English department, fu jen catholic university


Totalitarianism vs. Individual Subjectivity



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Totalitarianism vs. Individual Subjectivity
Prior to analyzing the female characters roles, it is important to understand the basis of anti-leisure in both novels. As both
Nineteen Eighty-Four
​ and ​Fahrenheit 451​ were written after World War II, there are apparent parallels between the elements of totalitarianism in the novels and events that occurred during the war. According to Michael Halberstam, the totalitarian thesis, first formulated in the early to mid-thirties in England and the United States, holds that there were essential similarities between the fundamentally antiliberal political regimes of Hitler’s National Socialist Germany and Stalin’s Communist Russia
(459). Thus, in the same way that Hitler and Stalin were able to regulate and sustain their regimes, “dystopias use leisure as a means of retaining power of the elite The anti-leisure thesis, therefore, defines totalitarian practices as ways of regulating identity and suppressing individual thought (Daniels and Bowen 423) by promulgating propaganda in place of providing individuals with the personal, leisure space and time to develop their own subjectivity. In
Nineteen Eighty-Four
​, an example of anti-leisure practice can be seen through the program of the Two Minutes Hate (Orwell 12), a mandatory daily event that promotes hate towards whomever the regime is fighting against, which Winston perceives as follows A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledgehammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming


5 Chen lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp. (14) Herein likening people’s shared emotions of fear and vindictiveness to an electric current Orwell emphasizes the level of conformity that the regime in the novel is able to achieve among their citizens, as if these emotions of rage are second nature to them and able to be activated by the flip of a switch their emotions easily and rapidly influence one another like the conduct of electricity. Furthermore, the fact that the citizens rage is abstract and
“undirected” furthers the notion that the regime is the one that holds power over what the citizens should or should not think about, whereas the individuals themselves are stripped of their own subjectivity, their freedom of thought suppressed through loss of their own personal leisure spaces. Similarly, anti-leisure can also be seen in
Fahrenheit 451
​, as Clarisse tells the protagonist, Montag, of atypical day of school I don’t think it’s social to get a bunch of people together and then not let them talk, .
. . we never ask questions, or at least most don’t; they just run the answers at you, bing, bing, bing, and us sitting therefor four more hours of film-teacher. That’s not social tome at all . . . . They run us so ragged by the end of the day we can’t do anything but go to bed . . . .” (Bradbury 27) Here, Clarisse’s repetition of the onomatopoeic “bing” puts emphasis on the monotonous and mechanical way of teaching, where the virtual aspect of the “film-teacher” (understood as a prerecorded teaching video) also draws a certain barrier in the communication of ideas. Therefore, being social is redefined in
Fahrenheit 451
​’s society freedom of expression is replaced by the regulation of identity and suppression of individual thought. Nonetheless, although anti-leisure in both novels can apply to both male and female citizens, power and control also contributes to the patriarchal objectification and


6 Chen disempowerment of the female gender . . . . Women can suffer two times first, because of political/authoritarian power, secondly through a male/sexist oppression (Di Minico 2). Female agency, then, is the extent to which female characters defy totalitarian and patriarchal power.


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