A Critical Analysis of the Totalitarian Government in George Orwell’s 1984
Books have influenced society ever since the ancient Greek civilization. In today’s society, authors often write books to hint at good ideas, or to warn their readers of line they should never cross. George Orwell is one such author, and he wrote his most famous book, 1984, not only for entertainment but with a distinct warning. In 1984, Orwell is telling readers of a future that will be ruled by a totalitarian government rules as a warning to future generations that mankind lead to its own end. Orwell is known for his dreary perspective on humanity’s future; he distinctly illustrates his thoughts on what may happen in the future. The purpose of this paper is to compare and analyze the literary criticisms related to the themes of 1984.
According to the critic John Knapp, mankind will never completely control every aspect of nature, unless deceived into thinking so (Knapp 2063). Moreover, Knapp believes that for humans to be truly free, they must listen and take notice of things they are afraid to hear (Knapp 2061). Kazin agrees with this, believing that the world remains as we know it to be because humans are raised in nescience. No other knowledge is necessary (Kazin), and “we are creatures of society, which is why the tyrant state arises in answer to some mass deprivation. Then the tyranny that afflicts us in our name attempts to reconstitute us by forces so implacable that we internalize them” (Kazin).
Elkins believes that with such a mindset history becomes what people believe has occurred in the past rather than what has actually occurred in the past (Elkins 239). If people are deceived their whole life, then there is no history and truth, just false, misleading information (Elkins 239). Bloom also agrees with them all, he thinks that rewriting history means destroying the past, but only when no one believes in it or remembers it (Bloom 59-60). Thus, one of the major themes of 1984 has been distinctly depicted by these critics.
All of these views are also backed by the novel as well. Throughout 1984, the influence of the government distorts and transforms Winston’s intelligence. For instance, after Winston is arrested for thought crime, the crime of think about something evil, O’Brien torturously brainwashes Winston in order to cleanse his mind. Orwell has created a society where holding separate beliefs is impossible because the Party makes everyone believe what they want them to believe. Winston lets his brain believe the false idea that O’Brien wants him to believe because he has a feeling of deep regard for O’Brien. As Knapp describes, rather than creating a false future by changing facts, it is necessary to listen to all facts, no matter how dreadful, in order to be truly free.
The Party’s forceful role of the in 1984 is another important theme that critics of the novel agree upon. Bloom believes that escaping is not possible when living in a society being run by a totalitarian government (Bloom 76). Franks, another critic, feels that having complete control is the sole purpose of totalitarian government, power is what ultimately matters (Franks 1420). Totalitarian governments have complete control over the bodies and minds of people (Franks 1416). According to Home, Brother’s totalitarian government could lead to humanity’s end. Imagination is not embraced by the government, rather it is destroyed and new, more primitive ideas are implanted (Home 35). Moreover, a totalitarian government teaches people that the government as a whole is superior to any of their personal ideas.
The views of these three critics on the role of the totalitarian government are also backed by the novel. From the beginning of the novel, Winston attempts to find the local of the group that can assist him in fighting the government and eventually guide him in creating universal happiness. Yet, later in the novel Winston learns that the copy of Goldstein’s book given to him by O’Brien in which the real truth of mankind is described was in fact written with O’Brien’s help, and that O’Brien was the one who first understood his rebellious scheme. This distinctly shows that the totalitarian government traps people and they cannot escape now matter how hard they try.
In the novel, the Party is always ten steps ahead regardless of what the people do. With each passing generation, reverting back to individualism becomes all the more difficult, and the totalitarian government ultimate victory becomes evident. A capitalistic society that has been impacted by social ideas until it can no longer be recognized as a free nation is what creates a totalitarian government. A totalitarian government then leads this nation and Oceania in 1984, the country where Winston lives. It is the perfect example of such a nation. Moreover, the novel also backs the view that totalitarian governments have complete control over the society.
At the beginning of 1984, the Two Minutes Hate is described as “a hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledgehammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic” (Orwell 16). The Two Minute Hate is the huge rally that supports Big Brother, and it is used by the Party, the totalitarian government to shape the minds of the people. This makes the totalitarian government unstoppable. Additionally, apart from mind control, the Party forcefully takes away human characteristics out of daily life. The Party destroys all art until no art exists in the society depicted in the novel. Life no longer has its luster and zeal without these things. By destroying culture, the totalitarian government destroys the very thing that makes humans individuals. Without culture, human beings are just like comatose machines. This is why, the theme in 1984 is supported by what Bloom and Frank believe regarding how a totalitarian government can destroy the very characteristics that define human beings and make them individuals.
Therefore, the reason George Orwell’s 1984 is regarded as a classic that one must read at least once during a lifetime is because of the literary element of the novel’s theme. Although, the novel takes place during time that has long passed, the lessons this novel teaches are timeless. As the readers see Oceania through Winston’s eyes, it becomes apparent that when a totalitarian government is created by human beings, it is followed by hell on Earth. Intelligence is distorted and transformed, and individualism no longer exists. No doubt, Orwell’s novel warns us of the ultimate threat that a totalitarian utopia poses to mankind. This is why 1984 is still regarded as a classic even though it was published 63 years ago.
Bloom, Harold. 1984 (Bloom’s Guides). Annotated edition. Broomall: Chelsea House Publications, 2004. Print.
Elkins, Charles L. “George Orwell.” Science Fiction Writers: Critical Studies of the Major Authors from the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present Day. 2nd. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1999. Print.
Franks, Carol. “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” Magill’s Survey of World Literature. Revised. Salem Pr Inc, 2009. Print.
Horne, Irving. “1984 On Totalitarian Government’s Effect.” 1984 (Bloom’s Guides). Annotated edition. Broomall: Chelsea House Publications, 2004. Print.
Kazin, Alfred. “‘Not One of Us’.” nybooks.com. The New York Review of Books, 18 1984. Web. 4 Dec 2012.