Orwellian Totalitarianism: A Review of 1984



Credits: cultura.biografieonline

Credits: cultura.biografieonline

This is the motto of INGSOC, the party that reigns supreme in the totalitarian society of Oceania, which was established after a violent revolution. The world has been divided into three superpowers: Oceania, roughly comprising parts of Europe and the Americas; Eurasia and Eastasia, where two sides are constantly at war with the third. The Party is presided over by a shadowy figure, known only as Big Brother. The people at the higher echelons of the Party refer to themselves as the Inner Party and the lower, as the Outer Party. People not belonging to the Party are referred to as the ‘proles’ or the proletariat.  “If there is hope, it lies in the proles” is a theme that is constantly explored in the story, a theme that directly correlates to Marx’s theory of class struggle. If the party has to be overthrown, it can only be overthrown by the sheer mass of the proletariat.

Orwell emphasises on this theme of class struggle by dividing society into the High, Middle and Low classes, with only the first and third being permanent whilst the second always aspires to become the first. He talks of how it is always the middle class that leads any revolution with the help of the lower classes, against a high class which has become decadent with the passage of time. After destabilising the High class, the middle class itself takes the place of the former, with members of the lower classes again subject to dominance. But Orwell takes this study one step further when he emphasises on the changed nature of war in the world that keeps the status quo as it is, and how it directly correlates to the establishment of a permanent High class, which would be subject to no further change in status due to its control over all means of resources, education, and most importantly, language and communication.

The story is told through the eyes of an Outer Party member, Winston Smith, an ordinary man with an ordinary life who works in the Ministry of Truth, or the Party’s propaganda arm, constantly destroying information that directly contradicts the current line that the Party might be taking over an issue. The Party believes that history lies in written records. Whatever isn’t, cannot be remembered. So they carry on a process of constantly writing and destroying information, which has to be swallowed by the people through an intricate method that is known as doublethink.

What is doublethink? To understand this, we must delve into the language people in Oceania speak i.e. Newspeak. It is a primitive advancement of the English (Oldspeak) that is spoken today, primitive because of the philosophies that the Party holds. The purpose of Newspeak, “was to make all other modes of thought impossible… a thought diverging from the principles of INGSOC should be literally unthinkable, insofar as thought is dependent on words… Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.”  Now doublethink has to be taken as a literal translation, a state of mind wherein you immediately believe the exact opposite of what you believed in the first place and the ability to keep changing these beliefs whenever the Party changed their tune. Any thought heretic to the Party belief was punishable by the Party.

Credits: The Ranting Dragon

Credits: The Ranting Dragon

Winston is outwardly a loyal Party member, but inwardly, he rages with a confusion that he cannot put into words. He feels he is the only person in the entire Party who rebels against its philosophy and the lies it propagates. Working in the Ministry of Truth, he sees documents falsified so as to maintain the supremacy and the longevity of the Party and thinks… That’s it, he thinks. The Party hasn’t been able to overpower his mental faculties as they have done with other people. He still has the power of thought and ideas. The entire story is about this rebellion, which is further expressed in his relations with Julia, another Party member. The theme of sexual relations has been explored in their relationship, sex in Oceania being a disgusting act, one which is done only for the purpose of procreation. The party wishes to eliminate any factor that can charge Party members with feelings and emotions, and it believes that sex is one such act that can overpower its control and serve as a great motivating factor for members to follow their own thought process instead of the Party’s. The Party, therefore, wishes to eliminate all feelings of love and joy that one obtains after the act, and reserve it solely for propagating the human race.

Winston and Julia find in their sexual relations, a source of joy of constant rebellion against the Party; they feel that by having sex, they are doing just one more thing that the Party wouldn’t want them to do, and would even throw them behind bars for. This is an illicit relationship, because Winston already has an estranged wife, one he left because of the repulsion she expressed when he touched her, for she was a loyalist, dedicated to the ideals of the Party and firm in her belief that sex with Winston was her duty, and not something to be enjoyed. Although Winston and Julia find in each other’s arms a comfort that neither can express well, they disregard one very important factor: Big Brother is always watching.

The story then takes a turn for the worse as both of them are arrested and separated and then begins a long process of torture, conditioning and segregation, a process that has been described beautifully by Orwell. You can almost feel the stench of human lives being wiped out by pure physical and mental torture that the inmates of the Ministry undergo. In the end, Winston gives up his rebellion –  he toes the line of the Party, and genuinely comes to believe that two plus two equals five if the Party says so and that all the laws of Mathematics are redundant in front of what the Party says. He gives up Julia, gives up emotion, and gives up love for everything, except Big Brother. Big Brother is supreme, and he is always watching you.

I must confess that this is the first such novel that I have read, and the fact that Orwell takes Marxian ideas, makes them his own and then further elaborates on how communism and revolution might not be the best solution to problems and might even, as is evident in the world he creates, lead to a completely totalitarian state, piques my curiosity as I never saw this ideology in that light. Another aspect of the story that fascinated me was his commentary on the nature of war and its evolution through the ages. He talks about how war, in the beginning, was just another method of conquest and sooner or later, would end with a victor and the defeated. But in the world of Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia, the war never ends. There is a constant frenzy created by the State, to keep the psychosis alive, but the war has no end, although brutal means. Each State is conscious of the fact that the war needs to keep going on for the survival of the state, because the State essentially thrives on a policy of totalitarianism and nationalism, the spirit of which can only be brought about by inciting feelings of hatred for the other states in the minds of the people but by a policy of doublethink, the leaders of all the States inherently believe that the war can be won, while simultaneously keeping in mind that their survival depends on the continuity of war.

A frenzy of emotion is another aspect Orwell briefly touches upon. There must always be activity in Oceania. An individual must not be left idle for even a moment because idleness spawns thought, thought spawns ideas and ideas are dangerous to the State. The State is run on instincts and love, a crazy, despicable love that all citizens (if you can call them that) are obliged to feel for the state. To keep a check on idleness, the State’s Thought Police invades each and every home with a telescreen present in all houses, that dictates the events and objectives a person must complete daily, including, but not limited to, the Two Minutes Hate.

This is one book definitely worth reading, because it broadens your horizons on a variety of aspects of life and basically slams the idea of democracy being the best form of government in your face. It highlights the weaknesses in Marxist philosophy, brings to the fore the problems and features of a totalitarian dictatorship, and reminds you that you’re better off living as you are now, without anybody constantly watching your every move.

P.S. Did I mention that even a slight facial twist or spasm, or anything really, that set you apart from the herd in Oceania was a one-way ticket to prison?


2 thoughts on “Orwellian Totalitarianism: A Review of 1984

  1. “… reminds you that you’re better off living as you are now, without anybody constantly watching your every move.” Accha? Don’t be fooled. Sab dekh rahe hai.


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