The Novel Nineteen Eighty-Four Essay, Research Paper
The novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell, is presented as a warning about a possible, but not inevitable fate for humanity. The society we live in can become the totalitarian state of Big Brother and the Party if we allow it. The abuse of power and dehumanization of mankind are two dangerous prospects. The purpose of this novel is to send the reader a message prompting them to take action in order to prevent this fate and save their society. Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four as a warning for the members of his society as well as the societies of the future. As Warburg stated, “…if a man can conceive Nineteen Eighty-Four, he can also will to avoid it.”(Reilly, p. 21) Orwell wanted to alert us and make us aware of the possible dangers that could be encountered in the future. Nineteen Eighty-Four is a warning to those who have faith in human progress and in man’s ability to create a world of justice and peace.(Fromm, p.257) The novel pinpoints the dangers in today’s society and proves to us that this faith is a falacy. Orwell warns us that we are not yet aware that our society is following a doomed path leading to a totalitarian state. He wants us to see the hopelessness of this path before it becomes so commonplace that we will be unable to see it at all.(Fromm, p.259) We, today, blindly accept things fed to us by our governments in the same manner that the citizens of Oceania accepted doublethink and the changes in history and records. This warning is frightening when one believes that it could indeed become a reality. Orwell has written a book about a possibility that people wereunaware of and that most would prefer not to know. Although it is alarming, it is neccessary as a warning and a salvation. This is in contrast to Winston and his comment about Emanuel Goldstein’s book, “The best books…are those that tell you what you already know.”(Reilly, p.22) The society depicted in Orwell’s novel is a possibility that we conceal in the far recesses of our minds, but it is a future that we fear and would prefer to avoid. Our own society is disturbingly similar to the totalitarian state of Big Brother. Doublethink exists today. It is the power to hold two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accept both of them. When a political leader expects or demands what we think to be absurd, we go through doublethink; doing something even if we know it’s wrong. We use doublethink in regard to nuclear weapons. We spend vast sums of money and energy building nuclear weapons, but then avert our eyes to the fact that once released, they will destroy half of our own population along with half of our enemies’ population.(Fromm, p.264) Our society is a bureaucracy in which the public is manipulated in order to achieve the political goals of the government and then is betrayed due to ignorance and blind trust. This view of society began after World War I when millions died to satisfy the territorial ambitions of the European powers while under the illusion that they had been fighting for peace and democracy. Despair about the future of our civilization further sets in with the Depression, Naziism, Stalinist terror, use of the atomic bomb, the Cold War and Vietnam, just to cite some examples.(Fromm, p.259) Big Brother hasbecome the term for overreaching authority. This name has been applied to Hitler and Stalin. In fact, Big Brother in Nineteen Eighty-Four is modelled after Stalin in his physical features, with his dark moustache and piercing eyes. Newspeak is a word for the dehumanizing language of bureaucracies and computer programs. Our own governments use it to manipulate, deceive, and cover harsh realities with soft words.(Cronkite, p.1) The governments of our time are not very different from Big Brother and the Party. The level of power of a government determines its control over the members of its society. Too much power leads to a totalitarian environment such as Oceania. Thus, power is a very dangerous force. We have learned to produce power in huge amounts with the help of weaponry, war, and politics. Nineteen Eighty-Four is telling us that we may not be strong, wise or moral enough to deal with the power we produce and may misuse it. Today, political organization and technology can produce inconceiveable amounts of power. In our own society we have made some dangerous technological advancements that remove a person’s privacy and independence. We have telephone taps, the IRS, police surveillance helicopters, a monitoring station that knows what we watch on television and how many people are in the room, satellites in orbit that can read license plates in a parking lot, a social security number that will enable anyone to obtain your life history, and so on. Even more dangerous are our advancements in genetic engineering and the location of areas in the brain that trigger emotions.(Cronkite, p.2) Security and efficiency may cost us our freedom if used wrongly. Law and order could be thedoublethink version of slavery. The abuse of power leads to the bureaucracy of Big Brother where the desire for power is for power’s sake alone.(Reilly, p.21) Those who seek power or try to keep it, sacrifice everything and anything for it.(Cronkite, p.2) The Party consists of men who have given up every human quality for the sake of power. Big Brother maintains his power by fear, through constant monitoring by telescreen and by the censorship of language by Newspeak. In Newspeak, it is impossible to think certain thoughts because there are no longer words for them. History and literature are rewritten to agree with the Party’s view. “Who controls the past controls the present, and who controls the present controls the future.” By removing any independent thought or action, the citizens of Oceania are forced to conform to the ways of the Party. This is the power of the Party. They have control over the people through fear, violence and censorship, all under the facade of better security and efficiency, while in actuality it is an excuse for complete control. The Thought Police were presented to the people as a means of protecting themselves against ideas that were contrary to the Party ideology. In reality, they forced the policies and beliefs of the Party on the people using fear and violence. “Power is not a means, it is an end,” O’Brien tells Winston Smith, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — for ever.”In order to gain complete control, the dehumanization of man is neccessary. Orwell’s novel provokes the question:
Can human nature be changed in such a way that man will forget his longing for freedom, for dignity, for integrity, for love – that is to say, can man forget that he is human? Or does human nature have a dynamism which will react to the violation of these basic human needs by attempting to change an inhuman society into a human one? (Fromm, p. 260)In Nineteen Eighty-Four, unlimited use of torture and brainwashing were needed to get rid of this human nature to strive for love, justice, truth, and solidarity. The conclusion is reached that it is possible to dehumanize man with techniques that are common knowledge today. O’Brien sets about the task of extinguishing Winston’s individual humanity. By a series of physical and psychological tortures, Winston is totally erased as a person and is then recreated in the Party’s image when in the end “he loves Big Brother.”Orwell makes it appear that it is possible to dehumanize man completely and yet for life to go on. One might contradict this by saying that it may be possible to destroy the human core of man, but, in doing this, men would be so inhuman and lacking life and spirit that they would destroy each other or perish from boredom or anxiety. In this way, the future of man would be destroyed by dehumanization.(Fromm, p.266) Orwell depicts a society where man is only a number and loses all sense of individuality. As Erich Fromm stated, there is a danger of a society of automatons who have lost every trace of individuality, of love, of critical thought, and yet, who will not be aware of it because doublethink will have them believe that everything is as it should be.(p.267) Successful doublethink is when one thinks the opposite of what is true. If one has surrendered his independence completely, then 2+2=5 and “Slavery is Freedom.” He feels free because he no longer has any awareness of the difference betweentruth and lies. He is no longer an individual, but rather he is the Party. Winston argues with O’Brien that a world of dehumanized people would be impossible and that men would never stand for it, but in the end, Winston himself is dehumanized. This is proof that it is possible to destroy human nature. The Party realized that no one would fight for something he is not aware he is missing. This was the reason for the destruction of the appetite for freedom which was achieved through Newspeak and doublethink. The Party succeeded in creating a total loss of individuality. Everyone wore the same work uniform. Everyone was called the universal “comrade” instead of their unique name. The people became one mass with the same face and the same empty expressions. Removal of human emotions and a desire for freedom are symbolized with the Anti-Sex League and doublethink. Love and any pleasure in the sexual act (since it meant a love of an outsider that the Party couldn’t control) were severely prohibited by the Party , making love and sex totally political, void of any human emotion. All emotions belonged to the Party; even “a nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself” could betray you. Facecrime and thoughtcrime were punishable by the Party. Nineteen Eighty-Four is a portrait of a world in which man is stripped of his imagination, his emotions, and his language.(Reilly, p.74) It is a powerful reminder to preserve these characteristics of human nature. Nineteen Eighty-Four is a means to our own salvation from our society. Orwell is striving to save us and this dark book can still be our means of rescue.(Reilly, p.18) Orwell’s format in writing the novelencourages us that all is not lost. Orwell does not choose to end the novel with Room 101 or the sad picture of a “dead” Winston, rather he ends it with the Appendix on Newspeak. This appendix gives us hope because Newspeak is not triumphant, rather the written word, survives in the form of the novel itself. The novel does not end in Big Brother’s triumph, but rather in a creative act: the written word, which would have been abollished had the Party succeeded(Reilly, p.22). In addition, the past-tense narrative that the novel is written in speaks from a time beyond 1984. It is reflecting on Winston’s story from the future. This proves that the Party failed because otherwise, we would never have learned about Winston since he would have been “vaporized” and removed from all written records. The narrator writes at a time when Winston is dead, but his values have won and Big Brother has failed. Nineteen Eighty-Four is also a source of encouragement that if we do take action, there is a chance we can succeed against totalitarianism. Orwell wants to warn us where our society is headed unless we have a rebirth of humanism and dignity.(Fromm, p.266) Oceania is doomed but we are not yet in it. It is up to us. “Without minimizing the threat or underestimating the danger, we must believe (but not too easily) that we can foil Oceania.”(Reilly, p.128) In Orwell’s own words he desired “to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society they should strive after.” He wants us to preserve democracy and humanity. Nineteen Eighty-Four failed as a prophecy because it succeeded as a warning. Orwell’s vision of Oceania has been averted. We must not, however, congratulate ourselves too early. The rise of Big Brother might not have been in 1984, but it could always be in 1996. Every time we hear a phrase from Nineteen Eighty-Four used in reference to our own society, it is another warning.(Cronkite, p.3)Orwell didn’t forsee the future, he realized the implications of the present. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, he has given shape to the unspoken fears in our society. The novel concludes with the destruction of human spirit, but we are not to assume that that is our fate and that it is unavoidable: nor are we to smile and say that it is an absurd supposition. That could be our fate unless we ensure that it’s not.(Reilly, p.125) Hope and salvation are not included in the novel because Orwell wanted us to find them for ourselves. Orwell himself wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier, “We are living in a world in which nobody is free, in which hardly anybody is secure, in which it is almost impossible to be honest and to remain alive. . . .And this is merely a preliminary stage, in a country still rich with the loot of a hundred years. Presently there may be coming G-d knows what horrors–horrors of which, in this sheltered island, we have not even a traditional knowledge.”
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