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Non Fiction

1984: An Alternative Analysis of the Classic Dystopian Novel

George Orwell developed the theme of 1984 under a shroud of dystopian totalitarianism, when the novel is really a metaphorical satire of modern class structure.  The main character, Winston Smith, is a self-projection of the author as an isolated individual facing the menacing Big Brother’s totalitarian regime (Hopkinson par. 9).  When the book is taken at face-value, readers and critics conclude that the theme of 1984 is a warning against communist totalitarianism and the looming threat of dystopian totalitarianism in the future.  However, Orwell’s intended theme symbolically points out the inequitable class divisions in modern society, and only uses the setting of a futuristic dystopia to exaggerate his belief that the modern upper-class have complete control over the lower classes.

As early as the first two sentences, George Orwell gives a dank and isolating description of a dystopian world using simple but lurid syntax and diction “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.  Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.”(Orwell 1).  The “vile wind” may foreshadow the difficulties Winston will have to escape in the future, only to accept conformity in the end by letting the metaphorical “swirl of gritty dust” (conformity) overcome him in the end “… as the novel closes, Winston is alone, except for the internalized Big Brother.  In Between he travels a boomerang’s course, from the solitude which leads to self-awareness to that which marks the loss of his identity.”(Lonoff 35). The individualist spirit that overcomes Winston is one thing that the totalitarian state of Oceania fears most and in order to suppress that spirit, it must be wiped out.

The allegory that a reader would most quickly draw upon is of the government of Oceania in 1984, and Stalin’s Soviet dictatorship in World War Two(Fromm 315).  There are many parallels between Big Brother and Stalin, “….Resemblances, also, to the years of Stalinist terror in Russia. The grilling of Winston Smith by the Oceania authorities, the alternation between physical beatings and sympathetic conversations, the final terrifying appearance of O’Brien, master of power…”(Howe 96) A dooming presence of totalitarianism is not just the clearest element of the book, but a powerful tool of control.  The salient idea of 1984 is modern class warfare, and Orwell gives frightening glimpses of the Inner Party (the upper-class) using the totalitarian government for control over the Outer Party (middle-class) and proletariat (working-class).  Big Brother’s regime cruelly exerts control paralleling that of Stalin’s control of USSR-down to the point of homologous torture techniques, but there are more obvious signs.  The identical resemblance of Stalin and Big Brother’s face is a frightening juxtaposition of a warm guardian in a cold world ” …the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black mustache and ruggedly handsome features.”(Orwell 1).  However, although Orwell draws many similar parallels between Stalin and Big Brother, there is a quintessential difference between the two, Stalin was a man who wanted control for his own power, while Big Brother is a tool of the Inner Party in order to maintain power.

There are many different tools that the Inner-Party uses besides Big Brother to keep the lower classes under control.  Newspeak, telescreens, thought police, Ministry of Love, double think, war, prostitution, alcohol, gambling, the lottery and propaganda are only some of the many tools used by the Inner party in order to keep control.  The propaganda of 1984 is an interesting aspect of the plethora of tools the Inner Party uses to maintain power.  “Vast strategic maneuver-perfect co-ordination-utter rout-half a million prisoners-complete demoralization-control of the whole of Africa-bring the war within measurable distance of its end-victory-greatest victory in human history…”(Orwell 296-297) This example of Oceanic propaganda is projected through a telescreen describing a victory that could be applied to the British in World War Two. Not surprisingly Orwell had experience writing this sort of rhetoric before “When all of London was fleeing for the country during the Blitz, Orwell ran the other direction and took a propaganda job in the city…”(Kafka par. 23) 1984 draws parallels between the western democracies of World War Two and Oceania, discrediting the banal Cold War theory that the novel is a warning of communist totalitarianism.  Orwell’s point is that the differences between capitalistic democracies and communist dictatorships are irrelevant because both are invariably a vehicle that the most powerful group uses to maintain power “He is actually talking about a development that is taking place in Western industrial countries also, only at a slower pace than it is taking place in Russia and China”(Fromm 320).  The propaganda is directly correlated with Orwell’s modern world, but Orwell’s ideas of a new language and system of thought are more frightening prophesies of futuristic ultimate suppression.

Newspeak is the new language that is developed by the inner-party to suppress any unorthodox thought.  “The version in use in 1984, and embodied in the Ninth and Tenth Editions of the Newspeak dictionary…”(“Principles of” 298) The perfect form of Newspeak is 11th edition, which does not allow any unorthodox thought to exist.  Nearly no one really speaks Newspeak in 1984 but by the year 2050 it is supposed to override English in the state of Oceania (“Principles of” 298). Linguistics is an important factor of the Inner Party controlling the Outer Party and the proletariat.  SImplifying words and expressions to one meaning can eliminate thoughts that are dangerous to the Party(“Principles of” 299).  This concept of complete totalitarianism is another exaggeration used by Orwell in order to convince the reader of the control of the upper-class in modern society.  This controlling of thought and words through speech is one of many examples of a state of controlled insanity.  Newspeak is the easiest way that the Inner Party can communicate their insane views upon the lower classes as they literally would not be able to question any Party rules (Ranald Par. 1).  This can distantly relate to what Orwell saw as modern linguistics (slang, vernacular) and lack of education being used to keep the lower classes in their positions in the class structure in order for the upper-class to retain power.

The theme of 1984 is a warning of totalitarianism, but the power of the state (Big Brother) is only a veil that covers the true power of the upper-class in the so-called democracies of the western world.  The Inner Party is the driving force that utilizes all of the powers at their will in order to stay in control “the essential structure of society has never altered.”(Orwell 184).  Orwell applies this theory of class warfare and stagnation  by having Winston try to join “the brotherhood”, a secret terrorist organization that is only a ploy to get Winston caught.  When Winston is tortured and re-educated in the Ministry of Love, Orwell deconstructs the human being and throws away all hope that may have been left in the novel.  Orwell exaggerates all of the metaphors in his novel to coincide with the world of 1948 that he was living in.  Orwell was a socialist himself, and he was exhibiting the powers of the upper-class that kept the elite in their positions throughout human history.  Orwell explains in this novel that the Inner Party’s objective is to destroy the human and retain power for the elite few throughout the rest of time. Orwell sums up 1984 in a bleak statement from O’Brien while he is torturing Winston “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face-forever.”(Orwell 267).

http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=the_wintry_orwell

Alexander C. Kafka The Wintry Orwell Nov 30 2002 The American Prospect