Recently I finished reading 1984 and it is definitely worth to be read, though its not particularly entertaining to read, but it is a book to dwell on. This article will do so to a certain extent. Since it is an interpretation spoilers will be part of it.
The world of 1984 is a world of totalitarianism. Being written from 1946 till 1948 after the downfall of Nazism and during the period of Stalinism it seems to reflect the skeleton of such societies and projects it into the future. Fortunately at least in Western Europe we are spared from such a curtailing society, but the differences are more in scale than in means, which makes the world of 1984 still understandable. When taking the course of history into consideration I find it impressive that some people were able to estimate certain events so well and I am concerned about the technological possibilities that such state would have in our day and age. But to me the most interesting part of the book is not the society, but the individual, the question where a collective has to begin and where it has to end in order to leave enough space for a human being to exist.
The individual is represented by Winston, who seems to be the last person with a sense for ethics and humanity. But Winston is also shaped by the world of 1984 and was therefore never able to develop and maintain a self-aware and independent personality. When reading the book one wonders what separates Winston from other people in the world of 1984. Why are most of the people unable to feel like Winston the unjustness of their society? Why does Winston seem to be the only person with a memory? Aswers to these questions and understanding of Winstons character might be contained in the verses
“Oranges and lemons”, say the bells of St Clement´s,
“You owe me three farthings”, say the bells of St Martin´s,
“When will you pay me?”, say the bells of Old Bailey,
“When I grow rich”, say the bells of Shoreditch.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!
which Winston collects during key events of the story. They belong to the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons. It dates back to the 18. century and by providing a link to another real society it links the futuristic world of 1984 to the past. The mentioned names refer to certain buldings in London. St Clement´s could possibly refer to St. Clement Danes where starting in 1919 oranges and lemons were distributed to poor children in need. St Martin-in-the-Fields could refer to the parish church of the royal family and can also be connected historically to the Admirality. Old Bailey is the Central Criminal Court. Shoreditch is a church in the Londoner East End, which was famous for its slums and poverty. The last two verses could refer to the execution of criminals. In the Londoner society of the 18. century theft could be punished by execution. This was considered necessary in order to stop theft from going out of hands in contemplation of huge poverty.
The main elements are need, dept and guilt followed by a harsh punishment, which does not take circumstances into consideration. Winston is haunted during the story by dreams of his childhood. At the beginning of the story he has one a vague understanding of them (page 31) . He is unable to remember details of his past. My guess is, that his experiences of family and love allow him to maintain a personality outside of Big Brothers reach. But due to hunger and misery he betrayed his family, sullying what he held dear most and becoming impure in the process. On page 132 Winston says:
‘I hate purity, I hate goodness! I don´t want any virtue to exist, anywhere. I want everyone to be corrupt to the bones.’
The symbol of this betrayal and of Winstons guilt is the rat and his fear of rats comes from the pain of stripping away what he held and still holds dear most:
“To the confusion of the Thought Police? To the death of Big Brother? To humanity? To the future?”
“To the past”, said Winston.
On page 151 it is revealed, that rats attack children wherefore woman do not dare to leave a baby alone for two minutes. Winston is quite aware of it as it is his worst nightmare and somehow I think that this happend to his little sister after she and his mother had disappeared. Winston hates the big brother that he was in the same way as he hates the Big Brother of 1984 and he cannot forgive himself. When interrogated by O´Brien about his loyalty to the Brotherhood he gives the following answers:
“To commit acts of sabotage which may cause the death of hundreds of innocent people?”
“You are prepared to commit suicide, if and when we order you to do so?”
Due to this I consider misery, need and guilt key experiences being not the foundation but the limitation of Winstons character by stopping him from becoming self-aware. They are the reason, why he writes his diary and why he wants O´Brien to read it. He wants to be understood and to be forgiven for what he is. He wants to meet O´Brien in the place where there is no darkness.
When he is confronted with his greatest fear in room 101, he betrays Julia giving away his dearest again. This betrayal leaves Winston empty making it impossible for him to accept himself nor the love of others. It cuts him loose from his previous life, because he rejects his person completely. He does not want to recognize himself nor the world around him anymore. Due to this he opens up to doublethink, because it provides him a way so solve issues by ignoring them. I guess the most people in 1984 do not posses a memory, because they do not want to remember, they want to forget, because facing reality would mean to become conscious of the chains holding them down. But deep down everyone instinctively knows the truth, even the simplest among them:
‘And then I started talking in my sleep. Do you know what they heard me saying?’ […]
‘”Down with Big Brother!” Yes, I said it over and over again, it seems. […]”‘
(Parsons on p. 245)
This gives rise to a subconscious conflict and the two minutes hate is a ritual to strengthen the process of self-rejection. Goldstein is a symbol for the rebel in each person. The inner party also knows about this, wherefore they rule by inflicting pain in order to be able to detect and crush resistance. They are corrupted by power, because it allows them to extend their influence beyond the limitations of their own body. By using others as extension for their own will and by reducing them to mere cells of their omnipotent body, they also do not value a single person anymore, because it is expendable. For the sake of maintaining this body they are willing to beat any virtue of humankind and in the process the possibility of any development in rubble. Only empty shells can survive this. At the end Winston is one of them:
The long-hoped-for bullet was entering his brain. […] He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.
This concludes my collection of thoughts regarding 1984 at least for the scope of this article. Based on it I think that a community needs to
- protect people from misery
- provide freedom to the individual to unfold their personality
- limit the influence of one individual over others
in order to provide an environment for a human existence. Thank you for reading this article of mine, I hope you found it somewhat interesting. Have you read 1984? If so, what are your thougths about it? Can you agree with this article or do you disagree? I admit that a fair amount of guessing is part of it. Please leave a comment below if you like. 🙂