Thursday, July 9, 2009

George Orwell's 1984

The novel, 1984, follows Winston Smith in London, during a time when a totalitarian government is in power. In this era, freedom is nonexistent because the government, represented as ‘Big Brother,’ enforces everyday life, through psychological and physical means. Posters of Big Brother are placed throughout the city, with the caption “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU,” which is literal, through technology known as telescreen. Located virtually everywhere, it helps keep an eye on everyone, and when someone is found to be breaking the law, they are arrested, tortured, and likely killed. These crimes include independent thought, free speech, and anything the government feels is a threat to their society. Telescreens, at the same time, project government propaganda to help enforce their ideology on their people. Gramsci describes it as “the apparatus of state coercive power which “legally” enforces discipline on those groups who do not “consent” either actively or passively.” And it is the ‘Thought-police’ that help maintain order in the novel. They are responsible for capturing and torturing anyone who is believed to have ideas that do not coincide with the establishment. It is through the Thought-police “a social group dominates antagonistic groups, which it tends to ‘liquidate’, or subjugate perhaps even by armed force” [Gramsci].

In 1984 there also exists a new language called ‘Newspeak’ for the sake of more control. It is a version of Standard English where many words are omitted to make the language simpler. The purpose of the language was to be able to control language itself, which hopefully narrowed the ability to create new ideas among Big Brother’s population. This may be a reference to the communist party in China, during the 1950s, which also created a new, simplified writing system, which to this day remains as the standard written language.

The novel also includes a social caste system, where the ‘proles,’ short for proletariats, are on the bottom rung of society’s ladder. They are not cared for whatsoever by ‘Big Brother,’ and it is displayed in the destitution by which they live. With meager meals and dilapidated housing everywhere, even Winston Smith, who is not a prole, barely lives properly. Winston is characterized as a white-collar worker, with a desk job, for the government. Part of the ‘outer circle’ of the government, a lowly employee, he is one of many people responsible for altering information in the media for the sake of government propaganda, and also, to keep the general population in the dark. Above him are his superiors, the ones that belong to the ‘inner circle’ of the government, such as O’Brien, who live comfortably in large houses, and are in control of the society itself. Gramsci explains, “The function of organizing social hegemony and state domination certainly gives rise to a particular division of labour and therefore to a whole hierarchy of qualifications in some of which there is no apparent attribution of directive or organizational functions.” Even as Orwell attempts to portray a situation where socialism is the dominant force, there exists a caste system where groups of people are being exploited.

1 comment:

  1. So much to work with in this book, so many interesting questions, most particularly the question of whether this a fair representation of socialism, or if it's a representation of socialism at all (that is, just because we've popularly associated socialism with totalitarianism doesn't mean Orwell was). I'd also have loved to see more pursuit of the second part of Gramsci's idea of hegemony-not just the state coercive power, but how the spontaneous consent of the populace plays out in the book.