Essay, Research Paper: 1984

Literature: George Orwell

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“Few novels written in this generation have obtained a popularity as great as
that of George Orwell’s 1984.” George Orwell’s popular and powerful novel
was not just a figment of his imagination, it was spawned from many experiences
from childhood to early adulthood, as well as from events circa World War II. At
age eight, he was shipped off to boarding school where he was the only
scholarship student among aristocrats. This was Orwell’s first taste of
dictatorship, of being helpless under the rule of an absolute power. Unlike his
classmates, Orwell was unable to afford to go to Oxford or Cambridge and his
grades kept him from winning any more scholarships (Scott-Kilvert, 98).
Therefore, he decided to join the Imperial Police in Burma, India. He wrote of
the experience, “In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of
people...” (Reed, 3). Orwell hated the police and everything they stood for;
he often hated the people he was supposed to help. The events that took place in
his life and the rise of Fascism in the early 1930s made Orwell a committed
anti-Fascist. Ever serious line of work he wrote as of 1936 was, whether
indirectly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism.
(Elements of Lit., 1057) Orwell’s purpose for writing 1984 dictates the major
theme. He wants to warn people what can happen when the government is given too
much power. He wants to show how such governments can develop, and what methods
they use to keep the people they are James Hawkins 2 governing in their power (Bryfonski,
1057). The party in Orwell’s novel is all-powerful because it is run by a
group whose major purpose is to gain and keep power. They crush anybody who
tries to commit an independent act. Their methods are harsh and efficient. One
of the methods used in the novel to deliver the government’s propaganda was
the use of television (“telescreens” in the novel). Back in Orwell’s time
the use of television was strictly limited to the very affluent and for use in
labs at colleges and universities. In the novel, televisions are in most homes
and all over the streets. The use of telescreens is an important physical
element. It watches citizens, gives war news, music, political speeches and
messages from Big Brother. This may have not be a big deal today, but back then
no one would have thought of television as a means of sending and receiving
information. (Reed, 34) To demonstrate the totalitarian ways of the government,
Orwell creates a sublanguage that is used throughout the story. “Newspeak”
is used to stress connections between language, thought and power. Orwell tells
us that nobody will be able to commit unwanted acts or think bad thoughts
because actions cannot exist without language to describe or define them. For
example, free would mean “without”. A dog could be free of fleas, but people
would no longer hanker for freedom. It includes words for everyday activities
like eating, drinking, working. It contains simple nouns and verbs with clear
meanings. Any shades of meaning have been eliminated. The grammar is designed so
that any word can be used as a verb, noun, adjective or adverb. Anything
difficult to pronounce has been James Hawkins 3 eliminated. Words are
deliberately constructed for political purposes. They are designed to promote
“right” thoughts. Words such as justice, democracy and religion have been
abolished, or reduced to either crimethink or oldthink (Reed, 94). Once
“Oldspeak” is altogether overthrown, the last link with the history and
literature of the past will be broken. Orwell also uses an omniscient character,
Big Brother, to show how powerful the government is. Although he is seen on
telescreens and his pictures glare out on huge posters that say “BIG BROTHER
IS WATCHING YOU,” nobody actually sees him in person. Orwell based this
character on the totalitarian dictators of the World War II era, including
Joseph Stalin, Francisco Franco, and even Adolph Hitler. He may have also been
basing Big Brother on religious figures: a mysterious, powerful, God-like figure
who sees and knows all, but is never seen in person. Some critics think the fact
that Orwell was dying while he finished this novel accounts for the pessimistic
view of society and its future, while others think he was using every weapon in
his arsenal to wake up his readers to the threat of totalitarianism. “Today
such terms as “doublethink” and “thoughtcrime” have passed into accepted
usage and for a generation of readers the book has come to be regarded as a
standard essay on the growth and influence on totalitarian trends.” (Magill,
1417)
Bibliography
Bryfonski, Dedria. Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Volume2. Detroit,
Michigan: Gale Research Company, 1979. Magill, Frank N., ed. Magill’s Survey
of World Literature, Volume 4. New York, New York: Marshall Cavendish
Corporation, 1993. Scott-Kilvert, Ian, ed. British Writers, Volume 7. New York,
New York: Charle’s Scribner’s Sons, 1984. Reed, Kit, ed. Barron’s Book
Notes, 1984. New York, New York: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., 1984.
Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Elements of Literature, Sixth Course. Austin, Texas:
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.

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