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Following the political upheaval and struggle for power after the second world war, George Orwell’s novel 1984 cautions against the dangers of oppression and exemplifies the consequential nightmarish world of the near future. The plot traces the struggles of the main character, Winston Smith, as he attempts to rebel against the tyrannically insatiable Party, rulers of the superstate Oceania. In this terrifying glimpse of the future, independent thought, along with all other human values and ideals, is eradicated, and therein replaced only with fanatical loyalty to the Party and “unconscious orthodoxy.” The Party, also known as Ingsoc, is able to achieve these ends with a complex utilization of manipulation mechanisms, eliminating free thought through the restrictive language, constant propaganda, degradation of human values, enforced social hierarchy, and virtual complete control of reality. The novel 1984 epitomizes, if not exaggerates, the horrors of a totalitarian collectivism, where a government can claim that a contradiction, such as two and two makes five, is true, and the hive mind will believe it.
The concept of language as a confining tool is an exceptionally important message of the book, and this is used to its full potential in the official language of Oceania, Newspeak. Language, of course, is of primary significance to the human thought process, and can be used to expand upon an individual’s expression or severely limit it. In 1984, Ingsoc has mastered the theory behind communication with Newspeak, “the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year.” Basically, Newspeak is a way to narrow the range of thought until “a heretical thought (is) literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.” Thoughtcrime, or unorthodox thoughts, would become obsolete, because with no mode to express them, they could not exist. The Party constantly updates Newspeak and the Newspeak dictionary to forward their utmost intent that eventually no one will even be able to conceptualize questioning the Party’s absolute authority.
Doublethink, the infamous Newspeak word for “reality control,” is in itself an example of government oppression, where reality exists how the Party says it exists and nothing more. To be more accurate, the definition of double think would be “the power of holding two contradictory thoughts in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” This is integral to maintaining the idea that the Party is infallible and Big Brother is semi-divine. Doublethink is the neglection of all logic; if the Party says ‘two and two make five,’ it is a crime to think otherwise; the Party “could reach (the stars) if (they) wanted to…or (they) could blot them out.” Altering history is not impossible, and falsifying records is in order, as “he who controls the past controls the present; who controls the present controls the future.” Put simply, doublethink is controlled insanity.
Tremendous amounts of propaganda perpetuate the insanity, from the “ruggedly handsome” yet stern features of Big Brother, glaring from posters plastered on every wall and street corner, to the Hate-themed celebrations which excite crazed emotions from every citizen. Big Brother is substituted for God in an atheist society, that is, “B.B.” is the source of all goodness and righteousness, and the target of all praise, whether in actual existence or not. All emotions suppressed by the Party are given only this outlet for expression; an overwhelming, devoted love to the Party and Big Brother, and a deep-rooted hatred for the “mortal enemy” of Oceania, or more accurately, the scapegoat. Even Winston, who throughout the novel attempts to reject Ingsoc’s brainwashing, is swept away with the raw emotional flood of the Two Minute Hate; “it was impossible to avoid joining in…a hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill…turn(ed) one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.” In 1984, propaganda is a constant flow of psychological stimuli, beginning at a very young age with the Junior Spies, through adolescence with the Junior Anti-Sex League, and continuing into adulthood under the permanent surveillance of the telescreens, barking out orders and information twenty-four hours a day. This early ingrainment in propaganda results in pent-up emotions released as the Party, and no one else, sees fit.
For the Party, the thirst for pure power, the means to its own end, causes the state of never-ending war with the other two superstates. The purpose of the war is two fold: first, war makes certain that all surplus supplies are wasted, and second, war provides a certain “wartime mentality” which keeps the people of Oceania obedient and in check. In turn, destroying supplies results in the class system, an important way to be sure that the one group in power, the High group of the Party, remains in power. In this way, the High strata reserves the best goods for themselves, the Middle receives the High’s leftovers, and the Low is left to barely eke out an existence. With the Low, or the proles, constantly occupied with survival, they will always be apathetic towards politics, revolution, or government, because nothing takes more precedence than living for another day with food in the belly. The Party and the governments of the other superstates in the world realize this, and so unofficially agree to remain at constant war, in order to keep their place in power. To look at it one way, “in principle it would be quite simple to waste the surplus labor of the world…by producing vast quantities of goods and then setting fire to them…but this would provide only the economic and not the emotional basis for a hierarchical society.” The emotional basis is that of the wartime mentality; when at war, the natural inclination is to support the country and support the government running it, basically handing over the country to be run as seen fit by the higher order who should know what they are doing. By maintaining the constant state of warfare, the Party is also able to control the lower classes from ever rebelling against them.
Perhaps the most distressing of all methods of underhanded manipulation the Party employs is the condemnation of all emotional bonds between people. Children are taught from a very young age to betray their parents at the slightest hint of unorthodoxy, causing the family unit to separate. People are isolated from each other, making them feel helpless and preventing any joint action against the Party. Like Winston’s family, relations are split by battles over food and shelter, these having been taken away by the Party to further this occurrence. People are forbidden to marry for love, and even sex in marriage is forbidden unless absolutely no pleasure is derived from it. Sex, also called “the duty to the Party,” serves one purpose only: to beget children, fresh minds ripe for the brainwashing. The love between Julia and Winston, Winston believes, would be the downfall of the Party, their love an open act of political rebellion, “a blow struck against the Party.” Winston’s eventual betrayal of Julia under torture is what breaks his mind in the end; the Party has won once Winston abolishes his love for Julia, and in doing so, his humanity, giving in to finally loving Big Brother.
The themes of the novel 1984 are many, as the satirical parable serves a moralistic role in warning all readers of what the future might and could look like. The theme of language control is highly emphasized, almost to a philosophical standpoint, whether the language limits thought or thought limits the language. Appearance versus reality, also referred to as doublethink, shows the frailty of the human mind, when logic can fail and fold to the current of insanity, which pulls one willingly with the flow. The destruction of human values theme warns that as people become less interested in their values and morals as human beings, they will fall prey to the fascist regimes which would take advantage of such degeneration. The danger of permanent totalitarianism, perhaps Orwell’s most heavily emphasized message, is demonstrated in every aspect of the novel. If every other idea were to be missed by the average reader, he would not miss the obvious squalor and hopeless existence in the world of 1984. In the end, the Party wins, humanity loses, and freedom is forever lost to the tyrannical machine known as Ingsoc.
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