravings. The ego is associated with the reality principle and strives to satisfy the id in a realistic and socially appropriate way. Winston’s ego is represented through his rebellious state. He acknowledges his external reality and deviously acts upon his desires by going against the controls of the Party. Orwell builds thematic tensions around Winston’s superego, his inability to understand what is morally right and wrong and to make judgments based upon what his parents and society have taught him. Toward the end of the novel, Winston’s superego is grasped by the Party and his id is twisted to suppress any urges they deem unacceptable.
1984 majestically contorts reality into a futuristic society that is corrupted by the threatening chains of absolutism. Orwell magnifies the perils of a regime that imprisons individualism and the fundamental nature of humanity. Monotony jeopardizes intellectual thought and the Party revolutionizes the proverb, “knowledge is power.” Winston demonstrates the quintessential rebellious state of mind and the fragility of the human conscious. Orwell presents socialistic principles and paradoxical theories to manifest the struggle between individual rights and the safety of the society. He insists that a totalitarian regime will inevitably lead to a self-destructive state of mind and leave a blemish upon an individual’s thought of reality. Ultimately, the mentality of the human race can be suppressed only so far within a utopian society, and when one cannot conform, they are denied the very essence of their being.
Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Signet Classic. 1950. Print
Orwell, Georg. Animal Farm. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co. 1946. Print
Asimov, Isaac. I, Robot. New York: Doubleday. 1950. Print