1984 A Reflection Of Ourselves

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1984- A Reflection Of Ourselves Essay, Research Paper

In the novel 1984, the author George Orwell has created the ultimate

?anti-utopia?; a world in which there were no personal rights, poor living

conditions, and everything was controlled by hatred.

Despite the feelings of horror the reader may feel toward the

protagonists, Winston and Julia, they have to take a more in-depth look at the

novel, its meaning and the author Orwell himself, to truly understand it.

Orwell has created a satirical version of the society in which he wrote the

book- Post World War II Europe. Not only does Orwell satirize the new

order which came out of the second world war, he shows the reader, through

these similarities, that our own society is not far from the oppressive society

of 1984, and thus offers the reader a warning about what the future could hold

for us.

The set up of the political system in the novel, 1984 is reminiscent of

the world order which arose out of World War II. In the novel, the world is

broken into three different super-countries: Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia.

Each of these powers is separated by the political doctrines they followed.

These countries were in a constant state of war with one another. One

country was always allied to another, while at war with the third. This kept

the world stable and allowed the governments to control their people through

fear.

Even though wars were constantly raging, the fighting itself never

affected the heartland of any of the countries. It always took place in an out

of the way area, such as Africa or the Middle East. None of the

?super-countries? is strong enough to defeat any of the others, so the balance

of power remained roughly the same within all of them.

On top of all the turmoil, there was never really a clear reason for the

fighting, given to the world?s citizens. The war was needed to fill the

government?s agenda, not to help the cause of the people. Similarities

between this and our post war world are striking. When Nazi Germany was

defeated, Europe was divided into two spheres of influence; the ?Western? or

democratic side, and the ?Eastern? or communist side. Eventually more

countries would join either side based on their own political doctrines. This

formed two of the ?super-countries?. Unlike the book, which portrayed

imaginary countries constantly changing allegiances, the new ?super

countries? were bound together by treaty (Warsaw Pact and NATO). The

third state in the novel could be said to be the communist countries of Asia,

including China, North Vietnam and Korea, which did not follow the same

communist doctrine as the USSR, and formed their own defense plan.

Like the wars in 1984, the wars which took place never effected the

heartland?s of any of these treaty groups. The wars which broke out took

place in places such as Vietnam, Iran, and Afghanistan. The reason for the

?super-countries? to take part in such wars was unclear to us, as it was for the

characters in the novel. Many Americans did not, and still do not, believe

that Vietnam should ever have been fought, and many Russians were not in

favour of the invasion of Afghanistan. It can also be clearly seen that none of

these ?superpowers? could have completely destroyed any of the others.

Each had their own strengths, similar to those displayed by the different

countries in 1984, which made them unconquerable. Instead of trying to

conquer strongholds, the powers fought in places of little importance,

attempting to force their political doctrines on countries in Africa and Asia.

For the most part, there was always a threat of war during the Cold War.

Events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis allow us to see how close we did

indeed come to all out nuclear warfare.

The governments in Orwell?s 1984 contrast the governments found in

our world in 1948, when the book was written. Orwell seems to deal more

with the communist states than with the democratic ones. This makes one

wonder how much Orwell was satirizing the post World War II world.

Oceania and the other two states were governed by an elite few. ?Big

Brother? is the supposed leader of Oceania, yet many doubt whether he even

exists. As such true authority within Oceania is held by the Inner Party. The

Inner Party forms just 2% of the population of Oceania and yet, this group

controlled most of the countries wealth and power. Inner Party members

were given food and materials which the other groups could only dream

about.

Communism under Stalin was much the same as the society of

Oceania. A small portion of the population held the power within Russia and

the rest of the communist world. This small proportion controlled most

aspects of their countrymen?s daily lives. They controlled their pay,

employment, and moreover, their lives. The members of the upper wing of

the communist party were also given expensive gifts to guarantee loyalty to

the party. The peasants of the time were forced to subsist on little money and

food, while the men in the upper ranks grew wealthy.

The similarities between the governments found in 1984 and the

communist governments found in our own world serve as a warning to the

spread of the doctrine. The reasons for this concern can be found with

Orwell himself. Orwell was a very strong believer in Socialism and fought in

the Spanish Civil war against Franco to defend his views. He also wrote

several news articles during the war which discussed many of the same ideas

he would later put in 1984. Orwell would later become a ?beatnik?, and by

the time he wrote 1984 he had already developed many anti-establishment

ideals. These beliefs in turn, were the likely cause of Orwell?s fear of the rise

of technology which swept the post war world, including the introduction of

the television. Orwell?s fear of the rise of ?super powers? came out in this

book as well (www.newspeak.com/1984.html, 1). As such, his portrayal of

the government as a dominating force, which desired to control the lives of

it?s citizens, was likely sparked by these fears. Orwell attempted to warn us

that through the use of technology, the government would be able to keep all

the members of society in line. To an extent he was correct as we may soon

see.

As well as satirizing the political organization of this ?New and Brave

World?, Orwell satirized the social classes and presented them in a manner

which showed them as being tools for the oppression of the lower classes. In

the society of 1984 there were four social classes; Big Brother, the Inner

Party, the Outer Party, and the Proles. Big Brother sat atop the social scale,

though it was never really mentioned whether Big Brother did truly exist. He

was the dictator of the society and the head of INGSOC (English Socialism).

His word was law, and he controlled the lives of the people of Oceania. Big

Brother, however, could be seen as being simply a parody of the dictators

who arose out of World War II, as well as the President of the United States.

The President of the United States and the dictator of Russia were both the

most recognized people in their political parties, and as such were in control.

As well as being in control, both of these positions had the power of veto.

Therefore, like Big Brother, these men can control the happenings of the

country, and vote down any bill or law that they do not like. The portrayal of

Big Brother can also be seen as a warning. Orwell seems to be trying to warn

the reader of the potential abuses of power which could result from the

mistreatment of the wide array of powers given to the leaders of the world at

the time.

The next level of the social scale are the members of the Inner Party.

These persons were the true administrators of the INGSOC government.

They ran all of their country?s daily happenings, and enforced the rules. In

many regards they were like the members of the communist party in post war

Russia and the senators and state representatives/ members of parliament in

the US and Britain. The local communists were responsible for the upkeep of

total rule upon the people in their area. The men in charge of the daily

running of the communist party could be seen as being as much to blame for

the totalitarian regime as the dictator himself. The MP?s and Senators in the

democracies can be compared to the Inner Party members as well. These

men and women were in charge of the daily running of the government, and

were also in charge of creating the laws which govern and control society.

For this reason, they held the true power in the country. The final tie between

all of these groups was their living standards. It can be said that the high

ranking members of the communist party and democratic parties enjoyed the

same luxuries as the members of the Inner Party. All of these groups were

made up of rich beaurocrats. They were able to enjoy luxuries which the

normal person could only dream of, since their position was so high within

the society.

The third tier of citizens in 1984 were the members of the Outer Party.

These people seemed to represent the middle class of society. In the late

1940?s, the middle class was not as we know it today. The middle class

made up a much smaller percentage of the population than it does today and

was not as well off. In these regards they are clearly similar to the Outer

Party members. The jobs that both were forced to do show a distinct

resemblance as well. Middle class people hold such jobs as journalists,

doctors, teachers, and many others, which comprise most of the jobs done by

people in the Outer Party. Orwell satirizes the middle class by showing the

members of the Outer Party members to be an oppressed group, working only

to better the lives of the people ahead of them in the social scale, while living

in poor conditions themselves. The work the Outer Party members did was

monotonous and never ending. With these sentiments, Orwell was trying to

show the middle class how the upper classes were using them to further their

own causes.

The last group was the Proles. These people played an interesting role

in the life of Oceania. Unlike the Inner and Outer Party members, the Proles

were not watched over by the telescreens or spied on in any way. Their lives

were simple- they worked, raised families, and did the little things, such as

watch sports and go to bars. Their lives were very similar to the lower, and

lower middle classes of the post war world, and of today. The Proles were

the poorest of the groups, but in most regards were the most cheerful and

optimistic. The Proles were also the most free of all the groups. Proles could

do as they pleased. They could come and go, and talk openly about whatever

they felt like without having to worry about the Thought Police. In many

regards the lower to lower middle classes were afforded the same privileges,

for the same reasons. The higher classes did not put much thought into what

these people said, simply because they did not feel that they were important

enough to worry about.

Through his portrayal of the Proles, Orwell gave a strong impression of

what he felt the role of the lower classes was. ?They were born, they grew

up in the gutters, they went to work at twelve, they passed through a brief

blossoming period of beauty and sexual desire, they married at twenty, they

were middle aged at thirty, they died, for the most part at sixty? (p74). He

also describes the Proles lives as, ?heavy physical work, the care of home and

children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer and, above all,

gambling? (p74).

Through these sentiments we can see that Orwell thought that the

lower class was, as the book said of the Proles, poor and pre-occupied with

small things to the point that they missed the true problems within society.

Despite these sentiments, he also concluded that the hope for the future was

contained within this group. At several points in the book, Winston, the hero,

made a point of mentioning that the Proles were the hope for the future and

the only ones who could end Big Brother?s tyranny, since they were the only

group still allowed to have feelings and opinions. Orwell, through Winston,

said that the lower classes were the only ones capable of creating change,

since they were the only ones who have the vision to do so.

Orwell also gave a warning to the lower classes. He said that the

government controlled them through such devices as the lottery, the spreading

of rumours, and the elimination of the trouble makers from amongst them.

The real control the government had over these people was that they

controlled their futures. The Proles, like the lower classes of our society,

wanted to move up in the world, but to retain power the governments needed

them to stay where they were. Orwell, through his portrayal, seemed to be

warning the lower classes that they were being controlled, and that they

should fight to be rid of their leaders who were oppressing them, rather than

feeling a form of ?fake patriotism? toward them, which allowed the cycle to

continue.

The destruction of the past plays a large part in the oppression within

Oceania as well. In the novel, the history of the world is destroyed or altered

by the government in order to make them look good, and give them credit for

all of the major accomplishments which have occurred in the past. As such,

the government was looked upon as having given the people all that they

have, which made it unlikely that there would ever be a revolt. Orwell,

himself, has always had strong feelings that the past could be altered. In an

article he wrote in The Tribune in February of 1944, Orwell expressed much

of the same uneasiness about the altering of the past as he did in his novel,

1984. In that article he said, ?During part of 1941 and 1942, when the

Luftwaffe was busy in Russia, the German radio regaled its home audience

with stories of devastating air raids on London. Now, we are aware that

those raids did not happen. But what use would our knowledge be if the

Germans conquer Britain? For the purposes of the future historian, did those

raids happen, or didn?t they? The answer is: If Hitler survives they did, and if

he falls they didn?t happen? (Orwell, 1). He adds to this later, ?History is

written by the winners? (Orwell, 1).

The message Orwell is trying to get across is simple: though we think

of history as being concrete, it is constantly being altered to serve the

purposes of the leaders of the day in which it occurred. His idea is intriguing.

For instance, many generations learned that Columbus was the explorer who

discovered America, but we now know that it was in fact the Vikings and

Chinese who first discovered the continent. Orwell warned that the past can

be changed without the normal person thinking anything of it. Through his

novel, 1984, he showed what could occur if a government chose to abuse

their power, and altered history.

The invasion of personal privacy is the last way in which the

government kept its control over the people in 1984. Telescreens and the

Thought Police kept a 24 hour watch over the people of the society to ensure

that they did not do anything which could threaten the government?s power.

The way this control was shown in the book seems preposterous to the

average person, especially in our ?free? society. We see this as being totally

unacceptable, as do Winston and Julia. However, Orwell used this invasion

of privacy to make a bold statement about the path in which his society of the

late 1940?s was heading. During, and after World War II, many spy and

surveillance agencies, such as the CIA, KGB, and the Gestapo, were formed

to protect the people from the threats of the enemy. These groups, in turn,

suppressed the radical thinking which ran contrary to the political theories of

the government, especially in the case of the KGB. These groups limited the

ideas which were allowed to be presented, and often suppressed political and

personal freedom. As such, they were, and still are, very much like the

Thought Police.

To prove this, we need to look no further than a phenomenon of the

late forties and early fifties called ?McCarthyism?. Simply put, the people

within the democratic countries were encouraged to spy upon everyone

around them, including friends and family members. This was done in order

to round up the communists who lived amongst them. This is no different

than what the people of Oceania did to one another. Many people were

innocently accused of crimes and destroyed because of the fear which arose

out of this modern day witch hunt.

With the technology of today, we are facing the problem of a lack of

privacy more than ever. In some US cities, video cameras line the streets,

watching for crime. But who is to say that the cameras cannot be

programmed to look into a person?s house at any given time? Computers

keep most of our lives on file, accessible to anyone with authorization, and

Satellites have the capability of following a person from deep within outer

space. In the late 1940?s, and up to the 1980?s and early 1990?s, government

sensors controlled most of what we watched and had the power to suppress

television shows, movies, or books which had too much ?controversial

material? to ever be presented to the public. As much as we like to pride

ourselves on our freedom and liberty, our society is not far from the one

presented in 1984. Though we are guaranteed freedoms, we are constantly

being watched and monitored by the government, or our own ?Big Brother?.

Orwell warned the reader that the balance between the oppressive state of

Oceania and the free state we live in today is not as stable as we might

believe it is, and that we should fight to keep our freedoms.

The telescreen is another interesting aspect of the novel. In the book,

the telescreens, which were basically large TVs, were used to spy on people.

The telescreen seems to be a satirization of the television for a couple of

reasons. When the novel was written, television was just beginning to break

into the homes of many Americans, British, and Canadian families. In one

part of the novel, Winston says that the telescreens continually give out

figures which would suggest that the quality of life is going up, and that the

government is doing a great job. This goes on even today. Commercials

sponsored by the government are used to persuade the viewer that the

government is doing the right thing. Even television sitcoms help to create a

sense that the viewer is living in a world which is better than their own by

allowing him or her to escape to a utopia for half an hour or an hour and

forget their worries. Television is the top media of our current era, and as

such is instrumental in influencing our decisions.

The second factor is Orwell himself. Orwell held many beliefs which

would later make him a ?beatnik?, and was very anti-establishment. He had a

fear of technology which made him see the television as an intrusive force

which kept an eye on the people, and kept them out of trouble with its mere

presence. He felt that the television forced people to stay in their homes

more, and to lose the personal interaction between friends, family, and

countrymen. In this regard he was absolutely correct. He warned the reader

that after all of the intercommunication within society was destroyed, the

government would need only to control the airwaves, which by then everyone

had grown reliant upon, to control, and monitor their every move.

At first glance 1984 would appear to be a novel about a world without

rights, and of complete societal oppression. However, when one looks

further into the novel it can be seen for what it truly is; a clever satirization of

the society in which we live, and the one in which Orwell himself lived. The

devices of oppression featured in the book are all prevalent in our society

today. We just do not think of them as being oppressive devices. Orwell

attempted to share with us his own beliefs, on both personal and political

levels, in order to warn us of the dangers of not realizing the limits which are

placed on our freedoms everyday. Through this book he has created a world

which would appear to be the complete opposite of our own, but which, in

reality, is not far off from the one in which he and ourselves reside.

Bibliography

Orwell, George; ?As I Please?; The Tribune; February 4, 1944;

www.resort.com/~prime8/Orwell/02-04-44.html

Unauthored; ?About Orwell?s NINTEEN EIGHTY FOUR?;

www.newspeak.com/1984.html

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