Without the illustration of struggle that instigates a longing for hope and fear in readers, we may never heed the warnings against the destructible prospect of mankind. George Orwell’s skillfully crafted dystopian novel, 1984 explores the ill-fated narrative of Winston Smith’s intrinsic human quality to desire freedom with the impenetrable peril of his existence in a world strictly governed under a totalitarian regime. Orwell highlights how power can subvert human autonomy by presenting a novum of the loss of self-agency, morality, and emotional capacity as collective experiences. As such, the individual human qualities of fear, freedom of thought, and love are subjugated. Thus as readers are cognitively estranged from the manufactured reality of Oceania, audiences are continually compelled to understanding the malleability of our human psyche.
In 1984, Orwell reveals the struggle for self-agency, when fear pervades one’s entire surroundings. In the opening scene, “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” is cumulatively listed “on stamps, coins, the cover of books and banners” to foreground the omnipresence of an assertive and invasive central power in the story world. However, O’Brien later reveals that “Big Brother is the embodiment of the Party”, implying that even though Big Brother is simply an ideology and an intangible human, it is still potent in instigating fear within the citizens of Airstrip One. Not only is propaganda of Big Brother untruthful and proliferated to discourage rebellion as a form of self-agency, but pervasive surveillance also provokes constant fear within the political landscape. At the beginning of Book 1, Winston’s view of Junior Spies, namely the Parson children as “slightly frightening, like the gamboling of tiger cubs which will soon grow up into man-eaters” uses animalistic imagery to pronounce the converted and indoctrinated children. Here, the juxtaposition between the innocence of “gamboling” “cubs” and “man-eaters”, highlights that even the considerably purest age group – children, can be dehumanized and feared. Ultimately Winston concludes that it is ‘almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children, the irony and absurdity of the statement reflective of the normalized notion of fear even in the essential familial relationships. Most tellingly, near the end of Book 3, Winston comes to a realization that “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself,” the paradox of “secrets” pronouncing the loss of intimate autonomy in the face of constant scrutiny. Thus Orwell utilizes the setting to vocalize how external monitoring can instill fear in citizens, diminishing our assertion of self-agency.
Another subjugated human quality is morality. Morality (the distinction between right and wrong) is a powerful human quality that permits personal autonomy, as courage and motivations stem from our values, which in turn, are perceptions of what is true and what is false. However, Orwell reminds audiences that it can be insidiously detained through the Party’s manipulation of language which seeks to redefine the boundaries of thought – conditioned to doublethink and void of rebellious ideologies. Unlike the language of English that has the capacity of diverse expression via its extensive and continual growth of vocabulary, Newspeak is meticulously refined to make the ideologies of Ingsoc the single expressible doctrine. Orwell employs neologisms as part of the Newspeak language to explore the many anomalies that are distinct to the dystopian society of 1984, with one being “doublethink”. It is defined as “the power to hold two completely contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” Here the juxtaposition of “contradiction” and “acceptance” to pronounce a singular behavior is a means of a cognitive conditioning that forces citizens to accept an illogical decreed. This struggle to escape the manufactured reality in Oceania is also evident in Winston’s job at the Ministry of Truth where ironically, “a chosen lie would pass into permanent records and become truth.” Again Orwell’s contradictory use of “lie” and “truth” as interchangeable terms is synonymous with the Party’s to blur the distinction between truth and falsehood. Furthermore, in a scene within the Ministry of Truth, Syme, who works on the dictionary of Newspeak to be released in 2050, rhetorically poses to Winston, “Don’t you see the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?” Here, Orwell reiterates the dependence between self-expression and language. Thus Orwell reminds readers of the power of language and ultimately how it can insidiously corrupt our morality when under oppressive control.
Ultimately Orwell reveals the futility of a lone rebel under totalitarian authority, conveyed through the loss of intrinsic human emotion and love. Through the narrative of Winston and Julia, Orwell conveys that few private loyalties can overcome the totalitarian surveillance where “privacy, love and friendships…belonged to the ancient time.’ Orwell initially emphasizes the power of love at the beginning of Book 2 when Winston recalls the note that Julia secretly passes to him in the corridor, where “at the sight of the words I LOVE YOU, the desire to stay alive welled up in him,” the metaphor revealing the faculty of love. Furthered in the scene of the Golden Country, a contrast in setting from the decaying urban environment of Airstrip One to the natural setting of the Golden Country foregrounds a lush and flourishing relationship. This is encapsulated by a shift in tone, driven by the use of sensory imagery and lyrical metaphors; “pools of gold”, “blissful reverie”, coupled with personification; “the air seemed to kiss one’s skin”. However, Winston’s indoctrination prevents him from fully appreciating his dreamlike surroundings, consumed by the fear of the Party’s surveillance by “some small beetle-like man”, with the animal simile illustrating his deeply instilled fear and paranoia. Most alarmingly, Winston is drawn to militarise his act of love into one of violence for the political meaning as a “blow against the Party”. Here Orwell’s violent diction with the use of “rot”, “corrupt”, “smash” and “bleed” permeates the tender moment. Finally, the metaphor, “Their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory”, equates love with warfare, conveying how wholly the political regime has consumed his conscience about his motivations. Thus, Orwell raises the potential of love, though the ultimate militarised notion of love, conveys the loss of emotional capacity against oppressive regimes.
In conclusion, as Orwell states, “until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled, they cannot become conscious,” symbolic of the potentiality, fragility, though ultimate futility of Winston Smith. Readers are not only continually estranged by the redefinition of humanity in 1984 but are compelled to understanding the enemy that lies more potent than Big Brother – our own malleable psyches. Thus, George Orwell warns readers of the fragility of the individual human experience as we can easily become the unthinking, unfree masses, especially under the meticulous conditioning of oppressive totalitarian regimes.