Nineteen-Eighty-Four by Cormac Larkin: Dilworth Non-Fiction Runner-up May23


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Nineteen-Eighty-Four by Cormac Larkin: Dilworth Non-Fiction Runner-up

Orwell’s attention to detail
The attention to detail in this novel is nothing short of astonishing. In this novel, Orwell “invents” a whole new type of society, a society held together not by love, but by hate. Not only that, but he also invents a new language, “Newspeak”, which has given us new words such as the concept of “Doublethink”, which will be discussed later, and “Big Brother”, which has even spawned a reality TV show. Finally, he also has a second sub-book in the novel, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, the book given to Winston by “The Brotherhood” that was supposedly written by Emmanuel Goldstein. This shows how Orwell portrays Oceania in a very elaborate way.

The depth and realism in the novel
The depth and realism in this novel is another reason why I thoroughly enjoyed it. Orwell manages to depict Oceania and in particular Oceanic society in a particularly vivid manner. He tells us that, during the Two Minutes Hate, people would shout, scream and even throw projectiles at the telescreen that was showing the programme. He also goes to great pains to explain the significance of a look he received from an inner party member called O’Brien, who we will examine later. Also, the level of realism is extreme. When Winston goes into a pub to question an elderly prole he observes an old man asking for a pint only to be told that the only measurements used were the metric litre and half litre. It is nuggets like this that make good books great books, and is one of the reasons it is my personal favourite.

The complex character of O’Brien
In this novel, one of the most fascinating aspects is the way Orwell shrouds an explicit portrayal of a totalitarian world in an enigmatic aura. The only glimpses into inner party life are what Winston himself sees, leaving a lot of things unexplained, such as the party’s origins, leaders and motives. This sense of mystery is personified in O’Brien, a powerful inner party member.  O’Brien is the agent provocateur for Winston, deceiving him into committing thoughtcrime, which is holding unspoken beliefs or doubts that oppose Big Brother, and who inducts him and Julia into the Brotherhood, a revolutionary secret society. He later appears, however, as Winston’s torturer and re-educator in the Ministry of Love. He admits to Winston that he pretended to be a member of the Brotherhood in order to trick him into committing an act of open disloyalty to the party.
This revelation raises more questions than answers. In most books, characters develop as the book goes on. However in this book, O’Brien seems to un-develop, leaving the reader knowing less about him than in the beginning of the book. He says to Winston that “They got me a long time ago” when he questions him as to whether he had been captured by the party as well. This could have two meanings; either he was once a rebel, but was tortured and made to accept the party once again, or that he is only attempting to gain Winston’s trust. Along with the similar question as to whether the Brotherhood is real, or just a way of channelling public hate, the novel doesn’t answer these questions. What it does is leave them unanswered, and leaves O’Brien as a shadowy enigma on the fringes of the even more obscure inner party.

Orwell’s attempt to challenge accepted ideas and perceptions
In 1984, Orwell gives us three sayings, “War is Peace”, “Ignorance is Strength” and “Freedom is Slavery”. At a first glance, these seem ludicrous as they are antonyms of each other.  However, in the sub-book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, Orwell explains one of them, “War is Peace”. He says that since the three super-states of Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia are at perpetual war and that the war gives political stability as it uses up excess resources and distracts the public, while winning the war would give no advantage, that the inner meaning of “War is Peace” is shown.  In the beginning of the novel, Orwell also paints a very negative picture of “The dark-haired girl” who later turns out to be Julia. He portrays her as a model party member, a mindless drone that always made herself heard at the two minutes hate and who proudly wore the sash of the Junior Anti-Sex League. One night, as Winston strolls through the “Prole” districts of London, which would arouse suspicion if he was caught, he sees her in pursuit of him, and even considers smashing her head in with a glass paperweight and raping her in case she reports him to the thought police. All of this builds up to the moment when she falls, and Winston wonders whether to help her. He decides to assist her, and in doing so receives a note from her declaring her love for him, which turns our perception of Julia on its head. Finally, when Winston asks O’Brien whether Big Brother exists or not, he replies by saying “Of course he exists. The party exists. Big Brother is the embodiment of the party”. Winston then says “Does he exist in the same way I exist?”. O’Brien responded to this by saying “You do not exist”. This raises the question of what the meaning of “reality” might actually be.  Orwell shows that all may not be as it seems, and this sense of constant mystery is one reason that I liked 1984.

The relationship between Winston and Julia
The relationship between Winston and Julia is a complex one, which ranged from when Winston was considering killing her, to when they are finally caught in the room over Mr. Charrington’s shop. We are first introduced to Julia as the “Dark-haired girl” who he deeply hated as she had the “atmosphere of hockey-fields and cold baths and community hikes and general clean mindedness which she managed carry about her”. Winston also says that “He disliked nearly all women, and especially the young and pretty ones…who were the most bigoted adherents of the party”. He sees her as dangerous, and hallucinated about killing her during the two minutes hate. He then realises that he hates her as she personifies what he couldn’t have; she was youthful, healthy and pretty. Over time we see their affair develop, as they see each other secretly in many different places, always taking different routes to avoid discovery.  Although they both despise the party, there is a clear contrast in their reasoning. Winston, being the more pensive one, wonders how the party can control thought and the past, and lives in hope that future generations can enjoy a life free from Big Brother. Julia on the other hand, sees the party as an obstacle rather than something to be beaten. She also doesn’t seem concerned with the extent of control exerted by Big Brother, but rather believes that the only way to rebel is with acts of secret civil disobedience. In Winston’s words, she is a rebel “from the waist down”.  The contrast and difference in their motives is something I found interesting when I read this book.

The theme of language manipulation as a form of mind control
The next reason why 1984 is my favourite book is that it explores the use of language in thought, and the idea that rebellious thoughts could not exist if the words to express it weren’t there, as evidenced by the quote “The revolution will be complete when the language is perfect”. The ultimate aim of Newspeak was to ensure that in the future no one would be able to formulate any thought that could question the party, as there would be no words with which to think them with. This clever exploration of the way thought and language are intrinsically linked is something that made me think deeply when I read this book.

The motif of Doublethink
In this novel, the concept of “Doublethink” is a vital art of the party’s attempt to control the minds of its people. In short, Doublethink is when one can hold two contradictory ideas in one’s mind simultaneously. As an individual’s ability to think for themselves is eroded by the party’s propaganda, they become able to believe anything that the party tells them. A very good example of this is during the Hate Week rally, when Oceania changes sides in its perpetual war and its former ally is now the hated enemy, and vice versa. The party orator changes who the enemy is mid-sentence, and his word is accepted without so much as a murmur. The crowd is also embarrassed that the wrong name is on all the posters, and the Brotherhood get the blame.         The same goes for the names of all four ministries, whose names are another example of Doublethink as their names contradict their functions. The Ministry of Plenty oversees starvation and shortages, the Ministry of Peace is concerned with warfare, the Ministry of Truth is responsible for altering the past and for propaganda, and the Ministry of Love tortures and punishes dissenters. The effective use of this motive, which is now in common use, is my final reason for liking this novel.