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1984 and George Orwell
1984 is about life in a world where no personal freedoms exist. Winston the main character is a man of 39 whom is not extraordinary in either intelligence or character, but is disgusted with the world he lives in. He works in the Ministry of Truth, a place where history and the truth is rewritten to fit the party's beliefs. Winston is aware of the untruths, because he makes them true. This makes him very upset with the government of Oceania, where Big Brother, a larger than life figure, controls the people. His dissatisfaction increases to a point where he rebels against the government in small ways. Winston's first act of rebellion is buying and writing in a diary. This act is known as a thought crime and is punishable by death. A thought crime is any bad thought against the government of Oceania. Winston commits many thought crimes and becomes paranoid about being caught, which he knows is inevitable (Greenblast 113). He becomes paranoid because a young woman who is actively involved in many community groups follows him. Winston is obsessed with the past, a time before Oceania was under strict dictatorship. He goes into an antique shop and buys a shell covered in glass, which is another crime punishable by death. He sees the same woman following him. Many thoughts race through his mind "I wanted to rape you and then murder you afterwards. Two weeks ago I thought seriously of smashing your head in with a cobblestone. If you really want to know, I imagined that you had something to do with the Thought Police" (Orwell 101). The girl who was following him slipped him a note while at work. The note said, "I love you"(Orwell 90). They make plans to meet each other and carry on an illegal love affair. This love affair is another rebellion against the government. It goes on for some time. Winston rents a room where he and Julia can be secluded from the outside world. They meet a man named O'Brien who indicates that he is another revolutionary. Winston and Julia go to his house to meet with him. O'Brien gives than a seditious book to read.
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The first two stages are to force the party's beliefs on him then learn and understand what is expected of him. In the third stage, Winston is made to face what he secretly fears most, rats eating his face. After being completely rehabilitated by O'Brien, Winston now loves the establishment and the government. He is set free. Big Brother is the figurehead of a government that has total control. The Big Brother regime uses propaganda and puts fear in its citizens to keep the general population in line. "Big Brother is watching you"(Orwell 5) is just one example of many party slogans that puts fear in its citizens. Big Brother uses various ways to catch people guilty of bad thoughts "In the world of 1984 the tyrant Big Brother does employ a vast army of informers called thought police, who watch every citizen at all times for the least signs of criminal deviation which may consist simply of unorthodox thoughts"(Daley 112). Winston Smith represents Orwell's view on totalitarianism. Winston rebels against the government of Oceania by starting a diary and constantly having bad thoughts against the government. "Winston knows that he is doomed from the moment he has his first heretical thought. The tensions of the novel concerns how long he can stay alive and whether it is possible for Winston to die without mentally betraying his rebellion" (Greenblast 115). Winston starts writing in a diary for two reasons. The first is that he wants to be able to remember the daily occurrences in the world. In 1984, the memory of individuals, is effectively manipulated, programmed, and controlled from the outside by the party (Kolakowski 127). People don't know what they are consciously remembering and what is told to them. "The party had invented airplanes" (Orwell 127) is just one example of the party's propaganda and false statements that change every day. The other reason for the diary is so that people in the future will be able to read what went on during Winston's time and to tell them about his daily reflections on his feelings about the party. These are the same reasons why Orwell wrote 1984. He wanted to expose a communist country (the Soviet Union).
The specific political purpose that had used Orwell's sense of urgency was his desire to explode the myth of the Soviet Union as the paradigm of the socialist state. He also wanted to expose the dangers of totalitarianism, which the devaluation of objective truth, and the systematic manipulation of the common people through propaganda (Stansky 102). O'Brien is an informant to Big Brother. He is not who he seems to be. He appears to Winston as a fellow conspirator, but actually becomes Winston's torturer and rehabilitator. O'Brien and the party can't tolerate Winston's betrayal of the government. O'Brien tells his victim: You are a flaw in the pattern, Winston. You are a stain that must be wiped out...It is intolerable that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. (Daley 117) In fact, the party can't comprehend his disbelief and must change his thoughts through torture and brainwash. "You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves" (Orwell 200). O'Brien represents the core of communist or totalitarian rule, making the victims suffer by using brainwashing to control them. O'Brien also tells Winston what he should feel about Big Brother when Winston is at his lowest point mentally and physically. O'Brien's speeches to the broken Winston Smith in the Thought Polices' torture chamber represents for Orwell the core of our century's political hideousness. Although O'Brien says that power seeks power and needs no ideological excuse. He does in fact explain to his victim what this power is (Stansky 107). Julia is considered a sexual deviant in the oppressed world of 1984.
In a normal world sex is free, in 1984 it's a forbidden act only allowed for reproduction purposes to keep the party's numbers constant. Julia has been sexually active since her teenage years. "She had had her first love affair when she was sixteen, with a party member of sixty" (Orwell 109). Love and sex is not allowed in this totalitarian state so Julia has to look as pure as possible so that she does not show any guilt. "You thought I was a good party member, pure in word and deed. Banners, processions, slogans, games, and community hikes all that stuff. And you [Winston] thought that if I had a quarter of a chance I'd denounce you as a thought criminal and get you killed off " (Orwell 101). The owner of the antique shop is another example of someone appearing to be what he is not. Orwell uses the shop owner to illustrate a point. Orwell shows that no one can be trusted in a totalitarian country. Someone who appears to be your friend will actually turn you in and have you killed. The shop owner appears to be an old widower who enjoys having conversations with Winston Smith. Throughout the book it can be seen that looks can be deceiving. He is actually a member of the Thought Police and gets a good laugh when Winston and Julia getting caught. Now all he can do is wait for his next victim to enter his store. The Ministry of Truth is a place where history and facts--significant and insignificant are rewritten to reflect the party's utopian beliefs. They thoroughly destroy the records of the past; they print up new, up to-date editions of old newspapers and books; and they know corrected versions will be replaced by another, re-corrected one. Their goal is to make people forget everything- facts, words, dead people, and the names of places. How far they succeed in obliterating the past is not fully established in Orwell's description; clearly they try hard and they score impressive results. The ideal of complete oblivion may not have been reached, yet further progress is to be expressed (Kolakowski 126).
Winston and Julia are workers at the Ministry of Truth. Winston gets more mentally involved in his work than Julia. "Winston Smith and his fellows at the Ministry of Truth spend their days rewriting the past: Most of the material you were dealing with had no connection with anything in the real world, not even the kind of connection that is contained in a direct lie'" (Daley 118). Winston is not as strong mentally as Julia is. His work affects him more. The Ministry of Truth is like a totalitarian country, because it has ways to scare its citizens. People guilty of crimes are erased from having ever existed. "Your name was removed from the registers, every record of your existence was denied and then forgotten" (Orwell 19). Again people were taken away without any rights. "...There was no trial no report of arrest" (Orwell 19). The actual purpose of the Ministry of Truth is to spread lies and to have control over its citizens using memory-erasing techniques. "...The distinction between true and false in their usual meaning has disappeared. This is the great cognitive triumph of totalitarianism: it cannot be accused of lying any longer since it has succeeded in abrogating the very idea of truth (Kolakowski 127). These same control techniques are used by totalitarian nations that seek control over there citizens.
The Ministry of Truth is a complete contradiction of itself. A Ministry of Truth should not change past occurrences or say people never existed. It should exemplify the truth and not erase records of the existence of people. The Ministry of Love is where all criminals are tortured, rehabilitated, then set free or killed. As soon as Winston is captured he knows he is going to the Ministry of Love. The Ministry of Love was the really frightening one. There were no windows in it at all. Winston had never been inside the Ministry of Love, nor within half a kilometer of it. It was a place impossible to enter except on official business, and then only by penetrating through a maze of barbed-wire entanglements, steel doors, and hidden machine-gun nests. Even the streets leading up to its outer barriers were roamed by gorilla-faced guards in black uniforms, armed with jointed truncheons (Orwell 8). In a totalitarian state something resembling a Ministry of Love is common place. It's a place where the government can inflict pain on its subjects for crimes big and small. That is how totalitarian nations keep, power over their citizens-- by fear of pain. The name Ministry of Love is a contradiction of itself. Its name shows a feeling of love and warmth, but in actuality it's the complete opposite. It's a place of hate and pain and is cold and dark. A better name for it would be the Ministry of Hate. George Orwell lived during a time when Europe was in a period of rebuilding after World War II. During that time Soviets gained six nations as satellites. England was helpless and had to worry about their own problems and had to watch the Soviet Union take control of half of Germany.
The leader of the Soviet Union, Stalin, closely resembles Big Brother. They were both larger than life figures in their respective countries. In the Soviet Union you could easily have found large posters with Stalin's face on them. The same holds true in 1984; Big Brother's face is everywhere. A famous quote from 1984 is "Big Brother is watching you" (Orwell 5). Meaning if his Thought Police don't catch you, his telescreens and hidden microphones would. In the Soviet Union, Stalin's KGB sought criminals who plotted against the government. In Stalin's regime over 10 million people were killed. In 1984 hundreds of criminals were killed daily. Another aspect of the 1940's was the new broadcast TVs and mainframe computers. The new technologies could be used for means of control. Orwell saw communist countries using these technologies for control (Kolakowski 125). This is where Orwell's idea of telescreens and hidden microphones came from. Before World War II, Orwell had his worst encounter with communists.
While Orwell was in the Spanish Civil War, he was running away from Soviet communists who were trying to kill him. After that experience he got out of the army and became a writer full time. "Another shock to Orwell was when the Nazi-Soviet pact signaled the breakdown and the beginning of the mental and emotional state out of which grew Animal Farm and 1984"(Greenblast 105). Orwell may of have extracted what he saw in his world while writing but it was done to get people's attention of problems in the existing world. "Orwell's primary purpose is to distort disturbing conditions tendencies and habits of thought that he saw existing in the world"(Stansky 105). Orwell saw, the whole world steadily moving toward a vast ruthless tyranny. He felt nothing could stop its monstrous progress. 1984, in spite of its setting in the future, is not primarily a utopian fantasy prophesying what the world will be like in thirty or forty years but a novel about what the world is like now (Greenblast 112). Orwell always relates characters in his books to points of view and real people. In Animal Farm every farm animal represents a person in the Soviet Union. In 1984, Orwell represents his point of view in Winston. He shows a totalitarian leader, in O'Brien and Big Brother, while Julia is the desire and lust in every human being.
George Orwell had deep resentment against totalitarianism and what it stood for. He saw the problem of totalitarianism in his existing world. He also understood how the problem could fester and become larger due to instability in Europe's economy after World War II. He purposely makes the story, 1984, unrealistic and blown out of proportion to capture people's attention and make them think maybe it wouldn't be unrealistic in the near future. With his deep resentment toward totalitarianism it became the focal point of his novels. George Orwell's, novels were directed toward against totalitarianism and for Socialism and what it stood for.
Orwell, George. 1984. New York: The New American Library Inc., 1983.
Daley, Alan L. George Orwell, Writer and Critic of Modern Society. Charlottesville: Samhar Press, 1974.
Greenblast, Stephen J. "Orwell as Satirist." George Orwell, A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Raymond Williams. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1974. 103-118.
Kolakowski, Leszek. "Totalitarianism and the virtue of the Lie." 1984 Revisited, Totalitarianism In Our Century. Ed. Irving Howe. New York: Harper and Row, 1983. 122-136.
Stansky, Peter and William Abrahams. Orwell: The Transformation. London: Gramala Publishing Limited, 1981.