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Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy 1984 Analysis

Few novels have had the impact of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Even those who have not read the novel are familiar with terms such as “Big Brother” and “doublethink.” Although the novel may be read as a grim political satire on George Orwell’s time—the horrors of the modern totalitarian state, whether Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union in the 1930’s or Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich in the 1940’s—it easily qualifies as a dystopic vision of a nightmarish future awaiting the world if it ignores modern assaults on human freedom. Its warning of a negative utopia has not diminished with the passage of the year 1984, for its menace is just as possible for 2084 or 2184.

Clearly, Oceania, like the other superstates of Eurasia and Eastasia, is an extension of twentieth century totalitarianism’s efforts to eradicate individuality. Orwell’s analysis of the planned exhaustion of excess economic productivity on military expenditures to preserve the inequities of a traditional class system is brilliant. In fact, “the book” that O’Brien claims he coauthored with the Inner Party reads like the secret history of twentieth century political economics.

Unlike other classics of speculative or science fiction such as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), Orwell’s science fiction lacks much of the advanced technological hardware readers associate with the genre. That lack, however, is justified within Nineteen Eighty-Four by Oceania’s spokesman, O’Brien, who tells Winston that science and technology persist only as weapons of oppression. These weapons include use of psychology to engineer pain or technology like the telescreen for surveillance. Weaponry itself has retreated to pre-Hiroshima levels, nuclear weapons having been eliminated as threats to the status quo of the three superstates. Science and technology, Orwell suggests, had to be curtailed because in their purest forms they are grounded in the spirit of innovation and free inquiry. As O’Brien brags, Big Brother could rewrite astronomy to make the stars mere miles away from Earth if such a “truth” accorded with unrestrained exercise of power by the Party.

It is no coincidence that Winston works in the Ministry of Truth. Like other totalitarian leaders in the twentieth century, “Big Brother,” or the Inner Party collectively, knows that truth is textual. The most successful dictators control their subjects through propaganda and the manipulation of history. Winston wanders through the proles’ district hoping to find some corroboration of his own recollection of life before Big Brother but discovers the unreliability of the proles’ memory and returns to his own job of rewriting history, a job he finds so stimulating that he passes up the opportunity to fade into the proles’ world with Julia. Besides, in this hierarchical system, Winston prides himself on his superiority to these “masses.”

Winston envisions his experience in the novel as a tragic contest with the state to demonstrate his own superiority as an individual. Time and again, he boasts to Julia that although they will inevitably be tortured and killed, they, or at least he , will never surrender his humanity. Love, loyalty,...

(The entire section is 773 words.)