Books slider — 03 May 2012

by

Julia Hones

 

‘1984’ is a dystopian novel about a country called “Oceania” that is constantly at war, but its citizens do not know why it is at war. They do support it, though, because anybody who is not a supporter is considered a traitor. Hatred and rage fuel the support of this endless war.

Anyone who dares to oppose the dictator’s principles or think differently is vilified and will disappear. Those who work for the party are instructed to manipulate the truth as needed. In fact, nobody really knows the truth and nobody should care to reflect on it because their lives would be at stake if they did. Physical movements and facial expressions are closely monitored by telescreens in people’s homes, political prisoners are treated worse than criminals and love does not exist; hatred and fear condition everybody’s behavior. Blind obedience to Big Brother is what matters. Torture and starvation await anybody who dares to challenge the system in any way.

Another strategy of the ruling Party is to destroy words. “We’re cutting the language down to the bone. Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?” “There will be no thought as we understand it now. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

Winston is a thirty-nine year-old man who works for the Ministry of Truth. He helps to change the historical facts but, in reality, he is a free thinking person who would like to sabotage Big Brother’s dictatorship. He falls in love with a woman, Julia, and they both challenge the system by loving each other and having secret encounters that they must plan in advance.

When Winston becomes a political prisoner a member of the inner Party confesses to him, “Our civilization is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy–everything. Already we have destroyed the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty toward the party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science.

“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power.

“We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power”.

Animal Farm

‘Animal Farm’ is a satire about a group of farm animals that is oppressed by their owner, Mr. Jones. They work long hours, are ill-treated, and when they no longer serve their master’s purpose they are slaughtered. The critical situation in which they live is followed by a revolution organized by the pigs to set all the animals free and lead a peaceful existence in which everybody gets their fair share as a result of their work. Pig Napoleon and Snowball lead the revolution. Eventually, however, there is a conflict between these two leaders and Napoleon wins the battle.

At the beginning everybody enjoys the outcome of the revolution, but the benefits of it do not last long. Paradoxically, when Napoleon takes over the farm the animals become oppressed once again: they work long hours and get very little in return, while the powerful pigs enjoy unique privileges that are not allowed to the rest of the animals. This time, however, all the animals accept their situation and do not confront Napoleon who is considered to be “always right”. The truth is distorted to meet the leader’s interests, and conformity becomes the rule.
Both ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’ are grounded on conformist societies that are designed to disregard critical thinking and to believe blindly in their infallible leaders. In both cases lies become systematized and statistical data are falsified to keep the leader in power. The authority is not to be questioned, and those who dare do it are punished and labeled as “traitors”. George Orwell portrays the dynamics of these societies with striking details.
Their political leaders’ strategies are characterized by:

-Fanaticism
-Repetitive slogans
-The destruction of language
-Use of songs and ceremonies to venerate the leaders.
-Patriotism.

Another interesting similarity between the two stories is that the dictators always project the collective anger on a specific enemy in order to distract the masses and become more powerful themselves. The enemy is used as a “scapegoat” by the political leader. In ‘Animal Farm’, Mr Jones is always mentioned when pig Napoleon needs support to violate the rules that were set as part of the revolution and, subsequently, Snowball and other neighboring farms become the enemies to be despised and attacked. In ‘1984’ Goldstein is the enemy who wants to sabotage the system created by Big Brother, and Oceania is always at war with either Eastasia or Eurasia.

In both stories the past is mutable. It only exists in the minds of the citizens, and the government can manipulate their minds by rewriting the historical facts and changing the data to keep the dictator in power. The omnipotence of the dictator can only be preserved through lies.

In Oceania the proletarians–also called “the proles”- are the majority of the population. The Party claimed to have liberated the proles from bondage. Before the Revolution they had been hideously oppressed by the capitalists, they had been starved and flogged, women had been forced to work in the coal mines, (women still did work in the coal mines) children had been sold into the factories at the age of six. But Big Brother taught the proles that they were inferior beings who must be kept in subjection. It was not necessary to learn much about the proles. “So long as they continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance. Left to themselves, like cattle turned loose upon the plains of Argentina, they had reverted to a style of life that appeared to be natural to them, a sort of ancestral pattern”. “All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations”.

Contradictions and ambiguity are at the heart of these stories. In ‘1984’ the Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture, and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. In ‘Animal Farm’ the seven commandments that made up the foundation of the revolution were all violated by pig Napoleon.

Even though Orwell carried the features of these societies to the extreme, the reader may find them familiar. The question that lingers in my mind is whether these totalitarian leaders succeed because of the ignorance of the masses or the conformism of the intellectuals. I think it is a combination of both. As Albert Einstein said, “Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.”

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