Please compare George Orwell's 1984 and The Road by Cormac McCarthy, in a cultural context. How is law and order presented in both of these texts?

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Orwell's 1984 represents the fears of totalitarianism experienced in the late 1940s. Fascist Germany and Italy had only recently been defeated. Stalinist Russia was still going strong and had recently imposed totalitarianism on Eastern Europe. Orwell feared the spread of totalitarianism to England, and wanted to warn people against...

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Orwell's 1984 represents the fears of totalitarianism experienced in the late 1940s. Fascist Germany and Italy had only recently been defeated. Stalinist Russia was still going strong and had recently imposed totalitarianism on Eastern Europe. Orwell feared the spread of totalitarianism to England, and wanted to warn people against it. He especially wanted people to be careful not to be deceived by the misuse of language.

McCarthy's The Road, a much more recent novel, reflects fears of nuclear or environmental holocaust. In his book, civilization as we know has been wiped out by some sort of catastrophic event. This represents contemporary anxieties that humankind has gained too much power to devastate the ecosystem.

In both cultures, there is no law, but the two forms of lawlessness could not be more different. In Oceania, the lack of printed laws means that everything is potentially a crime. Party members live in a rigidly ordered way under constant surveillance and can be arrested by the Thought Police at any time.

In McCarthy's world the lawlessness is anarchic. Government has entirely collapsed, and people are on their own to survive as they can. Order is imposed by a survival of the fittest mentality. People eat babies and prey on each other.

Both societies, if McCarthy's world can be said to have a society, are dehumanizing.

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There is but one system of law and order in Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and that is complete anarchy. Even before the time in which the action of the novel was set, it is clear through the father's memories that this is a brutal dystopian world that we are entering. Note the way he describes what happened after the unspecified disaster that has brought humanity to the brink of collapse:

People sitting on the sidewalk in the dawn half immolate smoking in their clothes. Like failed sectarian suicides. Others would come to help them. Within a year there were fires on the ridges and deranged chanting. The screams of the murdered. By day the dead impaled on spikes along the road.

This makes for rather uncomfortable reading, but the references to "fires on the ridges" and "deranged chanting," combined with the very graphic and visual image of "the dead impaled on spikes" demonstrates that this grim future dystopia has no system of law and order in any way, and it is a world where only the strong have any possible hope of survival. Any notion of civilisation or system of rule has long ago collapsed, and humanity, what is left of it, is plunged into a kind of terrible dog-eat-dog existence. 

In 1984, by contrast, law and order is shown to be so rigid and so inflexible that it completely dominates the lives of people such as Winston Smith, who lead lives that are so filled and dominated by fear that they don't really have any life to lead at all. Note, for example, how Winston Smith, like every other member of the Party, has a telescreen in his room, watching his every move:

Winston kept his back turned to the telescreen. It was safer, though, as he well knew, even a back can be revealing.

The reader is presented with a world where every move, every facial expression, is scrutinised and observed, and could be used as evidence against you. This is something that Winston himself discovers later on when he visits the so-called Ministry of Love and experiences the completely rigid system of law and order that crushes any who oppose Big Bother. If anarchy dominates in McCarthy's novel, it is the polar opposite in Orwell's nightmare dystopia: a system of law and order that represses and is designed to crush any opposition. 

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