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Rebellion is a significant topic in George Orwell’s novel 1984. The word “rebel” appears throughout the book, both as a noun and a verb, and so does the word “rebellion.” These words become especially frequent, however, as the book moves toward its conclusion. The potential for rebellion is constantly on the mind of Winston Smith, the main character. He hopes that rebellion against the rule of the Party may be possible so that Oceania can become freer than it is at present. Yet Smith’s hopes for rebellion are often disappointed or stillborn.
At one point, for instance, he notes that although children in Oceania have been trained to spy on and betray their parents,
this produced in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the discipline of the party. (p. 25).
Similarly, any hope for revolution against the Party once again seems limited:
You could only rebel against it by secret disobedience or, at most, by isolated acts of violence such as killing somebody or blowing something up. (p. 156).
Repeatedly, then, the possibility of rebellion is raised, only to be squelched, and this, indeed, is the larger method of the entire book. Winston Smith hopes that someday the rule of the party may be ended through a revolution originating in the poor of Oceania, otherwise known as “the proles” (that is, the “proletariat,” or working class”). On page 71, for instance, he hopes for such a rebellion:
If there is hope [wrote Winston] it lies with the proles.
Only the proles, he thinks, exist in sufficient numbers to overthrow the party, whereas from the fabled “Brotherhood,” a group of resisters who supposedly exist within the ranks of the Party, not much can be hoped. For them,
Rebellion meant a look in the eyes, an inflection of the voice; at the most, an occasional whispered word. (p. 71)
If a rebellion ever were to take place, led either by the proles or by the Brotherhood, it might obviously transform the lives of all the people of Oceania – one hopes for the better. Yet the book raises the grim possibility that rule by the Party might be replaced by something even worse, hard as that is to imagine. Ironically, 1984 reminds us that acts of rebellion can profoundly change the course of events and lives if such actsare possible. Even if they are possible, however, they can change the course of events and lives not only for the better, but sometimes for the worse.
SOURCE: Plume edition (New York: Penguin, 2003).
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