First published in 1949, “1984” is a dystopian novel by an English novelist and critic George Orwell. The book features totalitarianism as the major theme being driven by the eight characters led by Winston Smith who is the main protagonist. Alongside totalitarianism, the book also highlights other ideas such as technology, physical control, information censure, among others which have been broadly discussed in the novel (Sandison, 1986). This controversial book has faced several bans due to its position on how the human society should be governed but has remained a major inspiration to the modern democratic society despite this opposition. Therefore, this analysis, seeks to broadly assess the book’s major characters, summarize its plot, establish its science fiction category as well as identify its view on human condition.
The main protagonist in this book is Winston Smith. The thirty-nine-year-old is a svelte, thoughtful, intellectual revolutionary who abhors the totalitarian regime in his country. He is a minor member of the country’s ruling party and works at the Ministry of Truth. Through Winston, Orwell drives the reader to visualize the outlandish world he envisions. In his proclivity to resist any oppressive tendencies by the Big Brother, the Thought Police and the ruling Party, his refusal to be demeaned as well as his ability to reason out his resistance to the country’s harsh rule, the reader finds it easy to visualize the kind of society Orwell was envisioning and relate it to the contemporary world.
Despite his lover’s indifference and selfishness, Winston remains curious and meditative figuring our why the Party, in which he is a member, is governing Oceania with the iron rod. He also advances other ideas such as importance of knowledge of history, police brutality as well as psychological intimidation in the novel (Sandison, 1986).
Alongside his recalcitrant tendency, Winston is also fatalistic. He harbours somewhat kind of justified paranoia about the ruling Party coupled with his obsession with a premonition about his relationship with the Party. This obsession with fear leads him to believe that soon the Thought Police will arrest and torture him for his revolutionary and rebellious activities such as the having an illegitimate intimate relationship with Julia, his writing of the “Down With Big Brother” in the diary and enlisting in an anti-Party Brotherhood (Orwell, 1983). He goes to the extent of trusting O’Brien as an escape route to avoid being arrested by the Thought Police despite his conviction that regardless of his escape efforts, he will soon get arrested and be punished.
In summary, therefore, through Winston, the reader sees a young optimistic individual who harbours revolutionary ideas but is supressed by his continuous fear of the oppressive regime leading to his own downfall.
Julia is the second-most important character in the novel. The beautiful lady is Winston’s lover and like Winston, she works at the Ministry of Truth but under the Department of Fiction. She is seen as a nymphomaniac due to her claims that she has had relationship with most Party members. Similar to Winston, she is rebellious against the Party but lacks ideological and revolutionary will to act. In most of her rebellions, she is seen as being selfish since she only does so when she wants to benefit in some manner. Unlike his lover Winston, she is a pragmatic who is interested in enjoying herself. For instance, when Winston expresses his interest to enlist in the Brotherhood, she gets reluctant and only wants to enjoy sex (Orwell, 1983). As a result, Winston does not view her as a long-time lover. While she is also rebellious, Julia only evinces this in her plots to avoid being caught by the Party. Eventually, she gets arrested alongside Winston during one of their escapades. Aside from their rebellious attitude toward the Party and their obsession with sex, Julia and Winston broadly differ in their characters and perspective of the world.
1984” is a futuristic exposition of George Orwell’s view of the near future which still relates to the experiences of today as a result of its untroubled revelation of how technology and media manipulation are used as tools to advance totalitarianism and control the masses.
Winston Smith, a low-ranking member of the Party and the novel’s protagonist, lives in London, the chief city of the Airstrip Province One, in Oceania. The country is under the control of very powerful elite group who are keen to use every method to silence the people and assert themselves (Sandison, 1986). The government, led by Big Brother, has installed telescreens and listening devices to monitor people’s movements and gather information about citizens’ activities throughout Oceania. The government, therefore, reserves the ability to identify possible rebels and monitor their movements as well as activities. Moreover, the government has a new language, known as Newspeak, which it forces on people. The language has the power to remove any rebellious terms as a way to stifle opposition. Even worse, is that thinking rebellious is also a crime known as Thoughtcrime. There is also a secret police force known as Thought Police mandated with identifying thoughtcrimes and reporting them to the relevant agencies.
Winston, being a rebel, is monitored everywhere he goes. He works at the Ministry of Truth, where he is mandated to alter records to establish the government’s information as the truth. Though he is a government employee, he is not reluctant to express his discomfort with how the government is run. He does not buy some of the government propaganda that he is tasked to work on. For instance, when the government makes a claim that it is in war with Eurasia, Winston’s memory only reminds of him of the Eastasian war (Sandison, 1986). Espousing evolutionary ideas, Winston begins to engage in some rebellious activities such as writing “Down With Big Brother” in his diary. However, he gets curious and convinces himself that he will get hounded by the Thought Police.
While at work, he meets Julia and share with her his rebellious thoughts. Fortunately for him, Julia too, is a rebel, though a silent one. As a result, the two get into a relationship, which is illegal since Julia is a confirmed member of the Junior Anti-Sex League (Orwell, 1983). Both proceed with their relationship, sharing their rebellious ideas. They are later befriended by O’Brien whom they both believe is a rebel too. When he invites them to his house, it turns out to the amazement of the duo that their new friend is an undercover Thought Police. They get arrested.
The novel ends with Winston betraying Julia by asking O’Brien to torture her on his behalf. Impressed with the betrayal, O’Brien releases Winston who recommits to Big Brother and loses his ties with Julia.
“1984” as a Dystopian Science Fiction
Due to its futuristic exposition of a totalitarian society, this novel quintessentially fits as a dystopian science fiction. For instance, throughout the novel, there is pervasive heightened surveillance by the Oceania’s government. The novel features telescreens and listening devices used by the Thought Police to arrest those committing “Thoughtcrimes.” For instance, he admits that “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought…don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it” (Orwell, 1983).
Moreover, dystopia is seen in the use of propaganda by the state to promote its version of lies and establish them as the guiding facts. For instance, he says “there was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.” The fact that technology is also used to oppress the people rather than help them is a dystopian element that is broadly covered in the novel. As a result, therefore, “1984” can be said to be a work of dystopian science fiction as it reflects some of the happenings today and in the past.