George Orwell’s 1949 satire Nineteen-Eighty-Four, ignites new ideas about human behaviours prompted by totalitarian government’s degradation of individual and collective experiences and thus invites the reader to see the world differently. Orwell explores how oppressive authorities suppress societal expression and freedom to maintain power. He then reveals how this suppression brutalises human behaviour and motivations because it undermines emotion and complex thought. Ultimately, Orwell argues that we must resist the political apathy that enable such regimes to maintain power and crush human autonomy. Therefore, his representation of individual and collective experiences ignites ideas about the drive behind human behaviours and urges the audience to undertake greater political vigilance in order to preserve autonomy.
Orwell ignites new ideas about human behaviours by representing how totalitarian authorities seek to suppress expression and freedom in order to assert control. His bleak vision was informed by Stalinist Russia: a regime built upon the fabrication of history in Stalin’s ‘cult of personality’, fiercely enforced by the NKVD. The symbolism of colourlessness and propaganda-poster motif in Winston’s description of London reflects the loss of human expression and freedom under such leadership: “there seemed to be no colour in anything, except the posters that were plastered everywhere.” Orwell uses the telescreens, dramatically capitalised “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” posters and direct allusions to Stalin in “a man of about forty-five with a heavy black mustache” to metonymize how governmental surveillance dominates both physical and expressive collective experiences. He continues to warn against the suppressive nature of totalitarian control upon individual autonomy in “few centimetres inside the skull… penetrated by the hypnotic eyes of Big Brother” as the satirising of 1940s secret police accentuates the complete invasion of personal liberty within the dystopic setting. The omnipotence of the Party are fortified in “no physical act, no word spoken, no thought that they had not been able to infer” as the asyndeton and anaphora of “no” emphasises their capability to suppress natural collective human experiences of privacy. In the ironically named “Ministry of Truth”, Winston’s metatextual construction of the fictitious “Comrade Ogilvy” confronts us with a routinised “act of forgery” that undermine human history and culture. The juxtaposition of Ogilvy to historical figures in “would exist just as authentically, and upon the same evidence, as Charlemagne or Julius Caesar” symbolises the vast and worthless masses of information produced by totalitarian governments to desensitise individuals to corrupted human behaviours and subdue them by invalidating their access to expression and information. Thus, Orwell invites the reader to see the world differently by presenting a dystopia in which intricate human behaviours and experiences are limited under totalitarian governance.
George Orwell then argues that the effect of this suppression is a loss of important human qualities, which in turn brutalises society and devalues individual experiences. Orwell’s exposure to events in Nazi Germany such as the Nuremberg Rally, which were used to incite widespread hysteria, informs his representation of dehumanised and insensitive masses. The burlesque “Two Minute Hate” reveals inconsistencies in human behaviour by representing how even introspective and intelligent characters such as Winston can be stripped of their compassion and freedom of thought by the experience of collective hysteria. This can be seen in the brutal imagery used in his wishes to “flog [Julia] to death with a rubber truncheon… ravish her and cut her throat at the moment of climax”, and his moral restoration being only possible by compliance to the Christ-like totalitarian authority in “My Saviour!” or, Big Brother. Orwell frequently juxtaposes dehumanising representation of the proles, “the proles are not human beings” to political sloganism: “As the Party slogan put it: ‘Proles and animals are free’”, to argue that in such an emotionally-suppressed society, the upper class grow insensitive and lose empathy towards social justice. He asserts that this loss of empathy degrades the authenticity of relationships, characterised by Winston’s paradoxical behaviour towards his wife: “[Katherine] had without exception the most stupid, vulgar, empty mind”, the adverse diction emphasising his repulsion and the Party’s removal of meaningful human relationships. Additionally, Orwell symbolises how totalitarianism ultimately brutalises individuals, forcibly inspiring them to commit acts that are inconsistent with their desires. This crucial idea is supported by Winston’s betrayal of Julia in “Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones” which exemplifies the Party’s brutality and successful deletion of any meaningful individual experiences through visceral imagery and exclamation. Therefore, Orwell raises awareness towards dangerous behaviours driven by the brutalisation of society and forced deletion of human intimacy by totalitarian governments and effectively invites the reader to see the world differently.
End-in-end, Orwell communicates that in order to rebel against totalitarianism, we must first resist the political apathy which allow such regimes to continue asserting dominance and undermine human experiences. Orwell’s service in the 1930s Spanish Civil War as part of the Republican militia fighting against fascist-supported rebels, positions him to satirise the political apathy of his audience. He alludes to this through the metaphor of Winston’s diarising as a resistive human behaviour in “a lonely ghost uttering a truth that nobody would ever hear”, which conveys that through rebellion, one is able to persist in autonomous thought even in a suppressive society. The Julia romance trope represents how Winston’s gradual rejection of his political apathy empowered him to experience an authentic human relationship which subverts his totalitarian society in “the gesture with which she had thrown her clothes aside… seemed to annihilate a whole culture, a whole system of thought.” Winston’s metaphorical and hyperbolic comparison underlines the significant effect of rebellion in any magnitude on one’s autonomy and overall human experience, thus showing the necessity for resisting against political apathy. The cognizant nature of Winston is further established in his attempt to join “The Brotherhood”, a symbol of rebellion within Airstrip One in “We want to join it and work for it. We are enemies of the Party. We disbelieve in the principles of Ingsoc”. As the anaphora in “we” evokes a sense of urgency in Winston’s powerful innate desire for individual freedom, he becomes an embodiment of rebellion against oppression in a totalitarian society. However, Orwell ultimately assert that Winston’s change in behaviour was too late and concludes the text with his symbolic death and acceptance of the regime in “He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother”. Both the paradoxical statement and futility of the ending highlight the important message that in order to preserve autonomy the individual must actively undertake political vigilance. Therefore, in his representation of complex human behaviours and their drives, Orwell ignites new ideas and invites the reader to look at the world through a different scope.
Therefore, Orwell’s representation of human experiences in Nineteen-Eighty-Four encourages the audience to reflect personally in our behaviour and re-evaluate the world. His depiction of a totalitarian government’s unchecked assertion of power on human expression and freedom, and the brutalising impact this has on individual and collective experiences ultimately urges the reader to reject political apathy. Thus, the role of storytelling for Orwell is to not only ignite new ideas on the causes of certain human behaviours but to advocate resistance against oppressive governments.