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Original Essays | August 20, 2014

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1984 (Signet Classics) by George Orwell
1984 (Signet Classics)

claire.erickson1, April 2, 2014

The totalitarian nightmare of the 1940’s chills readers with extreme torture, mind control, and censorship in George Orwell’s, 1984. This story follows Winston Smith, an Outer Party member of Airstrip One, as he attempts to understand his society and discover the importance of his identity. The author constructs a detailed dystopia based off of London that he calls Oceania. This society comes complete with no laws, TV screens that monitor your every move, a new language called Newspeak, and the ruler to rule over all, Big Brother (Big Brother is always watching). Along the way, Orwell introduces other characters like O’Brien, who Winston feels an attachment to but can’t explain why, and Julia, his secret lover, who represents passion and hope. At first, I hated this book. The violence and absurdity freaked me out and after a few weeks, I was finally able to understand Orwell’s message. In the end, we come to find that 1984 is not just a disturbing Sci-Fi novel, but rather a warning for the world, and a powerful expression of the human condition.
Eric Arthur Blair wrote 1984 under the pen name of George Orwell around 1948. Blair grew up traveling between British India and Great Britain and was exposed to the injustice of an overly powerful government from a young age. When Blair started writing, he wanted to expose the truth of oligarchic politics through books like Animal Farm, Burmese Days, and of course, 1984. 1984 was Blair’s first book to be published and explicitly showcases the seemingly inescapable future of Communist states. During the time it was published, readers were feeling a great sense of shock due to social movements like the Red Scare and World War II.
Winston is the curious-yet pessimistic-protagonist of 1984. He is thirty-nine and tired, tired of his dull routine, unfulfilling job, and the warriden society of Airstrip One. Winston begins to question why life is the way it is and wrestles with mixed feelings about the Party. So, he takes a risk and buys a journal to record all of his “bad” thoughts and memories. As the story progresses, the muscular fist of the government seems to grow stronger, almost to combat against Winston’s increasing hunger to rebel. Orwell uses a descriptive setting to create a sinister foreboding mood. Big Brother’s signature message to the people is, “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength (4)”. Winston blatantly disregards this through the thoughts in his journal, his interaction with the proles, and his romantic relationship with Julia. Orwell utilizes Winston’s personal rebellion to show the vast capabilities of even one person’s courage to be self aware. His love for Julia is one of the greatest examples in 1984 of freedom and self expression. Sex is one of the most intimate and truthful human experiences. Orwell supports the idea of individuality through the openness of lovers. Winston’s antique paperweight also serves as a symbol of hope. Other major themes and ideas introduced in the novel include the dangers of powerful government, the meaning of life, physical versus mental control, and perception of reality.
George Orwell does not write to make people feel good, but rather to convey empowering artistic messages. Unlike the radical propagandist. Orwell doesn’t shove political pitches and slogans down your throat. He, instead, shocks with hard truths of humanity and leaves the rest up to the reader. Orwell achieves success in writing 1984, as a result of his unnerving dystopia, vivid imagery, and characterization. The most important theme for me is the power of individual expression in the definition of humanity. The government in 1984 believes that through aggression, physical abuse, and mental dominance you can control anyone. Orwell supports this idea in the end, when Winston is ultimately defeated. At first, I was angered by this concept, but now understand that Orwell is-in fact-encouraging human fragility. If you can be eventually broken down, that means you are human. It is sad and beautiful that Winston's mind is stripped, as it supports the paradox of vulnerability, in identity, and in his openness to the human experience. O'Brien is able to strip Winston of his identity in the end, because true strength is fragile. Orwell comments on the risk we take when we embrace individuality, but also the greater danger society undertakes when individuality is suppressed. When we are in touch with our emotions, we are embracing the beauty of individuality. If all a person believes in is anger and fear, they are just building a wall between themselves and self realization. When humans expand their emotional spectrums, the beauty of full humanity empowers us. Although O’Brien and the Party believe they are superior to uniquely truthful individuals like Winston, they are really weak example of human emotion and control. They only rely on aggression for power, and Orwell displays this as a shallow investment. Orwell’s slam against oligarchy in 1984 will continue to live on because there will always be power obsessed leaders in society. These types of leaders are blinded by their hunger for control that is fed by personal weakness. In American capitalism today, many leaders suppress the creative revolutionary power of the individual's expression of their identity. In our daily lives we are often shushed and demanded to behave in order to survive in society. I am inspired by the message Orwell sends to his readers in this book. Living truthfully in your identity has its risks, but living in a world like Airstrip One is the most terrifying fate of all.
George Orwell utilizes setting and symbolism to paint a dark example of societal doom in 1984. In this book, he warns the reader of the dangers of totalitarianism, while still glorifying the beauty of human emotion and identity. 1984 is definitely not for your summer beach read, but if you’re in the mood for some deep philosophy and political analysis, this book is for you. I would recommend 1984 to the individualistic reader who is passionate about empowerment and self discovery.
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