2. GEORGE ORWELL AND “1984”
2.1 BIOGRAPHICAL FACTS
2.2 SUMMARY OF “1984”
3. THE SOCIETY OF OCEANIA.
3.1 GOVERNMENTAL INSTITUTIONS.
3.3 MEANS OF CONTROL
4. THE SOCIETY OF THE GDR
4.1 GOVERNMENTAL INSTITUTIONS.
4.3 ALTERING THE PAST.
5. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
The following paper deals with the parallels between the society described in George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” and the society of the German Democratic Republic. Given the fact that Orwell’s own experiences concerning totalitarianism, and especially communism, play an important role in all his literary works, I think it is very interesting to have a closer look on a society that existed in a communist environment and to compare this society with the fictional society of Oceania in “1984”.
In the first chapter I will give a brief summary of the author’s biography, followed by a short synopsis of the novel “1984”.
The second part deals with the society of Oceania. I will focus on the main aspects of society, such as governmental institutions, the surveillance apparatus, etc. In the third chapter I will analyse the society of the GDR and try to establish links and parallels to “1984”.
The last part of my paper consists of a short summary and some conclusions on the nature of totalitarianism and freedom.
2. George Orwell and “1984”
In George Orwell’s case - like in many other cases, too - a direct link between biographical periods and literary works can be established. In his life-long struggle for freedom and against suppression by totalitarian regimes, Orwell is a good example for the connection between experience and its implementation in fictional literature. It is therefore not only interesting but also necessary to have a brief look at the author’s biography before giving a summary of the novel “1984”.
2.1 Biographical facts
Eric Arthur Blair - George Orwell’s real name - was born in Mothari/India in 1903 as son of an official of the English Colony.1 His decision to become a writer was made early in his life and after having visited the elite school of Eaton he spent several years living in Paris and London.
In 1936 he volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War for the Marxist POUM against the fascist troops of General Franco. This experience of war and the following period, when he was persecuted by the Communists whom he has fought for, led Orwell to the deep believe and conviction that there is no justification for totalitarianism. This criticism was the reason for him to deal with the problem of absolute power in his books. First he published “Animal Farm” in 1945 where he depicts the betrayal of the Russian Revolution by individuals who were only interested in gaining and preserving power.2 The novel “1984”, the subject of this paper, was published in 1949 and is also a call for freedom and against all one -party systems or societies. Shortly after having published “1984”, Orwell died of tuberculosis.
After this rather short overview on the biography of George Orwell it is apparent that without the facts mentioned above it is not possible to understand the underlying emotions and fears in “1984”.
2.2 Summary of “1984”
The novel “1984” was published in 1949 and can be classified as a dystopian novel painting a dark and negative picture of the future of mankind. A vision of the world in 1984 is created where the world is divided into three states: Eastasia, Eurasia and Oceania. The setting of the novel is in Oceania or, to be more precise, in airstrip one, located in the area we know as England. The main action takes place in London.
Oceania, as both other states, is a totalitarian society led by Big Brother, who censors everyone’s behaviour, even their thoughts. Winston Smith is disgusted with his oppressed life and secretly longs to join the fabled Brotherhood, a supposed group of underground rebels intent on overthrowing the government. Winston meets Julia and they secretly fall in love and have an affair, something which is considered a crime. One day, while walking home, Winston encounters O'Brien, an inner party member, who gives Winston his address. Winston had exchanged glances with O'Brien before and had dreams about him giving him the impression that O'Brien was a member of the Brotherhood. Since Julia hates the party as much as Winston does, they go to O'Brien’s house together where they are introduced into the Brotherhood. O'Brien is actually a faithful member of the Inner-Party and this is actually a trap for Winston, a trap that O'Brien has been cleverly setting for seven years. Winston and Julia are sent to the Ministry of Love which is a sort of rehabilitation centre for criminals accused of thoughtcrime. There, Winston is separated from Julia, and tortured until his beliefs coincide with those of the Party. Winston denounces everything he believed him, even his love for Julia, and is released back into the public where he wastes his days at the Chestnut Tree drinking gin.
3. The society of Oceania
The society of Oceania is the only one described in “1984”, so my analysis is limited to this society. The other states Eurasia and Eastasia are also described as totalitarian systems, but no detailed information is given in the novel.
3.1 Governmental institutions
The form of government practiced in Oceania is called “INGSOC”, an abbreviation for English socialism. It is also described an oligarchical collectivism.3 One nameless party, only called “the Party”, obtains absolute power in Oceania. Its members consist of the inner party and the outer party. The vast majority of the people of Oceania do not belong to the Party and are called the “proles”.4 Watching and presiding over the entire apparatus is Big Brother, the personification of the principles and ideas of the Party. He has absolute authority and his word is the law.
The administration itself consists of four departments called ministries. The Ministry of Truth is concerned with news, entertainment, education and arts. The Ministry of Love deals with judicial matters as well as with law and order. War is the main subject dealt with in the Ministry of Peace and the Ministry of Surplus is concerned with all economic matters.
Another interesting aspect of Oceania’s society is that education is almost entirely under the control of the state. Orwell describes this as follows:” […] they [the children] were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, and yet this produced in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the discipline of the Party. On the contrary, they adored the Party and everything connected with it. […]. All their ferocity was turned outwards, against the enemies of the State, against foreigners, traitors, saboteurs, thought-criminals. It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children. And with good reason, for hardly a week passed in which The Times did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak -- 'child hero' was the phrase generally used -- had overheard some compromising remark and denounced its parents to the Thought Police.”5 All these educational means and methods serve the only purpose of indoctrinating the people from their very youth with the propaganda and the ideals of the Party and to encourage them to denounce everybody who does not comply with these ideals. Thus another important goal is achieved, namely the destruction of personal relationships between people by spreading mistrust among them.
3.3 Means of control
As we have seen, the principle on which the whole society of Oceania is based is the Party’s pure pursuit of power. It is not only the material and economic power the Party is after but also the power and control over people’s minds and thoughts. The powerlessness of the people is guaranteed by different means. Fear is the most important method of constantly subduing people. The Party succeeds in using the fear of punishment, torture and, finally, death to establish its powerful position. Constant observation, show trials and intentional disinformation are means to implement this fear.
The Party’s ideological background can be stated in one sentence: “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.”6 The first slogan refers to the economic situation in Oceania which can only be described as continuing shortage which will always be deficient because of the constant warfare with the other two superpowers. This constant state of war guarantees the survival of the totalitarian system since the shortage of labour forces and the minimal standard of living caused by the war makes people accept a strict rule more easily. This shows that one of the vital factors for the Party to stay in power is the constant war against the other superpowers which can never end, because the rivals are way too large and powerful that a victory over one of them could be won.
The second slogan, slavery is freedom, means that an individual can only survive as part of a group. According to the Party’s philosophy a person, having internalised all the principles of the Party, become a part of it and thus helps it to continue its existence even after the person’s death. Orwell illustrates this with an example: “The weariness of the cell is the vigour of the organism.
1 Rogers, Pat (ed). The Oxford Illustrated History Of English Literature. Oxford University Press, 1987 p.443
2 Ibid., p.444
3 Orwell, George. 1984. Penguin Books, 1989 p. 191 ff
4 Ibid., first mentioned on p. 55
5 Ibid., p.26 f
6 Ibid., p.29