1984 book review

1984 book review

The Impact of George Orwell’s 1984 on Society

1. Introduction

The book is reminiscent of the so-called ‘power elite’ interpretation of society. That is, at any one time, the relative positions of the major states are largely irrelevant. They both operate on behalf of power elites within their society, serving the state barely needs mentioning. At the start of the book, the reader is introduced to the party with no other specification of who or what this is. Then, the setting changes to Oceania where the party is, introducing the staircase to Winston’s apartment. Again, it changes to the flat overlooking Victory Square, and finally, it becomes general knowledge that ‘the party’ has merely taken possession of Charrington’s flat. The reader is left to wonder who the proles ‘from the waist down so to speak’ are and whether the state has, in fact, made them entirely subhuman. These ambiguities serve Orwell’s damning portrayal of a stultified humanity well. Step by step, it unfolds how people have lost the ability to think for themselves and have become mere tools in the higher stages of its narrative. The explanation is simply that men are no longer free people but members of the party.

From the start, the book was controversial. This is another way it has had an impact. Orwell could not get it published in his lifetime since it was clearly a criticism of the Soviet Union and its British and American allies who were supposed to be his country’s wartime partners. He had to be patient, but it did eventually get published in 1949, a year before he died. Today, it is celebrated and condemned all over the political spectrum for reasons that are often partisan. Still, the most common criticism is that Orwell condemned totalitarianism and the Soviet Union with too broad a brush. However, this is often mixed with admiration for the book and agreeing with the admitted points of analogy. This suggests that the real controversy is over whether it is damning the right or the left.

1. Introduction George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has had a profound impact on the way many people see, understand, and predict, for the past seven decades. The explosion of artistic works attempting to make some sense of the world or society by reference to the book bears witness to its force. So does the term ‘Orwellian’ which has come to refer to the practices of a police state, though ‘Orwellian’ is usually used with a pejorative sense. It often seems the term is being used with greater freedom in connection with what goes on in Western societies than in Communist countries, tempting the suspicion that it may act as an ideological tool to limit the directions political incorrectness can take.

Contents 1. Introduction 2. Orwell’s influence on society during/post World War II 3. Use of Propaganda by the party 4. Surveillance 5. Psychological manipulation 6. The party’s invasion of the individual 7. Technology 8. Conclusion

2. Themes Explored in 1984

From the start, Orwell identifies the root of the opposing values shared between the Party (totalitarian government) and the protagonist, Winston Smith. “The world he had been brought up in… had not been mere plus- Big Brother’s society… It was a world of sanity, it was a world of deathless but depthless euphoria, overlying and underlying a reality of misery… will you understand the slaves will be agreed human beings of this is the ‘world they have to choice between” (Orwell 174). This example not only shows that Winston (in the end) and the Party both want to try and create a finer society, but Winston has something more superior, a genuine humanity. The views and actions of this ideal society, as negatively as it is depicted, can only be cruel and unjust in contrast to human emotion. This request can connect to Orwell’s endeavor of using Nineteen Eighty-Four to indicate the evils of totalitarianism on the soul of a person. Totalitarianism is followed largely by the manipulation of public opinion. At the Ministry of Truth, Winston is an editor who changes historical records to the exact opposite of what they read. Another strength in the main theme of the novel is the global implications of a totalitarian society. When sharing his forbidden relationship with Julia, Winston is cosmopolitan about their potential capture. He predicts that the Thought Police will take them both and there will be no one to help or pity them. They will just disappear. This is exactly what happens to them later and it hones a larger scale lesson for both the characters and the reader. It increases the level of compassion for the lead characters and the manner by which they attempt to rebel against their oppressive state. It also serves as a transition in the novel’s pace. From this point on, they know what is coming to them and there is a great sense of tension and acceleration.

3. Critique of Totalitarianism in 1984

The societal structure of 1984 is based squarely on the foundations of totalitarian control. The Party is a true totalitarian ruler. They have so much authority that it is impossible to reason with them. In the world of 1984, there are no grounds in which to argue a point. Since the Party is always right, they can move or abolish laws and principles that suit them. The whole of society serves itself in a system resembling the caste systems of Indian culture. The inner party members are of the highest caste. They serve the roles of power and authority and are tasked with the running of the government and oppression of the people. Lower than they are the members of the outer party. These members serve the role of mind manipulation and policing. They want to make sure that no one is free thinking, and that if they are, it is promptly stamped out. Members of the outer party do all the white-collar work. Below the outer party are the proles. This is the general populace. The party sees them as a sub-human race and largely leaves them to their own devices. This is because the proles, lacking any sort of defined societal structure, have no need for government. Any sort of revolution against the Party would have to be conducted by the proles, so the Party takes extensive measures to make sure that never happens. At times, the Party has been known to engage in wars with other states, however, it is never made clearly evident whether these states are genuine threats or if they even exist. These wars are conducted not to be won or lost, but to serve the dual purpose of using up any resource that could possibly benefit the people and the procurement of slaves and materials. In the story, we learn of the past struggles of Oceania with the countries of Eurasia and Eastasia. The names of these places change, and so do the allies and enemies of Oceania. It matters not whether these places are real or just imagined, the point is that the perpetual war and control of resources is all that the society knows. This is the existence of a true totalitarian state, run for the sake of its own perpetuation.

4. Orwell’s Warning and Relevance Today

Another example lies with America itself and their war on terror. How can a nation, which is praised for its democracy and liberty, be allowed to wage war upon another nation simply because they do not like their style of government? This consistent battle with Eurasia and the justifications created by the Inner Party mimic those used by America today with the war in Iraq. The equation of catastrophism in Orwell’s piece and the war on terror or war in Iraq have many parallels. In the piece, the ongoing war is leading to the decay of language and people’s knowledge of the truth, and it is suggested that this is done deliberately to help keep an unjust rule in place. This compares to recent years where the American government has been accused of tarnishing the image of the Islamic nations in Western media so as to give reason for their actions in the Middle East.

The most evident case of power corrupting those who hold it lies with various totalitarian governments. In the piece, Oceania acts as a symbolic warning to England and America not to inadvertently give up democracy, from which this pageant of horrors was finally to pass. Take, for example, the Zionist regime in Israel, which has a flagrant disregard for international law and human rights. Yet, Israel sees themselves as the victims and believes they are doing no wrong, and are the shining example of Western civilization today.

Orwell’s publication from the year 1949, which outlined a dystopian fantasy, has since seen itself become a very renowned literary piece. The cause for this may be due to the fact that it is beautifully written, or that it is simply because it in some ways mirrors a slightly exaggerated form of society in truth and serves as a warning to what society could become. One of the reasons for its popularity and relevance today can be found in a theorem put forward by Lord Acton: “Power will usually tend to corrupt the one who wields it.” We can see this at many different levels in today’s society.

5. Conclusion

The novel 1984 was controversial when it was written and remains so to this day. Orwell’s depiction of a totalitarian regime which manipulates and controls what its people think has struck a chord in the heart of modern man. In the context of the current political climate, the inferences in 1984 are clear. The ultimate power of this world rests in the hands of a very few countries, who through the manipulation of their peoples control the world. It is clear that Orwell wrote 1984 as a warning after his experiences of World War II and what he saw as the spread of totalitarianism in various countries across the world. Though the world has not reached the scale which he describes in 1984, the signs are all too clear to see. Throughout the last sixty years, the rapid progression in technology and media has led to the widespread use of propaganda and manipulation to a degree that Orwell could not have imagined possible. We now live in an age where it is possible for “Big Brother” to watch over our every move and control our perception of reality. In recent years, there have been events such as the USA’s war on Iraq and the various world summit meetings which suggest that the world is moving closer to the state of perpetual war described by Orwell. With these in mind, 1984 stands as more than just a work of literature but as a prediction and a warning. There can be no doubting the influence of 1984 on the world. Though written over sixty years ago, the picture which Orwell paints has a striking resemblance to the world of the 21st century. People have drawn parallels between the world of 1984 and a plethora of political actions across the globe: totalitarianism and the cult of personality in the Eastern bloc during the Cold War, McCarthyism in the USA, British government’s control of media during the Falklands war. It is often said that the pen is mightier than the sword and the fact that 1984 is still being discussed to this day is a testament to the power of Orwell’s writing.

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