1984 Literary Analysis Essay
The novel, Nineteen Eighty Four, by George Orwell, is an allegory on how the application of absolute power dehumanizes people into a machine like existence. A long saga of dehumanization unfolds as we read on. And the readers are horrified when they read that hanging of the traitors in the Park is a regular event in this imaginary world and even children look forward to see it as a free spectacle (Orwell, Chapter 2). Orwell adds on that children are “systematically turned into ungovernable little savages” by way of training by certain organizations (Chapter 2). Winston, the protagonist of this novel is entrusted with the job of revising history so that the Party, the ruling class, is presented as flawless. This allusion to the wiping out of memories is symbolic of a process of erasing memories, by which actually the sense of self within each and every human being is erased, culture is erased (Orwell, Chapter 4). In chapter 5 of the book, one understands that the Party is in a process of destroying many words which are supposed to be useless from the language (Orwell, Chapter 5). The reason for this is spelled out by Syme, a friend of Winston, when he says, “in the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it” (Orwell, Chapter 5). Here, thoughtcrime is the act of thinking against the Party and its laws. With this kind of progression of the narrative, the author has shown that people are deprived even of their power to think, disagree and dream; people are totally dehumanized (Orwell, Chapter 5).
Loss of privacy is the most important aspect of the dehumanization process. In this novel, the face of the Big Brother and the caption, “Big Brother is watching you” follow the people everywhere thereby depriving them of even a moment of privacy (Orwell, Chapter 1). Even the “swirl of gritty dust” that enters with Winston into his apartment building is suggestive of the helplessness of people like him to have some personal space and time (Orwell, Chapter 1). Then there is this instrument on the wall, the tele-screen, which forces all to listen to what it says, through days and nights, so that nobody is allowed even the privacy for thought (Orwell, Chapter 1). When people have such voices screaming into their eardrums constantly, they become more like listening machines. Again, a helicopter is also seen sneaking into peoples lives from the sky (Orwell, Chapter 1). By depicting these three presences- the Big Brother, the tele-screen and the helicopter- Orwell has in the very first page of his novel, made the readers apprehend that they are entering a world totally mechanical, yet very familiar in terms of certain aspects of modern life.
As we read on, it is also communicated that the tele-screen is a receiver as well as transmitter (Orwell, Chapter 1). It is transmitting all the visuals and sounds that the protagonist made, to the thought police (Orwell, Chapter 1). From this moment, the reader actually enters the world of absolute power where, “you had to live-did live, from habit that become instinct- in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every moment, scrutinized” (Orwell, Chapter 1). The first chapter of this novel, in this manner, strongly predicts the drama that is about to be unraveled yet keeps the reader hooked to the text and yearning to read more.
Chapter 6 unfolds another horror of living in the world controlled by the Party and Big Brother- there is no sexual freedom, no freedom to love a person from the other gender (Orwell, Chapter 6). The reason behind this is explained as given in the following paragraph:
The aim of the Party was not merely to prevent men and women from forming loyalties which it might not be able to control. Its real, undeclared purpose was to remove all pleasure from the sexual act. Not love so much as eroticism was the enemy, inside marriage as well as outside it. All marriages between Party members had to be approved by a committee appointed for the purpose, and–though the principle was never clearly stated–permission was always refused if the couple concerned gave the impression of being physically attracted to one another. The only recognized purpose of marriage was to beget children for the service of the Party (Orwell, Chapter 6).
By negating the basic instincts of humans, thus the Party tame and domesticate them to the levels of animals. This is the success of the dehumanization process. By describing this process in an elaborate manner and by weaving the story of Winston and Julia into this basic political narrative as a subtext, the author has been able to weave a very engaging yet politically telling story pattern. This part of the text oozes with black humor and cynicism and it is bluntly stated, “sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation, like having an enema” (Orwell, Chapter 6). The political undertones of love and sexuality is subtly presented by the author when he adds that, “the sexual act, successfully performed, was rebellion. Desire was thoughtcrime” (Orwell, Chapter 6). And this is why love becomes a tool in the hands of the author to start rebellion (Orwell, Part 2, Chapter 1). It is the reverse process of dehumanization as writing of a diary by Winston was. Through love, through words, through language, the process of re-humanization progresses. And when Winston and Julia embrace in love, the author observes that, “their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory. It was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act” (Orwell, Part 2, Chapter 2).
Then comes the time of persecution. Winston is made to go through a series of physical tortures and he confesses to crimes that he had not even imagined in his life (Orwell, Part 3, Chapter 2). Orwell has raised the narrative here to an extreme level of irony and shows what the exercise of power is capable of doing to human beings. He delves on the confessions of Winston in an elaborate manner as if he is in no hurry at all to complete his story telling. Orwell writes:
He became simply a mouth that uttered, a hand that signed, whatever was demanded of him. His sole concern was to find out what they wanted him to confess, and then confess it quickly, before the bullying started anew. He confessed to the assassination of eminent Party members, the distribution of seditious pamphlets, embezzlement of public funds, sale of military secrets, sabotage of every kind. He confessed that he had been a spy in the pay of the Eastasian government as far back as 1968. He confessed that he was a religious believer, an admirer of capitalism, and a sexual pervert. He confessed that he had murdered his wife, although he knew, and his questioners must have known, that his wife was still alive (Part 3, Chapter 2).
The torture sessions of Winston reveals the cold indifference exercised in the dehumanization process that the state exercises on its citizens, in various degrees. It is a face to face session with reality that had evaded Winston till then. Even when suffering severe pain from the torture, this is why he asks, whether the Big Brother exists or not (Orwell, Part 3, Chapter 2). But he never gets an answer. And he is totally broken by the system to accept power without questioning. And he betrays Julia, his love, to survive the torture, to make it end (Orwell, Part 3, Chapter 6). When he shouts aloud, “do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I dont care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!”, the rebellion is finally defeated (Orwell, Part 3, Chapter 5). And love and everything humane is wiped off the face of earth. It is in this moment that the reader realizes that the love affair of the protagonist has been used by author as a full-fledged metaphor. And it is in this moment that the interpretation dehumanization carried out by the author is complete, in all its manifestations.
After the final reconciliation with power, Winston realizes that finally he had “won the victory over himself…[because] he loved Big Brother” (Orwell, Part 3, Chapter 6). Winston thus ceases to be an individual, a human being. By giving this tragic ending, which after all, do not even feel tragic to the reader, the author has succeeded to create an emptiness in readers minds which has no parallels in literary history. The history of humans, the suffering that the powerless suffered in the hands of the powerful, the inevitability and continuance of such suffering, the crushed dreams of equality and freedom-everything stirs up in the minds of the readers as if in a procession. And the emptiness prevails. This is also the powerful culmination of a narrative which has made a lasting impression. It is also the beginning of understanding and naming the Orwellian world of oligarchy and totalitarianism which was to become a usage in English language, so that we can name any fascist, oligarchic, inhumane regime easily by that name. In this way, Orwells novel becomes a manifesto against any dehumanizing power establishment.
Orwell, George. “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Wikilivres, 27 August 2010.web. 14 February 2011, http://wikilivres.info/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four