POST SCRIPTS FROM THE TWO WORLD WARS, continued
1984: George Orwell, 1948
Orwell sets his story in war torn London, where 30 to 40 bombs rain down on the city per week. Having just emerged from WWII, Londoners would have intimately related to the deprivation and destruction portrayed in 1984. The country, called Oceania, is at war with East Asia. It has always been at war with East Asia, while Eurasia has always been its ally. These are the only known nations in the world of 1984.
The main character is Winston Smith, an “Outer Party” member of the Political Party called Ingsoc. (Orwell’s “New Speak” term for English Socialism). He works for the “Ministry of Truth”, a propaganda bureaucracy in which employees like Winston Smith are ordered by the “Inner Party” to change the facts of the past to reflect the present. As the book begins, Smith is in the process of changing the past to reflect the point that Oceania is now at war with Eurasia and has always been at war with Eurasia, while East Asia has always been its ally.
Perpetual war is the only mechanism that maintains a World Economy, meager though it is (illustrated by two world wars that were fought within 30 years of each other). Only the Inner Party at the top enjoys the luxuries of their station. And only the Proletariat, at the bottom, are totally free.
This is a nation ruled by posters of “Big Brother” with the Party slogan “Big Brother is Watching You”. It is a place where one’s entire daily routine and life are controlled by the Party; and the people are watched by two-way huge “Telescreens” located in every room of every tenement, broadcasting Party Propaganda constantly. There are also “The Thought Police”, every day citizens who snitch to the party about others. And then there is Room 101, for those who are found guilty of breaking the Law. It is a chamber designed to modify one’s behavior to that of the Collective through the means of psychological trauma and physical torture. It is “The Worst Thing in the World” because the methods used reflect that which terrifies each individual the most from their own psychological profile.
The irony is that Winston remembers a better time, before Ingsoc and so does not buy into the Party, even though he contributes to the collective amnesia that plagued Oceania, maintained the order and secured his own powerlessness. Then there is the insipid National Language called “Newspeak” which is in the process of being designed to limit the vocabulary to 100,000 functional words in order to eradicate critical thinking as a form of mind control . Something described as “loquacious and elegant” becomes “double-plus-good” in the Newspeak lexicon.
In the end, Winston has been caught making love to a woman that forbids it through the Party’s “Anti Sex League” and is sentenced to Room 101. (All of this is occurring during the popularity of B.F. Skinners Post World War II “Behaviorism” psychology). He is transcended to a point where he now loves Ingsoc, though at some point in the future, when he least expects it, he knows that he will be executed as punishment for breaking such an egregious law.
This is Orwell’s warning to the Post War Era of the huge Socialistic Bureaucracy that came about in England afterwards and to the advent of Television: That those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it in the future. BIG BROTHER is only a poster. But the frightening thing about it is that it cannot be assassinated like a dictator. However, Winston Smith knows the truth. He saw it in the run down tenements of the poverty stricken Proletariat. The Inner Party does not care about them. They are free from its rule. HOPE lies only with the proletariat.
The Resident Scholar - Doug Taylor