Part 1 of George Orwell’s 1984 as a Historical Allegory
One aspect of 1984 that is consistently dominant, is the theme of manipulation, and how even the most overt and simplistic forms of manipulation manages to keep the citizens of Oceania so loyal so successfully. One way in which manipulation is especially central throughout the novel is through the transcendence of the Party. The Party is omniscient within Oceania; it’s prevalence in society being “gradually pushed back in time”, as to conflate its power with its ubiquity, making even Winston not being able to “remember at what date the Party itself had come into existence”. The lack of precise dates in the Party’s history sees its attempts to solidify its power as somewhat ethereal and seraphic, while also avoiding meticulousness, which makes the world of Big Brother less susceptible to challenges, as it can then be seen to be above human authority, and yet, authority over humans is the nature of exactly what makes the Party prosper. Winston himself attempts to resist the manipulation of blind loyalty to the Party – however, he literally perpetuates this kind of repressive culture by working in the Ministry of Truth, rewriting articles in The Times and diminishing the true history, if that could ever even be known by someone like him, as he notes; “All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often was necessary.” The falsifications that he and others in the Ministry of Truth create, begin to be accepted as the truth as the original is destroyed, and therefore, even with Winston being in the epicentre of the professed Truth, he actually has knowledge of fiction being dressed up as authenticity, making his uncertainty about when the Party was actually created and about the “unending series of victories over your own memory”, even more significant as evidence of the extent of Party manipulation. In addition, the mere presence of the vast amount of indistinguishable workers in the different Ministries imply a level of dependence the government has to them, to maintain and uphold the values of Oceania’s administration, this ostensibly giving the workers some sort of leverage, and yet the fact that they have not revolted against the tyrannical regime they live under, reinforces how strong the manipulation and indoctrination is. The vehement anger present in the Two Minutes Hate is in itself a form of this indoctrination – as long as the Party has an enemy, which in this case is Emanuel Goldstein, the people become hypothetically secure against the Party because they have the power in numbers; the mass contempt they feel for Goldstein would pale in comparison if they were aware of the dictatorial rule they lived under, however, they don’t realize this, because of the imperious manipulation of their rage unconsciously being shifted from the Party, to the scapegoat of Goldstein. This also aids in unifying everyone in Oceania against a common enemy – echoing one of the slogans of the party, “War is Peace”.
Furthermore, manipulation as a mechanism for control must be very carefully placed in society, as to not evoke suspicion or rebellion – one way in which the Party does this incredibly triumphantly is by employing devout loyalty to the Party in children and within the family structure, overriding one of the most basic human emotions; familial loyalty, and replacing it with strict allegiance to Big Brother. Children knowing nothing but Newspeak and being essentially indoctrinated from birth strengthens the longevity of the Party; because, “Who controls the past”, ran the party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”. In addition, it ensures more security of the totalitarian regime, as, if people are intercepted in the impressionable years of childhood, their curiosity is subdued, and challenges of government are less likely, as Winston notes in Chapter 7 – “until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until they have rebelled they cannot become conscious”. Furthermore, as the admiration and faithfulness is transferred from the family to the Party, the name Big Brother provides some sense of security and protection, implying that a family is not needed if instead, each citizen of Oceania has “brothers” and “comrades” in everyone; making the Party seem less daunting and perhaps more approachable, creating ease in indoctrinating the young so efficiently. In addition to targeting a specific age group, another tactic of the Party is the manipulation of class. The more secure an individual is within the inner Party, the more power they yield, which actually creates a complex dynamic wherein those who have the most power, which in Oceania is synonymous with those who are most fiercely loyal to Big Brother, actually have the most leeway with the rules. This paradox causes Winston to believe that “If there is hope…it lies in the proles”. The proletariat in Orwell’s fictional world are the underbelly of society; not worthy of Party membership, not involved with any organised Party occasions, but they are true – they live freely, if at a cost, they are without manipulation, but perhaps leading a worse life without it.
Another aspect of the book which is especially poignant and compelling in Part 1, is the constant parallels to the historical context of the time period surrounding the novel. Written in 1948, and published in 1949, the year in which China fell to Communism, many believe the book to be a warning of totalitarianism governments being able to be taken to extremes, as was being seen around the world, with Fascism and Nazism just ending in Germany and Italy, and Stalinist Communism being in a very powerful stage in Russia. The altering of truth that Winston and his fellow colleagues carry out at the Ministry of Truth, can also be seen in Stalin’s Russia, with the removal of Nikolai Yeshov, the People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs, from photographs after he was blamed for “disloyal purges” of Russian military and political establishments. The indoctrination of the youth can also be linked to the compulsory attendance of all young German children into the Hitler Youth and the League of German Maidens, where girls and boys were taught honorable Nazi values – the boys were taught to fight and handle weaponry in preparation for becoming soldiers, and the girls were taught maternal skills, such as cooking and infant care, in preparation for having as many children as possible, “for the Fuhrer”. This dedication to war, with absolute devotion from all aspects of life is also seen in the obsessive rationing of all goods and services to citizens of Oceania, in aid of the war effort. Children in Nazi youth programs were also educated on the dysfunctionality and inferiority of the Jewish people – Jewish children were banned from German schools in 1938, German court judges could not cite legal commentaries or opinions made by Jewish writers from 1936, and sexual relations between Jews and “persons of German or German-related blood” were made illegal as part of the Nuremburg Race Laws in 1935. Emmanuel Goldstein, a man with a “lean Jewish face”, embodied everything that the Party saw was wrong with society. He had an appearance with a “clever face”, while also being “somehow inherently despicable” – reinforcing the subliminal messaging that intelligence could lead to challenge and rebellion, which then becomes “inherently despicable”, even in the eyes of a less devout follower of Big Brother like Winston. His presence also indicates totalitarian governments are always discriminating against someone or something, with anti-Semitism being a prolific choice not only in the book but in many countries around the world in which Orwell was living. In my opinion however, the main function of Goldstein is his ability to highlight the need for any leadership to establish dichotomies to ensure orthodoxy: good-evil; us-them; hero-villain. The mere fact that no-one actually knows whether or not he exists is redundant; he serves instead to reinforce the seemingly perpetual nature of totalitarianism. “Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became the truth.”
Institutions and ideas in 1984 also are reminiscent of the real world and its establishments. The Ministry of Truth represents the logical extrapolation of media methods used by totalitarian governments – because contradictions between utter conformity and devotion to the ostensible truth even in those who erase the actual truth exist, it mirrors the unlikely alliances between Fascism and Communism throughout history; that they share many more characteristics than is expected, as seen in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, between Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. Additionally, both Hitler and Stalin also assigned traits to themselves that were not entirely based in fact; as with Big Brother, the fact that these people or traits of these people are not real is the key, because a truly powerful, omniscient government is beyond the need for even basic realities and truths. The Theory and Practise of Oligarchical Collectivism, the fictional manifesto by Emmanuel Goldstein also follows this principle of being above the truth – without having read any of it, it immediately establishes itself as a completely incompatible and conflicting guide. Theory, is just that, it merely is a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something – it differs significantly from the practice of something; the practice does sprout from the theory, but they are paradoxical elements of one idea. Furthermore, ‘oligarchical’ pertains to “a small group of people having control of a country or organization”, completely contrasting ‘collectivism’, which refers to “the practice or principle of giving a group priority over each individual in it.” Not only does this completely imitate the antithetical governorship of totalitarianism, but it also mirrors Leon Trotsky’s 1937 manifesto “The Revolution Betrayed” – in which the fairly new Russian Bolshevik government had been, in Trotsky’s mind, betrayed, even though the Revolution had been completely borne of his and other insurgents, such as Vladimir Lenin’s ideas and decrees. This all emphasizes Orwell’s disdain for the Russian Revolution and Stalinism, as many have drawn parallels between Goldstein, the only discernibly overt enemy in the book, and Leon Trotsky.
Totalitarian governments are steeped in contradiction, and the novel does address these paradoxes of language and ideas. In Chapter 5, Winston sits down with Syme and has an almost comically fueled conversation about the calculated destruction of language that the Party are facilitating. “Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron – they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be.” – Syme views great literature here as being contradictory, and yet within this apparent contradiction lies another. If contradiction in Oceania is viewed defamatorily, Big Brother should not and would not thrive upon them, and yet, the Party would cease to exist without them – “War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength, Freedom is Slavery”. The specificity of these authors in literature is a deliberate choice by Orwell, in order to highlight the absurdity of trying to remove and diminish authors who were creating art, and expressing themselves, reflecting the view of the Party that original thought and creative proclamations were incredibly dangerous tools, utilized just for sowing the seeds of dissent among the people. Additionally, John Milton and Geoffrey Chaucer were not only authors; they were both civil servants, both making a living from their writings; as too were Syme and Winston – therefore, the presence of Milton and Chaucer in Syme’s speech serves to allow the reader to compare the two pairs of writers and civil servants. One pair were making honest art, expressing themselves freely while simultaneously working loyally, but also being allowed to challenge their government. Syme and Winston believe these ideas to be inharmonious, so their writings instead reflect the restrictions of freedom and the loyalty that cannot be broken to the repressive regime of Big Brother.
In conclusion, Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism all emphasis e the subordination of the individual, while simultaneously having an absolute leader demanding utter adherence and devotion from the public. 1984, the story of one individual man is in itself Orwell’s ultimate form of rebellion. Totalitarianism believes in removing the distinction of individuality, and George Orwell devoted an entire novel about totalitarianism, to an individual, Winston Smith.
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One aspect of 1984 that is consistently dominant, is the theme of manipulation, and how even the most overt and simplistic forms of manipulation manages to keep the citizens of […]