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The theme of freedom vs. enslavement is central to George Orwell’s novel 1984. Orwell wrote the novel during a period when the world had been engulfed in a planet-wide conflict over just this issue. When the novel first appeared in 1948, the relevance of this theme seemed just as timely. Having defeated Nazism and fascism during World War II, the “free world” now faced the challenge of militant, dictatorial Communism, especially in the Soviet Union. Orwell’s novel seems to have been written with the latter challenge very much in mind. The society depicted in 1984 greatly resembles the Soviet Union under the iron-fisted rule of Joseph Stalin.
Within the first few pages of the novel, the narrator reports that one of the standard slogans of the “Party” that rules Oceania is the following: “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY.” In other words, personal liberty is a kind of enslavement to the least worthy impulses of the human mind, such as the desire to think for oneself, to challenge to Party, and to pursue one’s own private interests. Since these kinds of desires might threaten the rule of the Party, and since the Party presents itself as the social force that protects the people from enslavement by enemy powers, freedom (paradoxically) is somehow slavery. Anyone who thinks that Orwell is exaggerating should research the tortured excuses that were used, for decades, to defend communism in the Soviet Union, China, and elsewhere.
Later the narrator reports that the principal enemy of the Party is Emmanuel Goldstein (who was once a high-ranking member of the Party member himself, and who thus resembles the historical figure Leon Trotsky). Goldstein and his doctrines seriously threaten the Party because he is associated with
freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, [and] freedom of thought,
among various other heresies. Goldstein, in other words, seems to stand for the kinds of liberties enshrined in the U. S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, especially the latter’s “Bill of Rights.” However, many communists, at the time that Orwell was writing and since then, (have) regarded the United States not as a nation rooted in freedom but as a nation enslaved by a capitalist ruling class – a nation in which the traditional “freedoms” were merely illusory. It seems accurate to say of such people, then, that they truly believed that “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY.”
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