Nineteen Eighty Four Essays
Essay/Term paper: 1984: government's attempt to control the mind and bodies of its citizens
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1984: Government's Attempt to Control The Mind and Bodies of Its Citizens
The novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell is an American classic which
explores the human mind when it comes to power, corruption, control, and the
ultimate utopian society. Orwell indirectly proposes that power given to the
government will ultimately become corrupt and they will attempt to force all to
conform to their one set standard. He also sets forth the idea that the
corrupted government will attempt to destroy any and all mental and physical
opposition to their beliefs, thus eliminating any opportunity for achieving an
The novel shows how the government attempts to control the minds and bodies
of it citizens, such as Winston Smith who does not subscribe to their beliefs,
through a variety of methods. The first obvious example arises with the large
posters with the caption of "Big Brother is Watching You" (page 5). These are
the first pieces of evidence that the government is watching over its people.
Shortly afterwards we learn of the "Thought Police", who "snoop in on
conversations, always watching your every move, controlling the minds and
thoughts of the people." (page 6). To the corrupted government, physical
control is not good enough, however. The only way to completely eliminate
physical opposition is to first eliminate any mental opposition. The government
is trying to control our minds, as it says "thought crime does not entail death;
thought crime is death." (page 27). Later in the novel the government tries
even more drastic methods of control. Big Brother's predictions in the Times
are changed. The government is lying about production figures (pages 35-37).
Even later in the novel, Syme's name was left out on the Chess Committee list.
He then essentially vanishes as though he had never truly existed (page 122).
Though the methods and activities of the government seem rather extreme in
Orwell's novel, they may not be entirely too false. "Nineteen Eighty-Four is to
the disorders of the twentieth century what Leviathan was to those of the
seventeenth." (Crick, 1980). In the novel, Winston Smith talks about the people
not being human. He says that "the only thing that can keep you human is to not
allow the government to get inside you." (page 137). The corruption is not the
only issue which Orwell presents, both directly and indirectly. He warns that
absolute power in the hands of any government can lead to the deprival of basic
freedoms and liberties for the people. Though he uses the Soviet Union as the
basis of the novel's example, he sets the story in England to show that any
absolute power, whether in a Communist state or a Democratic one, can result in
an autocratic and overbearing rule. When government lies become truths, and
nobody will oppose, anything can simply become a fact. Through the control of
the mind and body the government attempts, any hopes of achieving an utopian
society are dashed. The peoples' minds are essentially not theirs' anymore.
The government tells them how to think. Conformity and this unilateral thinking
throughout the entire population can have disastrous results. Orwell also tells
us it has become a "world of monstrous machines and terrifying weapons.
Warriors fighting, triumphing, persecuting... 3 million people all with the same
face." (page 64).
George Orwell was born in India and brought up with the British upper
class beliefs of superiority over the lower castes and in general class pride.
A theme very prevalent in his novels, Nineteen Eighty-Four certainly no
exception, is this separation in the classes. The masses are disregarded by the
Party. This is a theme which is "fundamental to the novel, but not demonstrated
as fully as the devastation of language and the elimination of the past." (Kazin,
1984). Kazin also states in his essay that:
"Orwell thought the problem of domination by class or caste or
race or political machine more atrocious than ever. It
demands solution. Because he was from the upper middle class and
knew from his own prejudices just how unreal the lower classes can
be to upper-class radicals, a central theme in all his work is
the separateness and loneliness of the upper-class observer, like
his beloved Swift among the oppressed Irish."
This feeling of superiority somewhat provokes and leads to the aforementioned
corruption of absolute power. As the saying goes, "absolute power corrupts
absolutely." It is not even so much that the rulers want to become corrupt, but
they cannot grasp the idea of an absolute rule. They, as Kazin stated, cannot
comprehend the differentiation within the system, and thus become corrupt. This
ultimately prevents achieving an utopian society where the upper class people
want to oppress and the lower class want to rebel.
Orwell had strong anti-totalitarianism points of view and greatly
satires Socialism, even though he still insisted he was a Socialist in its pure
form, in this novel and in Animal Farm. Many consider that Nineteen Eighty-Four
is actually an extension of Animal Farm. In Animal Farm, Orwell
"left out one element which occurs in all his other works of
fiction, the individual rebel caught up in the machinery of
the caste system. Not until Nineteen Eighty-Four did he
elaborate on the rebel's role in an Animal Farm carried to
its monstrously logical conclusion."
The two books primary connection is through the use of the totalitarian society
and the rebel, and as stated some believe Nineteen Eighty-Four to simply be an
extension of Animal Farm. Nineteen Eighty-Four, however, brings everything to
an even more extreme but even scarier is the fact that is more realistic, such
as in a Nazi Germany environment. Nineteen Eighty-Four is considered to have
great pessimistic undertones, Orwell's prophecy if you will. It is also not
known whether it was intended as a "last words", though it was his final work,
as he collapsed and was bed-ridden for two years before he died. He did marry
several months before his death saying it gave him new reason to live. Orwell's
creation of Winston Smith shows a character who is:
"in struggle against the system, occasionally against himself,
but rarely against other people. One thinks of Orwell's
having thrown his characters into a circular machine and
then noting their struggle against the machine, their
attempts to escape it or compromise themselves with it."
Orwell writes more about the struggle as a piece of advice than anything else.
This novel was widely considered prophetic, a warning of what could be to come
if we did not take care. Orwell's method was to introduce the questions, not
propose solutions. Most likely he did not have the solution, but it was his
"solution" to help bring about the awareness of the existing problem.
The corrupt government is trying to control the minds of their subjects,
which in turn translates to control of their body. Orwell warns that absolute
power in the hands of any government can deprive people of all basic freedoms.
There are similar references in another of Orwell's novels, Animal Farm,
supporting the ideas of corruption and an unattainable utopian society which
were presented here in Nineteen Eighty-Four. With this novel, Orwell also
introduced the genre of the dystopic novel into the world of literature.
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Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of the keenest pieces of satire to be written in the twentieth century. It was George Orwell’s last novel, written between 1946 and 1949 and published less than one year before his death. If took him more than two years to write, considerably more time than he spent on any of his other novels. Orwell was seriously ill with tuberculosis during the writing of this novel. He said that his sickness might have crept into the work and added to the novel’s dark and disturbing nature. Indeed, the protagonist, Winston Smith, suffers from horrible coughing fits that sometimes leave him paralyzed.
This novel’s deepest impact lies in the many Orwellian words and concepts that have become a part of English vocabulary, especially the political vocabulary. The terms “newspeak,” “doublethink,” and “Big Brother” were all coined by Orwell. Political commentators often draw from these words when they need a negative phrase to describe a government.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is part of a small group of important futuristic novels that use the structure of science fiction to contain political satire. These have been called anti-Utopia novels. Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) are the best known in English, but both of these draw from an earlier novel, We (1924), written by the little-known Russian novelist Yevgeny Zamyatin.
The central theme of Nineteen Eighty-Four is the state’s imposition of will upon thought and truth. Winston wants to keep the few cubic centimeters inside his skull to himself. He wants to be ruler of his own thoughts, but the state is powerful enough to rule even those. He wants the freedom to believe that two plus two equals four, that the past is fixed, and that love is private.
Orwell saw privacy as one of the most necessary elements in a human’s life. The world of Nineteen Eighty-Four does not allow privacy for the individual and does not allow the individual to have a personal identity. Everyone must think in the collective way, exactly as everyone else thinks. Thought control is executed through the falsification of history. Winston’s job is to falsify history, often rewriting the same event many times, making something different happen each time. Oceania was at war with Eastasia, then Eurasia, and then Eastasia again, and history had to change every time to show that Oceania had always been at war with the present enemy. People learned not to trust their own memories and learned, through doublethink, not to have memories at all, beyond what was told to them.
This depiction of thought control may be Orwell’s notice on the concept of history. Different people might recount the same experience in different ways. School books of one country, for example, may reconstruct events differently from history books of another country, each set presenting its country in a positive light.
Another theme came from the propaganda that circulated during the world wars. Enemies were depicted as less than human. This mind manipulation by governments helped their own populations to believe that fighting and killing the enemy was not immoral in any way, because the enemy was a scourge of the planet and should be annihilated. Here again, the futuristic disguise of Nineteen Eighty-Four is only a device to magnify a situation that Orwell had witnessed throughout his life, the flagrant deception by governments of their peoples on a regular basis. Orwell gives exemplary cases in mind control, showing how easily a government can divert the attention of its populace by creating an enemy for everyone to hate together.
The severe brutality of Nineteen Eighty-Four is a direct link from the post-World War II era to a fierce exaggeration of the possible future. After living through the atrocities of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, and knowing of concentration camps and of mental and physical tortures, Orwell painted a picture of what the year 1984 could be like if the principles of achieving and retaining power were extended in the same vein as in the past.
The setting for Nineteen Eighty-Four is not a contrived high-technology world but instead a World War II-era rotting London with dilapidated nineteenth century buildings, their windows broken and covered with cardboard, insufficient heat, and strictly rationed food. Living conditions are miserable for everyone but the elite. The reason is the war, which does not progress or decrease but continues forever. Because most industry is working toward the war effort, the citizens of Oceania receive few benefits from their work. The proletariat is occupied but is never able to gain even the simplest of luxuries. Citizens are utterly dependent on the small scraps the Party gives them. The “proles” are always wanting, and they are successfully held in a position of servitude and powerlessness.
Orwell did not write Nineteen Eighty-Four as a prophecy of that date. It was a warning and an effort to attract people’s attention to the atrocities of their own governmental bodies, and the title date was chosen as a partial inversion of 1948, during which he was writing the novel. Orwell knew that most of the people who would read his book would still be alive in 1984. The ideas in this book are overwhelming and incredibly powerful. Although it may not deserve its acclaim as being a masterwork in literature, the novel is a creative effort in leading people to question the power structures and motives behind their governments, war, and economic class distinctions.