Essays and Criticism
1984: Then and Now
George Orwell’s dystopian (a fictional place where people lead dehumanized and fearful lives) vision of the year 1984, as depicted in what many consider to be his greatest novel, has entered the collective consciousness of the English-speaking world more completely than perhaps any other political text, whether fiction or nonfiction. No matter how far our contemporary world may seem from 1984’s Oceania, any suggestion of government surveillance of its citizens—from the threatened “clipper chip,” which would have allowed government officials to monitor all computer activity, to New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s decision to place security cameras in Central Park—produces cries of “Big Brother is watching.” Big Brother, the all-seeing manifestation in 1984 of the Party’s drive for power for its own sake, has come to stand as a warning of the insidious nature of government-centralized power, and the way that personal freedoms, once encroached upon, are easily destroyed altogether.
Critics generally agree that the hero of the novel, Winston Smith, may be recognized by his name as related to both the great British statesman and World War II leader Winston Churchill and a non-descript Everyman. However, the point is not that Winston is a great man, or even that he is one man among many; rather, O’Brien,...
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Why Nineteen Eighty-Four Should Be Read and Taught
George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four has been challenged on such grounds as profanity, immorality, and obscenity. It has been charged with being Communistic, containing sex references, and being depressing. Some of these charges are absurd, and though some have a grain of truth when items are taken out of context, on the whole the book stands up well and though frequently challenged has a history of rarely being removed from classrooms and libraries. Critics, as well as readers in general, have recognized the book as significant and valuable since its appearance at the end of the 1940s. Some examples: On the dust jacket of the first American edition of Nineteen Eighty-four Bertrand Russell and Alfred Kazin are quoted. Russell states, “Nineteen Eighty-four depicts the horrors of a well-established totalitarian regime of whatever type with great power and skill and force of imagination.” He adds that it is important that we should be aware of these dangers. Alfred Kazin characterizes the book as “an extraordinary experience . . . overwhelming in its keenness and prophetic power.” He further comments: “I hardly know which to praise more—Orwell’s insight into the fate of man under totalitarianism, or his compassion for him.” Reasons for reading and teaching Nineteen Eighty-four continue today to be much the same as these critics gave four decades ago.
The book does express a mood of near but not complete...
(The entire section is 2159 words.)
George Orwell and the Mad World: The Anti-Universe of 1984
“I shall save you, Winston, I shall make you perfect.” So O’Brien, the Grand Inquisitor of 1984, has said to the antihero Winston Smith, in one of the dream sequences which strangely go almost unnoticed in that inverted Platonic dialogue which is Orwell’s monument. It is as if the lives of the Platonic philosopher-kings were viewed from the point of view of one of the Auxiliaries. But it is not the old style of dialogue, in which there is a certain amount of free interchange of ideas, even between master and disciple. Rather, in this new style of dialogue, one party has the ability to inflict pain on the other party in any degree desired, even while the two proceed to discuss the most abstruse political questions. Dialogue implies the ability to have one’s mind changed, but in the condition of “controlled insanity” which is 1984, communication consists in the imposition of an insane view of reality by the strong few upon the weak many, through overwhelming force. O’Brien must “save” Winston, but this is religious salvation turned backward, and its purpose is to prevent even one “just man” from existing anywhere in the world, by convincing that man that he is insane. “Is it possible that a whole society can be insane?” asked Orwell in one of his essays, speaking of Hitler’s Germany.
Orwell’s 1984 is about religion reversed, law and government reversed, and above all, language reversed: not simply...
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