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A Critical Appreciation of the First Pages of 1984

Updated August 1, 2022
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A Critical Appreciation of the First Pages of 1984 essay

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The novel “1984” famously begins with the phrase “it was bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen”, the word order of “bright cold” is strange as “bright” is usually associated with light and warmth and so by writing these two words in this order without the use of a comma in between means that bright is being used to describe the cold and so it sounds incredibly harsh and intense. The clocks are said to be striking thirteen, despite not seeming too unusual ‘nowadays because twenty-four hour clocks are not too uncommon, this is an unheimlich as at the time of writing in 1948 this would have been very odd and the only comparable use of the 24 hour clock would be in military time and so this creates a sense of a militaristic society, the fact that it is striking thirteen seems very ominous and is perhaps foreshadowing the misfortune the protagonist of the novel will encounter later on as the number thirteen is renowned for being an unlucky number in superstition. The name of this protagonist is “Winston Smith”, this is significant as the second world war had only ended 4 years before the novel was published and so the general public reading the novel would be reminded of the hero that was Winston Churchill as the protagonist shares the same first name, however his surname, being Smith, conveys the idea that Winston is very much the average man in this society as smith is so common and generic a surname, this allows the reader to further infer how awful life is for every normal man like Winston as if he is suffering so is everyone else other than the ruling elite.

Winston lives in an apartment block called “Victory mansions” which is incredibly ironic as it is later described to smell of “boiled cabbage and old rag mats”, a place in which “the electric current was cut off during daylight hours”. This shows that the naming of this building is a form of propaganda by the government or the state as this place would not tend to be described as a mansion and hardly seems to radiate a sense of victory, instead it gives a sense of loss and destruction, the boiled cabbage and “gritty dust” sounds similar to London in the blitz and the idea that after World War One and World War Two Britain would be at war once again in 1984 would have been a terrifying prospect for the readers of the time. The fact the electric current is always deliberately shut off hints at the poor quality of life the general public have and the control the state seem to have over the public.

The novel “1984” famously begins with the phrase “it was bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen”, the word order of “bright cold” is strange as “bright” is usually associated with light and warmth and so by writing these two words in this order without the use of a comma in between means that bright is being used to describe the cold and so it sounds incredibly harsh and intense. The clocks are said to be striking thirteen, despite not seeming too unusual ‘nowadays because twenty-four hour clocks are not too uncommon, this is an unheimlich as at the time of writing in 1948 this would have been very odd and the only comparable use of the 24 hour clock would be in military time and so this creates a sense of a militaristic society, the fact that it is striking thirteen seems very ominous and is perhaps foreshadowing the misfortune the protagonist of the novel will encounter later on as the number thirteen is renowned for being an unlucky number in superstition. The name of this protagonist is “Winston Smith”, this is significant as the second world war had only ended 4 years before the novel was published and so the general public reading the novel would be reminded of the hero that was Winston Churchill as the protagonist shares the same first name, however his surname, being Smith, conveys the idea that Winston is very much the average man in this society as smith is so common and generic a surname, this allows the reader to further infer how awful life is for every normal man like Winston as if he is suffering so is everyone else other than the ruling elite.

Winston lives in an apartment block called “Victory mansions” which is incredibly ironic as it is later described to smell of “boiled cabbage and old rag mats”, a place in which “the electric current was cut off during daylight hours”. This shows that the naming of this building is a form of propaganda by the government or the state as this place would not tend to be described as a mansion and hardly seems to radiate a sense of victory, instead it gives a sense of loss and destruction, the boiled cabbage and “gritty dust” sounds similar to London in the blitz and the idea that after World War One and World War Two Britain would be at war once again in 1984 would have been a terrifying prospect for the readers of the time. The fact the electric current is always deliberately shut off hints at the poor quality of life the general public have and the control the state seem to have over the public.

In Victory Mansions, and seemingly everywhere else in London, propaganda posters are plastered on the walls “too large for indoor display”, a forced addition to the buildings by the state, the reader assumes their regime is forced also, clearly these posters cannot be taken down without punishment being incurred. On these posters is the caption “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU”, ‘BIG BROTHER’ being a symbol or personification of the state implies the state loves you and is loyal to you and so you should be the same, this is clear propaganda and lies as the reader has been able to witness to what extent the state cares for and loves their citizens through Winston’s eyes and knows the quality of life he has in “Victory Mansions”. The public should be obedient and loving because BIG BROTHER is watching their every move, this could be seen as a message saying the state is looking out for and caring for its people however seems rather to imply that the public should not dare to set a foot out of line because the state will know and they will be punished, a big brother tending, of course, to use his physical dominance over younger siblings to get them to do as he wishes. Accompanying this message is “an enormous face, – the face of a man about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features”, this creates a stark contrast to Winston who is described to be “thirty-nine and had a varicose ulcer above his right angle”. ‘BIG BROTHER’ is older than Winston however seems far healthier, a strong epitome of masculinity, Winston however has a varicose ulcer which has connotations of old age and disease despite his younger age and is described to have a “smallish, frail figure”. This stark comparison clearly illustrates how much more powerful the state is compared to the individual and as Winston is assumed to be very ordinary and average in this society, an “every-man’ (despite seeming to be malnourished an over worked), the reader assumes this is the case for everyone. No individual or group of individuals has any chance of overthrowing or even challenging “the party” as they are called, this name itself implies that as there is no need for any term before the word party, such as ‘Conservative’ or ‘Labour’, as there is no opposition to distinguish itself from.

Winston enters his home and is still bombarded with propaganda from the “telescreen” which can “be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely”, this is a parody of the television which was a relatively uncommon item in British households at the time but was just starting to take off. This shows that even in his own home Winston cannot escape the state propaganda “reading out a list of figures – to do with the production of pig-iron.” This shows that this society is a very industrial one, similar to what was attempted in the 1920’s by Lenin in the Soviet Union. In fact Winston himself seems to be an industrial worker at first as he wears “blue overalls” making “the meagreness of his body merely emphasized” however we later find out he works in an office in the Ministry of Truth and these overalls are simply “the uniform of the party” which he must always wear, this seems to imply an inherent lack of individuality and freedom of expression in this society as is common in most dystopian fiction. Another common theme in dystopian fiction is a poor quality of life and a lack of resources or any luxuries, this is shown as Winston has to use “coarse soap and blunt razor blades” which would remind the readers at the time of the rationing that took place during and after World War Two, this would have made 1984 eve more worrying as the readers would feel a sense of familiarity with the situation and would be able to begin to imagine what living in this society could be like.

Living in this society is clearly shown to be an awful thing in comparison even to wartime Britain, it’s so bad that it is said the sky is a “harsh blue” yet “there seemed to be no colour in anything”, this is rather oxymoronic and the reader assumes this is free indirect discourse and that we are hearing Winston’s opinion through a third person limited perspective narration, the fact there seems to be no colour in anything could just be due to the likelihood that Winston is depressed which is be very understandable if it is the case as he has an awful quality of life from what we have been told so far. Another possibility of the cause of the apparent lack of colour is that it is deliberate and the Party has done it in order to focus all the public’s attention on the only things that do seem to have colour: “the posters that were plastered everywhere”, the party wants the attention to be on their propaganda and nothing else. They want to remind their citizens that they are being watched by ‘BIG BROTHER’ and so they must stay in line in order to avoid the state police which often patrol London in a helicopter, hovering like a “bluebottle”. Since a fly hovers over rubbish heaps, bins, dead carcasses and the like the fact that the helicopter is described to be one as it hovers seems to imply that this world is similar to just that, a decrepit and rotting wasteland of death and waste.

 

A Critical Appreciation of the First Pages of 1984 essay

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A Critical Appreciation of the First Pages of 1984. (2022, Aug 01). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/a-critical-appreciation-of-the-first-pages-of-1984/

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