“1984” by George Orwell

-Dan Tudorica (A2) 

1984: A book, I think, centered on the corruption of benevolent ideas, the perversion of once noble concepts. In the book, the decadence of the former upper class (which I assume was taken right out of real life) is elaborated upon.  In that time of depression, sadness and poverty, ingsoc (Newspeak English Socialism) must have been a ray of light to the poor, fetid masses. Very likely, any revolution that had occurred had been supported by the lower class. Why then, is the lot of the lower class almost completely unchanged? When asked about the past, an old prole simply remarks that the alcohol was of better quality. Which begs the question, why has nothing changed for the proles? Surely, after a socialist revolution there would be massive economic changes, changes which should have greatly affected the proles. In the first 4th of the book, there are many questions raised regarding the world in which Winston Smith lives: How did such a world come about, why are the proles unaffected, how did there come to be only 3 countries in the whole world. 1984, being a George Orwell novel, will likely only offer hints towards the answers. Going back to the theme of corruption, all the “security measure” present have been put into place, it seems in order to preserve society as it stands, and eliminate any dissidents. To our individualistic culture and minds, this is horrible, a tragedy, an affront to nature. But what of the minds of the people who live in the society of 1984? They seem to be perfectly happy with what we call oppression, and seem to not have any issue with what we view as mass conformism. When first approaching 1984, we view The Party, the ruling government as tyrannical and dictatorial, turning the people into unthinking slaves. However, for a revolution to happen, would it not have to have the support of the people? Asides from the evident indoctrination, could there have been a time when The Party was supported by the people? Therein lies the tragedy of any government controlled by some form of majority rule: The people can be easily deceived. This is evident in how Big Brother managed to vilify Goldstein, how he managed to redirect the hate of the people from where it belongs (the government) to a scapegoat. But surely, someone would eventually notice the obvious discrepancies, despite the ideological editing of history, the lies that are fed to the people daily? Surely, the far-fetched fibs would fool no one? This is the case, or at least it would be in our society. The only reason I can find for the public to accept these lies is if they wish to believe them, if within themselves they wish that that The Party was all it boasted to be.

                This also begs another question: How can any self-respecting human being allow, much less want this to happen? It would seem that such a thought as a people wanting to be deceived is far too extreme to be realistic. We must keep in mind, however, the cultural extremes within our own existence. Take, for example, the feudal Japanese. Their society was one based upon war, killing, and suicide. Matters of honor would be resolved through fights to the death, suicide was glorified as a holy and desirable thing, and the peasants, who would be forced into war, who would have their villages pillaged and their fields razed, were completely fine with the state of affairs. Surely, such a society, one that actually existed, is no more extreme than the case of 1984. There are only two connections that I could make between these two very different nations: Culture and Militancy.

                Culture dictates what is right and wrong in society, in a way, it sets the guidelines for living, as well as the guidelines for morals. It is hard for us Americans to think that any of our convictions, opinions, or even our thoughts be dictated by our culture. And yet, we have seen that as a culture glorifies killing, it becomes acceptable in society. It only follows logically, then, that a society that values obedience would have an obedient populace. The second shared trait between Japan and the country in question in 1984 is militancy. Government is created for the benefit of the people, and left unmolested the government would work for the betterment of the people, because, what else would it do with all its assets? War negates this; a country that is in a perpetual state of warfare does not have to care for its citizens, as war is a more than valid excuse for shirking civic improvement. In this manner, there is no push for liberty, no need to increase transparency. Why, after all, should we spend money on improving quality of life when there’s a war going on? A state of almost continues warfare also achieves another thing: lionization of the warrior class. Even to this day, the samurai is seen as the symbol of the feudal era in Japan. Boris Pasternak once said that the main thing wrong with the early Soviet Union was that all that brave men died during World War I. Society lionizes warfare, and so the young men, the same young men who would lead any prospective revolutions, ship themselves off to war., making revolution an impossibility.

                George Orwell paints a seemingly alien picture with 1984, one warning against mass conformity. The critics among us would scoff, say that there is no danger, that our great human morals would prepare, when in reality, parallels of 1984 have already happened.


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6 responses to ““1984” by George Orwell

  1. Daniel Vogel (A2)

    I’ll agree with Dan, of course society and culture are intermixed because they are inseparable. Really the biggest showing of 1984’s militancy is when Winston walks amongst a prole (poor [newspeak for “proletariat?”]) district and a bomb from Eastasia/Eurasia is dropped and destroys several homes and kills a group of people. Winston continues walking. Orwell doesn’t like to use dialogue- most of the paragraphs he writes are entirely descriptive and yet written with a certain mysticism that other descriptive authors, the most obvious being Jack London, lack. I’ll also Agree with Dan in that the whole purpose of this first section of the novel is to raise questions, and Dan has raised them here. I believe Goldstein is fake- or was real, and is now gone, but still an illusion. He has too much purpose for the society at large, and any intelligent man would realize that he is working the opposition into the rulers of the opposition’s own hands. I believe Big Brother is fake. Big Brother in the novel is an ideal- a strict adherer to the politics and to the principles of Ingsoc. But what is Orwell trying to say with the novel so far? Orwell believed, from what I understand, in equality, in a more equal distribution of wealth. And clearly from what he has written here so far, Oceania is a faux socialist society with an obvious tyrannical (some might even say Orwellian) government. This points to three ideas- that capitalism failed the people of England, for the life of the proles, he writes, did not change. Second, he believed that socialism as it was being practice in the world when the book was written, 1949, was failing the people. Thirdly, he believed that this failing to keep the people equal while having a large centralized government would lead to a surveillance state in order to keep social control. The only problem with raising these problems in the novel is that he offers no solutions.

  2. danielwkim14

    1984 –George Orwell
    A response to Dan’s comment:
    1984, a year that has long since acknowledged as Britain’s keystone in national health, education, and public administration programs greatly contrast the 1984 that is depicted in the novel. In conjunction to your blog post, I agree that a society with no ability to think in one’s own free sense and lack of emotions and individualism is presented in the repressed province of Airstrip One. A one-class, utopian totalitarianism government dictates the commonwealth, controlling the citizens of the country from the very core, their ability of critical knowledge.
    Would you agree that the proles feel neither discontent nor happiness in their social class? The social ideologies of “The Party” became so indoctrinate into the citizens’ lives that they cannot compare their situation to anything, hindering their ability to protest for better conditions. It is the very essence in which they are incapable of thinking of a better life that causes them to be the mindless drones that are depicted. All evidence of past or history were destroyed or altered by The Party, brainwashing the people into mere tools. The party permitted all personal records of the past as well, take a diary for example. Winston bought a journal from the shadows, a black market if you insist, whenever he writes in it, he feels paranoid because keeping records is a thoughtcrime in the society. By keeping a journal, Winston is able to remember the past. As you had previously stated, “Culture dictates what is right and wrong in society”. Since the government has the power and will to alter the culture, they ultimately possess the remote of the society, with the power of adjusting the channels of thought or volume of self-expression. Winston had once said, “Orthodoxy means not think… Orthodoxy is unconsciousness”. With the need for conformity engraved into the people, they are essentially drones of the masses, unable to feel neither happiness nor discontent.
    I also found the representative of the party, “Big Brother” of character worthy of a notation. All throughout the city of London, propaganda posters with the words “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” were scattered around. Big Brother served more of symbolic purpose. He is a sign of reassurance (big brothers being figures of compassion and friendliness). However, his existence was challenged by Winston, who remembers that Big Brother became prominent around 1960. However, official records tell that Big Brother was around in the 30’s, which was before Winston was even born.

    -Daniel Kim

  3. The proles (in both a contemporary and historic sense) have lived in a sort of limbo. Sure, they are stirred by momentary caprice’s of passion(generally to the benefit of the middle and upper class), but their existence remains more or less the same. I might be playing devil’s attorney here, but in a very strange sense, the proles live the happiest lives out of all the classes of airstrip one. The outer and inner party members are constantly supervised; In an almost quixotic twist of fate, it is the middle and upper class that leads a tortured existence, while the lower class is free. I would relate how the proles feel to a bout of summer ennui: there is no need to fight, everything is provided, and there exists no motivation. In short, action is almost illogical, for why, when everything that is known is had, would there exist any drive? The party, though it is vilified (and rightfully so!) is really guilty only of casting the world into a sort of limbo. If Ingsoc exists only to secure a permanent spot for the upper class, than does not the intense scrutiny under which the upper class is held make this pointless? Anyway, the proles feel neither happiness nor discontent, as they have been for centuries past. In any pyramid-based society, the overpowering majority would live like the proles. Is then, the Inner Party truly evil? No, there does not exist such a thing as good and evil in 1984. If we are to see history in the way Orwell does, as an eternal cycling of power between the middle and upper, then does it make a difference at all that the cycle will not continue? The lot of the proles remains more or less constant? To continue down my original thread, is there a such thing as truly free thought? As Oscar Wilde said, the greatest evil is to influence someone. But even in our society, we have been influenced, either through parenting, education, or societal ideals. So then (despite my previous declaration that there does not exist good and evil), would the party not be doing a good? They are dismantling the societal ties of pre-revolution England: the family, spousal bonds, neighborly acquaintances, English ideals. I should think that the only difference between the culture of airstrip one and any other given society is that airstrip one’s is intentional. It matters not what situation you are in, the proles will always be mere tools. So then, can we fault Oceania for really anything? Sure, they have brutal methods, but nothing more than, say, the inquisition. The people are still being used, no matter what. In conclusion, Oceania is nothing but a representative example of man’s first tentative steps into society, taken to an extreme.

  4. 1984 –George Orwell
    A response to Dan’s comment:
    I believe that the proles do live the happiest lives out of the entire Oceania society. Conceived in a false sense of security and liberty, they only live to satisfy their lower human needs. The government is able to provide such necessities; food, water, and shelter. The proles seem to wander around town aimlessly, but with content. They spend their nights getting drunk at local bars, without a trace of worry in their hearts. When Winston visited such a bar, he met an older fellow with a questionable past. Winston tries to ask him what life was like before the revolution but failed to receive a viable answer. Perhaps it was because he was drunk or of faltering memory, the old man confirmed the terrible stories that Winston had read about at work. The stories of top hat, cane wielding, capitalist rulers were lived by that man.
    Looking at the social and political structure of Airstrip One, it made me question if such society is indeed desirable. The Party did disintegrate the enduring cultural codes, such as the family ties and ideals that you have specified. Is it necessary in a society to house such things? Once the ties have been broken down, the entire society digressed in the hierarchy of needs. My question is; why do we view degrading in the hierarchy as an undesirable action? If we are able to live “happier” lives by numbing our senses, why is it bad? One might say that we need to be aware of our senses to progress and to rise victorious in the eternal competition with others. In a society like the one depicted in 1984, there is no need to compete. We are so much like others that we will feel no passion to complete our insatiable desires. We also feel that the true judgment of our collective success lies within posterity. The proles had been fatefully bound to their social niche, consecrated into the holy office of conformity and submitted to obligatory service of catechized work.

  5. But my point is that the proles would have lived in this manner even without Ingsoc, the only people being greatly negatively affected are the party members. So then, is Ingsoc truly evil? No, in fact there is little wrong with Ingsoc other than the cessation of the ternal cycle of revolution and putschs .To answer your question, Daniel K., people see the numbing of the senses as a sort of death, that without the sensual side of human existence, there cannot exist a spiritual side. As Oscar Wilde suggested, “to cure the senses by means of the soul and the soul by means of the senses”. The common perception is that the senses and the soul/mind are intrinsically bound. It is commonly held that with the degradation of the senses, the mind too will degrade. If anything, this is the greatest “evil” that the party indulges in. Not torture, not invasion of privacy, and not war mongering. The greatest evil perpetrated by the party is the numbing of the senses. A bit later, it is talked about how the party’s ultimate goal is to dilute existence, because by the kiling of emotions, the dilution of the senses, the party succeeds not only in making life hell for any disidents,but also to remove the very soul of society, making any form of rebellion wholly impossible. But the recurring question is: Is this evil? When speaking with O’brian, Winston admits that he would do a cadre of horrible things, such as killing inocents and spreading venereal diseases. From a purely utilitarian standpoint, people such as Winston are the true evildoers, and so therefore, the party is justified i removing the soul of its culture, via the excuse of patriarchal protection. This leads to a clash of values: What is more important, liberty or safety? In any democratic system, a reasonable discourse would take place, a consensus reached, and actions taken. But in Oceania, this discourse does not exist; the choice is taken entirely by the elite of the upper party. In a sense, the tip of the social pyramid is forcing its members to commit cultural apoptosis through the diluting of the sense, experiences, and life in general.
    -Dan Tudorica (A2)

  6. danielwkim14

    1984 –George Orwell
    A response to Dan’s comment
    Dan, I must admit that I am rather confused by the notion of the inner party’s self-imposed cultural apoptosis. If the inner party members are really the only ones being negatively effected in 1984’s perception of English socialism, Ingsoc, then would the system of Ingsoc be built for the benefit of the proles? Right after I had finished the novel, I first thought that the numbing of senses, the mindless drone of life without sense, the internal and spiritual death of an individual was something of not of evil manner but a gift. To live without worry, only indulging on the short-term benefits that the government regulated “prolefeed” provides seemed unimaginably great at first. But as I thought about the novel, I began to question the morality of endangering one’s spiritual consciousness. Why is it so great to impoverish an entire population of people with the lack of mentality? So to answer your question, yes, I do believe that it is in absolute evil to starve people of happiness and to create the living hell that you have described. Winston admits that he would willingly participate in the acts of violence because of the situation that he was put into. Had Winston been satisfied with a balanced life of liberty and safety, I would argue that Winston have no need to feel such way. The contrast of liberty and safety is reflected upon in the novel. The proles were thought of to be of no potential threat to the inner party, hence given plentiful, yet basic, rights to privacy and more free action. However, the middle class (the Outer Party) was explicitly described to cause the most damage to the “purity” of Oceana. Therefore, they were bombarded with countless restrictions and limitations. I would like to opinionate that Inner Party does not govern in favor of the other classes but for themselves. The act of the inner party subjecting its own members is completely coincidental. They carry out with conscientiousness that their position of power is not questioned. Similar to how Nikolai Yezhov, the People’s Commissar for State Security of the Soviet Union disappeared from existence, the Inner Party “vaporized” dangerous individuals. The people would not have a reason to riot if they felt content.

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