The novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell is an American classic which explores the human mind when it comes to power, corruption, control, and the ultimate utopian society. Orwell indirectly proposes that power given to the government will ultimately become corrupt and they will attempt to force all to conform to their one set standard. He also sets forth the idea that the corrupted government will attempt to destroy any and all mental and physical opposition to their beliefs, thus eliminating any opportunity for achieving an utopian society.
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The novel shows how the government attempts to control the minds and bodies of it citizens, such as Winston Smith who does not subscribe to their beliefs, through a variety of methods. The first obvious example arises with the large posters with the caption of “Big Brother is Watching You” (page 5). These are the first pieces of evidence that the government is watching over its people. Shortly afterwards we learn of the “Thought Police”, who “snoop in on conversations, always watching your every move, controlling the minds and thoughts of the people.” (page 6). To the corrupted government, physical control is not good enough, however. The only way to completely eliminate physical opposition is to first eliminate any mental opposition. The government is trying to control our minds, as it says “thought crime does not entail death; thought crime is death.” (page 27). Later in the novel the government tries even more drastic methods of control. Big Brother’s predictions in the Times are changed. The government is lying about production figures (pages 35-37). Even later in the novel, Syme’s name was left out on the Chess Committee list. He then essentially vanishes as though he had never truly existed (page 122). Though the methods and activities of the government seem rather extreme in Orwell’s novel, they may not be entirely too false. “Nineteen Eighty-Four is to the disorders of the twentieth century what Leviathan was to those of the seventeenth.” (Crick, 1980). In the novel, Winston Smith talks about the people not being human. He says that “the only thing that can keep you human is to not allow the government to get inside you.” (page 137). The corruption is not the only issue which Orwell presents, both directly and indirectly. He warns that absolute power in the hands of any government can lead to the deprival of basic freedoms and liberties for the people. Though he uses the Soviet Union as the basis of the novel’s example, he sets the story in England to show that any absolute power, whether in a Communist state or a Democratic one, can result in an autocratic and overbearing rule. When government lies become truths, and nobody will oppose, anything can simply become a fact. Through the control of the mind and body the government attempts, any hopes of achieving an utopian society are dashed. The peoples’ minds are essentially not theirs’ anymore. The government tells them how to think. Conformity and this unilateral thinking throughout the entire population can have disastrous results. Orwell also tells us it has become a “world of monstrous machines and terrifying weapons. Warriors fighting, triumphing, persecuting… 3 million people all with the same face.” (page 64).
George Orwell was born in India and brought up with the British upper class beliefs of superiority over the lower castes and in general class pride. A theme very prevalent in his novels, Nineteen Eighty-Four certainly no exception, is this separation in the classes. The masses are disregarded by the Party. This is a theme which is “fundamental to the novel, but not demonstrated as fully as the devastation of language and the elimination of the past.” (Kazin, 1984). Kazin also states in his essay that:
“Orwell thought the problem of domination by class or caste or race or political machine more atrocious than ever. It demands solution. Because he was from the upper middle class and knew from his own prejudices just how unreal the lower classes can be to upper-class radicals, a central theme in all his work is the separateness and loneliness of the upper-class observer, like his beloved Swift among the oppressed Irish.” (Kazin, 1984).
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This feeling of superiority somewhat provokes and leads to the aforementioned corruption of absolute power. As the saying goes, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It is not even so much that the rulers want to become corrupt, but they cannot grasp the idea of an absolute rule. They, as Kazin stated, cannot comprehend the differentiation within the system, and thus become corrupt. This ultimately prevents achieving an utopian society where the upper class people want to oppress and the lower class want to rebel.
Orwell had strong anti-totalitarianism points of view and greatly satires Socialism, even though he still insisted he was a Socialist in its pure form, in this novel and in Animal Farm. Many consider that Nineteen Eighty-Four is actually an extension of Animal Farm. In Animal Farm, Orwell
“left out one element which occurs in all his other works of fiction, the individual rebel caught up in the machinery of the caste system. Not until Nineteen Eighty-Four did he elaborate on the rebel’s role in an Animal Farm carried to its monstrously logical conclusion.” (Woodcock, 1966).
The two books primary connection is through the use of the totalitarian society and the rebel, and as stated some believe Nineteen Eighty-Four to simply be an extension of Animal Farm. Nineteen Eighty-Four, however, brings everything to an even more extreme but even scarier is the fact that is more realistic, such as in a Nazi Germany environment. Nineteen Eighty-Four is considered to have great pessimistic undertones, Orwell’s prophecy if you will. It is also not known whether it was intended as a “last words”, though it was his final work, as he collapsed and was bed-ridden for two years before he died. He did marry several months before his death saying it gave him new reason to live. Orwell’s creation of Winston Smith shows a character who is:
“in struggle against the system, occasionally against himself, but rarely against other people. One thinks of Orwell’s having thrown his characters into a circular machine and then noting their struggle against the machine, their attempts to escape it or compromise themselves with it.” (Karl, 1972).
Orwell writes more about the struggle as a piece of advice than anything else. This novel was widely considered prophetic, a warning of what could be to come if we did not take care. Orwell’s method was to introduce the questions, not propose solutions. Most likely he did not have the solution, but it was his “solution” to help bring about the awareness of the existing problem.
The corrupt government is trying to control the minds of their subjects, which in turn translates to control of their body. Orwell warns that absolute power in the hands of any government can deprive people of all basic freedoms. There are similar references in another of Orwell’s novels, Animal Farm, supporting the ideas of corruption and an unattainable utopian society which were presented here in Nineteen Eighty-Four. With this novel, Orwell also introduced the genre of the dystopic novel into the world of literature.