Insight into 1984

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Repression in the State of Oceania

When I saw her in the light, she was quite an old woman, fifty years old at least. But I went ahead and did it just the same.

“The therapy had not worked. The urge to shout filthy words at the top of his voice was as strong as ever.”

The lines above is just one of the many reflections of repression that exist in Oceania. Urges, be it the urge to shout, urge to express desire or even the urge to make funny faces are all tightly repressed by the Party in 1984. The Party has succeeded in repressing these basic urges known to mankind through its control over nature.
As claimed by Freud in the book titled “Civilization and Discontents”, “Our civilization is largely responsible for our misery.” Before exploring this idea, it is important to note Freud’s definition of ‘civilization’. According to the psychoanalyst, civilization refers to the “whole sum of the achievements and the regulations which distinguish our lives from those of our animal ancestors”. Civilization has allowed Man to control nature, something that was unthinkable in the early ages of humanity. However, though this may appear to have pleased and satisfied mankind, we do not see it reflected here. This is because we receive ‘cheap enjoyment’ in the sense that if civilization today does not possess the means to control nature, we wouldn’t have to endure the misery it brings us. It is rather ironic because without the development of the railway, a close friend may not have had to leave for another far away land.
Hence, relating this to 1984, this control of nature that the Party has through devices like the telescreen, have not made the people happier. They live in fear because they are aware that every action, every glance and every twitch of the eye is being scrutinised by the Party. (“By sitting in the alcove, and keeping well back, Winston was able to remain outside the range of the telescreen, so far as sight went. He could be heard, of course, but so long as he stayed in his present position he could not be seen.”) This allows the Party to detect any forms of rebellion in any individual. Thus, in Oceania, the Party may have access to everyone at anytime, but it certainly doubtful if the Oceanians consider themselves happier than they were in the past. Hence, we see that the accomplishment of the highest stage of technology does not equate to utopia. In fact, one can go so far as to state that it widens our reach to attaining that happiness.
“This replacement of the power of the individual by the power of the community constitutes the decisive step of civilization.” Society is unable to function on the arbitrary will of a single man because his impulses and urges would precede the ‘interests and welfare of the society’. Replacing this “single man” with a majority is the key step towards civilization. The “brute force” of the individual is now replaced with a community and since this community is made up of individuals with basic instincts and impulses (the Id), it seems perfectly justified that certain restrictions would have to be imposed. Similar to 1984, this ‘majority’ is represented by the Party which claims to have the community’s (Oceanians) interests at heart. Therefore, in their alleged process to achieve this aim, the Party would have to repress certain desires and impulses of individuals, which are not compatible with the civilization.
Civilization therefore causes one to reject basic instincts which are incompatible with the civilization. The more a civilization progresses, the greater the renunciation of instincts. This is done to eliminate the non-satisfaction of powerful instincts. As summed up by Freud, “it is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built upon a renunciation of instinct.”
Due to this, Freud goes on to explain that the “urge for freedom, therefore, is directed against particular forms and demands of civilization or against civilization altogether.” Winston is a clear example of rebellion against this civilization. There are many instances in which he demonstrates his rebellion against the civilization.
1. His possession of a diary where he writes his thoughts
2. Having sex with Julia-a political act against the Party’s determination to kill the sex instinct
3. Declaring to O’Brien that he is against Big Brother and that he wishes to join the Brotherhood so as to topple the Party

The Party is bent on repressing basic human desires because they wish to harness this containment of the Id, such as the lack of sexual energy, into obedience and love for the Party. (“You must love Big Brother. It is not enough to obey him: you must love him.”) This obedience and love for Big Brother would not only ensure that the people of Oceania do not rebel, but also, they would feel no desire or need to rebel. That is the beauty of the Party’s repression.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

WAR IS PEACE

THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF OLIGARCHICAL COLLECTIVISM
By Emmanuel Goldstein
The title of “The Book” is enough to evoke a sense of awe and anticipation in the reader. Despite knowing that Winston is done for, we still yearn to know what ‘great’ knowledge the book holds. Emmanuel Goldstein, (Could any other name be more suitable and powerful than that?) the author of the book, explains the Party’s three slogans, one being, WAR IS PEACE. I have to admit that when I first read 1984, I was not particularly interested in “the book”. Instead, I was dying to know what would happen to the lovebirds. However, when I was forced to re-read 1984, gradually, “the book” made more sense and one witnesses the extreme lengths the Party would go to maintain its power.
A hierarchical society maintained only by ensuring that the Oceanians’ standard of living remains the same for eternity. (“If it once became general, wealth would confer no distinction”) Though it is possible for everyone in Oceania to be better off than they were before, the Party had discovered a sickly cruel but brilliant way to use up the surplus goods.
Continuous warfare-not only would it use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living, but it would also prevent literacy and the rise of people who would learn to think and realise that the privileged minority had no function. Because if this were to happen, that would mean the end of the Party. So, as stated in “the book”, “War has in fact, changed its character.” It has ceased to become a struggle to gain territories or to solve ideological differences. It has become an internal affair-a device used solely to ensure that the top remains at the top and the bottom, as they are. So we see, that the Party has created its own world where war with either Eastasia or Eurasia would continue till the end of time.
Hannah Arendt has also mentioned this in her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism. Totalitarian leaders create their own fictitious world. This world of theirs is able to compete with the real world and by doing this, they are able to do anything, including the slaughter of millions of people. The content or ideology of the Party ceases to be important and if anyone were to question their policies, it would be like “questioning the existence of the world.” Spooky eh?
So, with the information I’ve gathered from 1984 and Arendt, not forgetting a look at History (Hitler, Soviet Union, etc) I’ve come up with three simple ways to become a totalitarian leader, and a successful one at that. So, for those of you out there with ambitions to rule the world one day, this is what you should do.
1. Create a fictitious world based on selected parts of existing ideologies (whichever would fit into your dream of utopia)
2. Generalise certain truths so that your world can survive more lies
3. Strengthen the power of your living organisation through propaganda
So those were the three steps to world domination. Seriously though, the Party’s creation of a fictitious world is backed up by doublethink. This is seen in “the book” when it is stated that “he[Inner Party member] may often be aware that the entire war is spurious and is either not happening or is being waged for purposes other than the declared ones: but such knowledge is easily neutralised by the technique of doublethink.” Hence, the use of doublethink is absolutely necessary in order for the Party to be in control because the people of Oceania have been trained to accept two contradictory beliefs at the same time. This ensures that no one ever questions the Party and the Party is able to feed the people with more lies. And the world lives happily ever after…

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Golden Country

In 1984, there are many instances when Winston’s Golden Country is mentioned. Now, before we discuss the significance of his dreams, let us ask, why “Golden Country”? Why not something else like Pink Fantasy or Orange Place? Well, you know what I mean. In his dreams, Winston sees a “short springy turf, on a summer evening when the slanting rays of the sun gilded the ground” and this sunlight could have been the inspiration for the name he gave to the landscape he saw.
The first mention of the Golden Country is when Winston had a dream involving Julia. Upon reading it, the reader instinctively knows that the Golden Country is not a mere, recurring dream that Winston has. In the dream, Winston sees Julia discard her clothes in an ‘uncivilised’ and ‘carefree’ manner that greatly appeals to him. This is due to the fact that the way her clothes were removed was a symbolism of uninhibited behaviour with no regard for rules and regulations. As absurd as it might seem, this ‘primitive’ action was a sign to Winston that the Party and Big Brother could be done away with. (“the gesture with which a whole culture, a whole system of thought, as though Big Brother and the Party and the Thought Police could be swept into nothingness by a single splendid movement of the arm”) It was an indication that there was hope for mankind, where there would no longer be any control and people would be allowed to feel, act and say what they wanted to.
In Winston’s dream, there are many thoughts associated to “ancient time”. Words like ‘civilisation’ and ‘Shakespeare’ reveal that Winston’s dream had to do with a longing for the past. (This is demonstrated again when Winston toasts to the past, with Julia and O’Brien) I once read that people have the ability to control their dreams. What they want to see happen, can happen in their dreams. In this case, Winston longs for the ‘good old days’ when thoughts, feelings and emotions like love, passion and kindness, were not controlled. Through his admiration for Julia’s gesture, (and not her body, like most men nowadays) we realise that he desperately desires control of his life back again.
The next mention of the Golden Country is when Julia and Winston meet for the first time at “an old, close-bitten pasture, with a footpath wandering across it and a molehill here and there”. The place greatly resembled the Golden Country in Winston’s dream. Similarly, Julia’s gesture was what he had seen in his dream as well. This similarity provides Winston with hope because as compared to his dream, Julia’s actions were real. It was REALITY and if that could have happened, then the collapse of the Party was not such a far-fetched idea after all! This could have been the driving force when Winston embarked on the mission to rid Oceania of the Party.
Finally, the last mention of the Golden Country is when Winston is in the Ministry of Love. At this stage, Winston had “lost power of the intellectual effort” and was slowly ‘being cured’ by O’Brien. The difference is that in this dream, there are more people involved, like Winston’s mother and O’Brien. The inclusion of O’Brien in this dream reveals to us that Winston considers him ‘his saviour’. Sad to say, but there is this appreciation for O’Brien’s efforts in curing him. The only desire Winston has at that moment is to be with his loved ones, “talking of peaceful things”.
That was truly one of the most depressing parts of the story when the reader witnesses the slow deterioration of Winston, emotionally and intellectually. Even Winston’s perfect Golden Country was “invaded” by O’Brien and the Party. Sigh….

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

“A rebel from the waist downwards”

As mentioned before, Winston’s possession of a diary adds excitement and danger to the story. Winston knew the risk of possessing a diary when he wrote, “Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death.” However, the introduction of Julia into Winston’s life heightens the thrill and creates that sense of adventure, which Winston finds impossible to resist. (“Nor the idea of refusing her advances even cross his mind.”)
When Julia steps into the picture, she brings hope to Winston. She is a breath of fresh air that Winston desperately needed. She is the epitome of hope, the sign that things in Oceania could change for the better. Julia’s love for sex and her ‘animal instinct’ had Winston stimulated. (Excuse the pun) Stimulated to do something. Stimulated to take action so that the current situation may change. For once, he felt victorious because he had won a battle against the Party through the act of having sex. He is delighted by the fact that Julia had had sex “scores of times” because it reveals that corruption does exist. Not everyone is supportive of the Party and this fills Winston with such hope not only because it reassures him that he is not a lunatic, but also because there is a high possibility that others out there may soon reveal themselves-leading to the collapse of the Party.
In addition, Julia’s outright hatred for the Party pleases Winston, as he believes that it is “healthy”.
Winston mentions that he does not want purity or virtue to exist. He appreciates that Julia is “corrupted to the bones”. However, if one thinks about it carefully, Julia is actually a pure and virtuous girl. She is not tainted by the lies of the Party. Neither does she fall for the policies that the Party impresses upon the people of Oceania. Not the greatest analogy, yes, but Julia is like a clean nail, which despite being exposed to air and water, (Party’s influence) has not rusted. She has survived, and in this sense, she is PURE.
However, sad to say, Julia is not exactly the woman of the 21st century. We don’t cheer for her and shout “GIRL POWER” when we see her in action. She is able to get away with minor crimes like purchasing items from the black market but her hatred for the party is on a superficial level. We witness this when she displays no interest in whatever Winston has to say about the Party and its policies. It is true that she verbalises her disgust and contempt for the Party’s policies but we do not see a side of her that is willing to change the situation or even attempt to improve it. Truth be told, I was disappointed by Orwell’s characterisation of Julia as ‘Winston’s girl’, and not as an independent and determined woman whose intellect would save the day. This is rather sexist, as the guy is usually the ‘hero’ of the day (not in this case, but you know what I mean) but I shall not delve into that. It is true that Julia did join Winton in meeting O’Brien and declaring their wish to oppose Big Brother but one questions if her decision was based more on an obligation to support her lover than her sincere wish to better the situation in Oceania.
However, I am not claiming that Julia is a girl without intellect. On the contrary, she was able to explain to Winston the Party’s purpose in removing pleasure from the sexual act. A simplistic but perceptive explanation revealed another side of Julia.
Now, on to the topic of love… Were Julia and Winston in love? Well, although both claim to love each other very early on in the story, (Julia, through her note to Winston, and Winston declared his love for her when they met for the first time) I have my reservations. Firstly, how is it possible to love someone whom you hardly know? It was probably more a case of fascination and intrigue on Winston’s part when he met Julia for the first time. He had never come across someone who clearly expressed her hatred for the Party and this grabbed his attention. As for Julia, her “love” for Winston could have been due to pleasure from meeting someone who shared her sentiments on the Party and being able to spend time with him. Winston also admitted that “their embrace had been a battle” and the “climax a victory”. Therefore, it is very doubtful that theirs was a meeting of two people in love with each other, even as the story progressed.
Hence, the idea of love, Julia and sexuality all go hand in hand. Without Julia, it is doubtful if Winston would have embarked on the mission to save Oceania. She provided him hope that the situation could be changed and this is heart-warming even though he did not succeed in the end.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

6079 Smith, Winston

Very early on in the novel, we are introduced to Winston Smith. He works in the Ministry of Truth, rewriting the past so as to ensure that in the eyes of the people of Oceania, the Party is infallible.

Winston, in the simplest sense, is a very tired man. Tired of his job. (“With the deep, unconscious sigh which not even the nearness of the telescreen could prevent him from uttering when his day’s work started”) Tired of the low quality goods (Victory Gin, Victory Cigarettes, etc) Tired of being watched. Tired of the system.

Winston lives each day as it comes, without any source of joy or comfort to look forward to. I think this monotony of his life is what struck me at the beginning of the novel because I can't imagine living a life filled with dread and misery. However, this changes slightly when he purchases a diary to write his innermost thoughts.

This is when the story becomes exciting for me because the possession of a diary itself is extremely dangerous in the land of Ocenia. The possession of a diary is in fact, the first step to his downfall. Thoughtcrime, as it is known, is as unforgivable as the crime itself. We witness a side of Winston who is dying to change the existing situation so that he can live a better life. We see a man who craves for reality, instead of the lies fed to him by the Party. Through his entries in the diary, the reader catches a glimpse of Winston's character and his memories.

It is very obvious as one reads the novel, that Winston is different from the people in Oceania. From the conversations that he has and the questions he asks himself, we are made aware that Winston does not blindly accept the statements made by the Party. At one moment in time, he asks himself after an announcement is read, if he is alone, in the possession of a memory.

Perhaps, due to his difference, Winston feels an obligation to change the situation in Oceania. He could very well see himself as a saviour, a Messiah of some sort, who was "blessed" with the ability to differentiate a lie and the truth. This belief is perhaps, what compels Winston to take steps to rid Oceania of the Party. It could have brought out the unwavering determination that Winston had later on in the novel.

Orwell also manages to make Winston’s character out to be a super hero in this story. SuperSmith-fighter of all evil and saviour of the world! He is just one man (with Julia’s help) out to rid Oceania of the Party. His determination, despite the huge obstacles presented to him, is admirable, if not a little unbelievable and far-fetched. I mean, if I had been in Winston’s shoes, I admit I wouldn't have had the guts to do anything about the situation.

In such a place where everyone is watching you, it is absurd to think that one would succeed to change the existing situation. This could be a cynical view, as others might point out.

However, Winston’s goal, as we find out, is not to be the ‘hero’ who saves the day. He says that he would be contented with the fact that he had made a contribution in getting rid of the Party and allowing people in Oceania to live peacefully. Isn't that a great sacrifice? To be willing to give up his life with the knowledge that he had made a contribution to getting rid of the Party, and yet, not to be able to enjoy the results when the Party is overthrown? When Winston uttered that statement, I realised that this man's ambition is to 'save Oceania' and he was more than willing to do anything in his power to make that happen.

However, although it may appear as if Winston is the ‘hero’ in this novel, he wears this average-Joe image that is rather endearing. He wishes for things that any other man would want-a wife, a nice home to live in and happiness. (“ He wished that they were a married couple…every time they met.”) It is truly sad as one reads the novel that his simple dreams are not fulfilled even though he tries to make it happen.

Another characteristic that struck me about Winston was the fact that he was a tad naive. This was shocking to me as Winston is made out to be this intelligent man with great knowledge. Let’s face it. He thinks that for “a fraction of a second” when his eyes met O’Brien’s, there was this “unmistakable message” that had passed between them. In addition, he walks into O’Brien’s quarters and declares that he is the enemy of Big Brother.

Hello? Hasn’t this guy watched Bond movies before, where the “bad guys” trick James Bond by pretending to be on his side? When Julia and Winston met O’Brien to swear that they would do anything for The Brotherhood, I knew they were done for. However, I have to admit that in such a miserable and oppressive environment, people like Winston and Julia were easily fooled, as their strong determination to succeed prevented them from having a perfectly clear view about the dangers that awaited them in every corner.

Alas! Winston and Julia are caught. The torment begins (where O’Brien promises to “save” Winston) and it is remarkable how Winston manages to stand by his beliefs for a period of time before he becomes “perfect”. Winston, the super hero, has failed in saving Oceania, and at the end of the novel, “He had won the victory over himself.” Sigh....

Friday, November 26, 2004

Overview of 1984

1984. What is it about? Well, when I first started reading the book, I was both shocked and amazed at the extent of control held by the Party. Their ability to employ various means to ensure that they always remain at the top is truly admirable! The Party’s reliance on ‘doublethink’, where two contradictory beliefs are accepted by the human mind, is insane! However, it proves effective in controlling most of the population in Oceania.

Nowadays, there is an increasing number of Singaporeans who complain about the dominance of the PAP in the political scene. (Yes! It’s true, not everyone adores the Men In White!) I attended this forum discussion held at Singapore Polytechnic recently and the topic was, “Are today’s young Singaporeans truly apathetic?” The objective of the forum discussion was to find out the views of young Singaporeans whom many believe to be indifferent to the political scene in Singapore. The guest speaker was Mr. Lim Swee Say, the Minister for Environment and also the main man behind NTUC, who attempted to deal with the concerns of youths today. (Sad to say, he was rather unsuccessful)

I recall many students from different institutions passionately voicing their views on issues like education, politics and the “climate of fear” in Singapore. (As in most forum discussions like this one, Mr. Lim beat about the bush and kept returning to his favourite phrase that night, being “Singapore Centric”) A student from ACJC commented that there is no platform for opposing voices to be heard. Just imagine, the Party in 1984 is a million times worse!
As I mentioned before, the issue of the “climate of fear” was quite a hot topic during the discussion. Students commented that in Singapore, many are discouraged from airing their views because they are afraid of the consequences. It reminds you of 1984, doesn’t it? The people live in fear because they know that their every move is being watched. The rumours of the secret police removing people at night serve to ignite their fears and ensure their obedience.

In the simplest sense, 1984 deals with issues like totalitarianism and its effects on the people of Oceania. 1984 delves into the methods used by the Party to ensure complete dominance in Oceania. There are 4 Ministries “between which the entire apparatus of government was divided.” These 4 ministries play very significant roles in fulfilling the aim of the Party. As stated by O’Brien, “We are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power.”

When I read the book, I was hopeful that Julia and Winston would be able to carry out their plan in removing the power of the Party. Yes, I should have known better. I allowed my slight affection for O’Brien in the beginning get the better of me. How can success be possible when “Big Brother is watching you”? It was too good to be true. Oh well.

This book is basically concerned with the effects of absolute power and the futility in attempting to remove that power. The people in Oceania lead meaningless lives and their existence on Earth is only to “obey and love Big Brother”. This book shows in detail how any thought (thoughtcrime) or plan to remove the absolute power would be crushed. Not only is it crushed, but the ‘culprits’ would eventually obey and love Big Brother. When one reads the book, he may scoff at the possibility of such control in the hands of one party but history has proven that totalitarianism did exist.