In 1984 by George Orwell, explain if you think the author wants to leave you with a sense of optimism or pessimism.
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I think trying to boil it down to either pessimism or optimism is in many ways simplifying things too much. As previous posts have pointed out, Orwell is making a pretty clear argument against the machinations that go on in any goverment once it is detached from the interests of the governed and serves only its own interests.
We can say it is simply a denouncement of totalitarianism or you can also see that it warns against things that are happening even in our democratic government. Orwell also brings out some of the nuanced responses to this type of government through characters like Winston and Julia.
I would argue that Orwell wants his readers to feel neither pessimistic nor optimistic, partly because I associate pessimism with a sense of hopelessness..."giving up" as it were. In my mind, pessimism manifests as a reluctance or unwillingness to fight for a cause. I don't think George Orwell intended his audience to walk away with their heads down, completely cowed by his vision of the future. But of course, I'm not George Orwell, and I'm basing this on my connotative impression of pessimism. So, it's all speculation. However, I see the intent as more of a spark of determination: a determination to fight for human individuality against oppression in any form.
I also agree with poster #4 in that Orwell is warning against totalitarianism in any form, be it socialist, communist, or capitalist. He himself said "Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it." That last part, the "as I understand it", signals to me that it is that sense of individuality and essential freedom that Orwell wants to ignite in his readers, and encourage them to stand against oppression with him. So, while I doubt anyone would say he intends his audience to feel optimism, I don't think that pessimism was his goal either.
I vote pessimism. Part of this might be with the author himself. Orwell was diagnosed with tuberculosis and the condition compelled his doctors to order him not to write. Defying their orders, he feverishly worked to prepare the book, knowing the toll it took on his health and collapsing at its completion. This must have cast a shadow on his work. In addition, I think that Orwell understood that the encroaching authority figure in the form of modern government was a fear that was inescapable in either the democratic orders or the Communist ones. In the case of the latter, Big Brother certainly could be seen to represent the Soviet Union's desire to consolidate power and control its citizenry, repressing their ability to coalesce and voice dissent against the government. At the same time, the lack of civic activism Orwell saw in the West, as well as the fact that technology could be manipulated by governments in order to pretend to encourage dialogue, but actually repress it, was something that caused fear in him. With both realities present, Orwell understood that the modern alienation of the individual played to the strength of the government, causing a sense of fear that the external control from a political order without limitations or checks could be a reality. This might be why pessimism is so present at the end of the novel where there is no voice of dissent, little hope of redemption, and the march of government with its citizens underneath is all that remains.
I think there is a third option at work here, and that is that Orwell wants us to feel "realistic" at the end of the novel. The work expresses why it is that pure communism/socialism, an excellent idea in theory, never works in reality. Human nature, greed, and an inborn desire to advance and grow are all traits that work against equality and the status quo. Even though the idea of each person/animal contributing the the best of his oer her abilities, receiving a fair share of the rewards and sufficient supply of all the things that constitute his or her needs is wonderful, the nature of the individual is to always want more. The person or animal who works the hardest wants to receive the most benefits in return. Anything less appeals to our sense of fairness. So, the fact that what the animals wanted to create at Animal Farm fails in the end to live up to its expectations simply sows us the reality that Utopian societies can and do quickly become dystopian in nature. This could be seen as pessimistic to the extent that it makes the assumption that this will always be the case and that human nature is not likely to change; however, we know this and we accept this. It is more an attempt at garnering a wider acceptance, a realistic perspective of the human condition and human motivation, that Orwell is leaving us with. If we know what doesn't work, then we are better able to find something else that will work. Thomas Edison once said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10000 ways that won't work" and this is what Orwell wants us to see. Communism/Socialism in its purest form does not work, but that does not mean that there isn't some other form of egalitarian governance that will work. We just have to accept the knowledge of what didn't work in order to move on to the task of finding something that does.
In my opinion, Orwell wants us to be pessimistic at the end of this book. At least, I feel completely unhappy at the end and I assume he wanted that effect.
The reason that I feel unhappy is that Winston has been completely and totally defeated by the system. Over the course of the book, I was hoping that Winston would in some way win. I hate the society so much and I agree with what Winston is doing and I want him to win. If he had won in some way, I would say that Orwell is telling us that the human spirit will win out in the end.
But, instead, Winston loses everything. He loses all his hopes for independence and his own personality. In the end, he completely gives in and comes to love Big Brother. To me, this says that the human spirit can be defeated by an oppressive society like this. That makes me very unhappy and it seems like a pessimistic message.
While I agree with other's comments about the overall intention of 1984 being addressing totalitarianism, with respect to the question asked, I don't see the ending as being geared toward that end. Rather the ending is unnecessarily emotional were the ending serving a didactic motive, and instead challenges the reader to either be besmirched or hopeful to find Winston enamored -- finally -- with Big Brother.
"For the first time [Winston] perceived that if you want to keep a secret you must also hide it from yourself. You must know all the while that it is there, but until it is needed you must never let it emerge into your consciousness in any shape that could be given a name. From now onwards [Winston] must not only think right; he must feel right, dream right. And all the while he must keep his hatred locked up inside him like a ball of matter which was part of himself and yet unconnected with the rest of him, a kind of cyst."
Did Winston do this, unconsciously? Orwell will not say, just as Winston will never know if the Brotherhood truly existed. The reader will never know if Winston's unconscious mind also loved Big Brother, and as with any great work of art refuses to answer the question, but leaves a question mark for the reader to answer. I know my answer.
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