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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Dehumanization of the Party and it's Members in 1984

Trigger Warning: Talk of being "inhuman," Discussion of a rather triggering novel (1984)

This is the final paper I wrote for my literature class over the summer, looking at duhmanization in the Party in 1984

Dehumanization of the Party and it's Members in 1984

    George Orwell's 1984 can be seen in many ways: As a condemnation of socialism (which he claims it not to be,) as a condemnation of totalitarianism, and as an examination of the repression of humanity inherent in oppression that one can not overcome. In the first, 1984 "served as a sort of an ideological super-weapon in the Cold War" (Deutscher 35). However, the fact that socialism is not inherently totalitarian suggests that it was not socialism itself (an economic model, not a form of government- communism could be considered a form of government, but socialism is decidedly not) which he criticizes, but totalitarianism itself by examining the repression of humanity which occurs under oppression that one can not overcome.
    In the world of 1984, the Party has complete control, using the Ministries of Truth, Peace, Love, and Plenty, all of which do the exact opposite of what their names suggest. Winston works in the Ministry of Truth, known as Minitrue in NewSpeak, where he changes currently existing documentary evidence in order to support Party doctrine. This involves changing records of what production was predicted to be, what past production was, and what current production is to support the claims of Miniplenty, the Ministry of Plenty. It also involves creating fictional people who died heroically in the war in order to replace other news stories which contradict the current party history. When the enemy in the war changes in the middle of a Hate Week demonstration, all party members who work for Minitrue are called to the office to fix the documentation. On this revision, "In so far as he had time to remember it, he was not troubled by the fact that every word he murmured into the speakwrite, every stroke of his ink pencil, was a deliberate lie" (184). That is, even before he is brainwashed in the Ministry of Love, Winston is no longer troubled by lying, suggesting a loss of humanity under the basic oppression all party members face. Earlier, "He kicked the thing into the gutter" (Orwell 84), but this thing a human hand. It was severed, and the owner probably killed, by the rocket bomb that fell moments prior. Kicking it into the gutter, considering it to be just an it, is not the action of someone fully in touch with his own humanity. Yet earlier, when writing in the diary, Winston notes that at the movies, when a man is killed, he sees the ``audience shouting with laughter as he sank" (Orwell 10). When one prole woman complains about this being shown to children, he calls it a typical prole reaction, not seeing the horror of what is being shown for what it is, not seeing the inhumanity inherent in entertainment generated from this treatment of ones fellow man. The prole woman retained her humanity, but even as Winston was rebelling against the loss of humanity required to survive in the party, he had already lost more of it than he knew.
    The effects on someone who grew up in the Party, who was never aware of things like private standards of morals and the humanity that is lost in the world of 1984, is even greater. Look at Julia for proof. When Winston tries to describe a human moment involving his mother and sister, she responds with '"I expect you were a beastly little swine in those days"' (Orwell 165 ) . This is not the reaction of someone who grasps the point of his story, but of someone who does not herself possess the humanity required to comprehend the meaning of his story.
    None of this is accidental. "The outstanding feature of Orwell's superstate is a monumental inefficiency the purpose of which is to ensure the futility of all human endeavor and in effect, to rob existence of its organic semblance: growth, becoming (Lief 15), that is, to rob people of that which makes them human. Also along these lines, the slogans of the Party are:
WAR IS PEACE.
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY.
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
(Orwell 17). The whole Party ideology is based on contradictions that require doublethink to keep in one's head, and this doublethink is what keeps people in line. It is how people modify the past and believe that the past has never been modified. By making a perversion of how reality works, the Party creates a space where "It is 'no longer "natural" to be a man'; it is an actual perversion" (Carter 178). The purpose of NewSpeak is to make thought crimes impossible; it is to restrict language choices so that there is no way to put unorthodoxy into words, no way to communicate anything besides basic utilitarian needs and the Party doctrine. Carter also claims that ``NewSpeak is the language of the they-self" (Carter 199), a language designed to make it so that only the doings of the Party are possible. In a sense, the purpose of NewSpeak is to deprive people of the higher intellectual pursuits that set us apart from the beasts. This may be part of why Winston seems to love Oldspeak so: "NewSpeak, he senses, in effect creates a conspiracy of silence about all the horrors of the life he sees going on around him" (Watt 106). It does this by making it impossible to call these horrors what they are: If it is caused by something the Party deems good, the word for it in NewSpeak will include the fact that it is good. If it is not good, it is probably under the umbrella of thoughtcrime, the only crime there seems to be.
    Ingsoc seeks to dehumanize on all levels, not just in the area of language. "Indeed, the aim to which Ingsoc is committed is the abolition of a personal interior and the elimination of all sense of the mineness of individual existence" (Carter 181). By condemning the "ownlife," the NewSpeak word for the near-heretical individuality and eccentricity, and by enforcing their orthodoxy on all Party members, they are making sure that Party members do not even have time for the intellectual pursuits, even if they did have the language for them. Needing to volunteer for extra party activities a certain number of nights each week is simply a part of this, as is the Junior Anti-Sex League, where people deny what is a fundamental part of most people's existence.
    Another piece is the constant surveillance. Yes, this surveillance allows the Thought Police to infer what you are thinking, and yes, it allows the Thought Police to know every move you make, but that is not the only purpose. "Under surveillance a man nessesarily plays a role. He cannot be himself" (Lief 87). This, too, is a part of the telescreen's job. Winston notably writes in the diary in a position where the telescreen can not see him, a location which is not supposed to exist. He knows that it is wise to wear an expression of quiet optimism when facing a telescreen (Orwell 6-7). Essentially, he knows that he is always acting for the telescreen, that he can never truly be himself, which is an essential part of his humanity.
    Yet opposing the oppression does not return their humanity to them. When rebelling in secret with Julia, having their single outdoor meeting in the so-called Golden Country, Winston says, '"I hate purity. I hate goodness. I don't want virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone to be corrupt to the bones"' (Orwell 127). All traits normally associated with humanity, and all traits that Winston wishes away when attempting to rebel against the Party which also makes having such traits impossible. One might argue that the rules of sexual relations and marriage the Party holds its members to are related to purity, virtue, and goodness, but this relation is in the actions only, not the intent behind them. The intent is to control Party members, to make sure that they are not getting satisfaction anywhere besides the corrupt Party itself, and so those so-called morals are in fact a symptom of the corruption of the Party. Thus, it is corruption and inhumanity that Winston turns to in order to fight the corruption and inhumanity that the Party dresses up as morals.
    To follow the goal of eventually defeating the Party, both Winston and Julia agree that they are willing 'to lie, to steal, to forge, to murder, to encourage drug-taking and prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases, to throw vitriol in a child's face' (p. 273) when attempting to join the Brotherhood, but this is only a trick of the party. Here Winston learns that the Brotherhood is a fiction which O'Brian helped to create, that O'Brian was helped write the book which convinces him that the future belongs to the unimportant proles, and that his induction into the Brotherhood is a trick to get him to promise that he is willing to perform all of these inhuman acts.
    Of course, Winston and Julia are eventually caught and brought to the Ministry of Love to be made sane, as the Party would put it. At this point, Winston is not allowed any contact with Julia, so the reader is not aware of what is happening to her. O'Brian claims that she turned very quickly, which may be true. It may also be an attempt at disheartening Winston. There is no real way to know. Here the inhumanity of the Party is made yet more obvious. Winston is tortured in the Ministry of Love, confessing to everything the Party wants him to confess to. During the torture, while he implicates Julia in many crimes, he continues to love her. This love can be seen as his final act of rebellion against the inhumanity the Party pushes for. In all other senses, the Party wins when Winston believes them, as he will no longer actively rebel. However, the inevitability of Room 101 is clear from the moment Winston is brought to the Ministry. "Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity" (259-260), O'Brian tells Winston while working to "cure" him of his "insanity" of believing the past to be immutable and the Party to be fallible. This is perhaps the most explicit mention of the inhumanity of the Party which is made in the novel, though O'Brians' description of the future: "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face- forever" (271), perhaps comes close. The purpose of power is to keep power, and anything that is done to keep power is justified. Winston understands this, and later writes "FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. TWO AND TWO MAKE FIVE. GOD IS POWER"(Orwell 280). He now believes the Party doctrine, though he does not yet love Big Brother. He still has a shred of humanity, and O'Brian still calls him the last man.
    Winston's final break, when he does, in fact, betray Julia, comes in the feared Room 101, which contains the worst thing in the world. For him, it is rats. By pushing Winston with something that is unendurable for him, O'Brian forces Winston to realize that the only way out is to put another human in his place. Thus, in panic, he repeatedly shouts, "Do it to Julia!" (Orwell 289), finally betraying her. At this point, he loses his remaining shred of humanity, and he is safe to release.
    At some point after release, he encounters Julia. She betrayed him too. Explaining,
"'Sometimes', she said, 'they threaten you with something - something you can't stand up to, can't even think about. And then you say, "Don't do it to me, do it to somebody else, do it to so-and-so" . . ." (Orwell 295).
   That's how the Party wins, in the end. They make people see that there is something which they would have their loved one suffer before going through it themselves, and that breaks them.
    In contrast, the proles are allowed to retain their humanity because they are considered not to matter by the Inner Party. The Inner Party knows that historical revolutions have all been started by the middle class, even if the fighters were largely from the lower class. The spark comes from the middle class, and the Inner Party prevents the Outer Party from ever providing that spark using the tactics they used on Winston and Julia. Winston is aware of this when he notes that nothing likely happened to the prole woman who complained about the movie, and he notes it again with Julia. "The proles are human beings", he said aloud. "We are not human" (Orwell 166). That is key: Because the proles have no power, they can stay human. It is only those who might be able to provide a spark who are forced to become inhuman- that is, only members of the Party, be it Inner Party or Outer Party.

Works Cited
Carter, Michael. ``Nineteen Eighty-four." George Orwell and the Problem of Authentic Existence.    
    Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble, 1985. 176-214. Print.
Deutscher, Isaac. ""1984" -The Mysticism of Cruelty." Heretics and Renegades, and Other Essays
    London: H. Hamilton, 1955. 35-50. Print.
Lief, Ruth Ann. Homage to Oceania; the Prophetic Vision of George Orwell. [Columbus]: Ohio State 
    UP, 1969. Print.
Orwell, George. 1984. New York: H. Wolff, 1949. Print.
Watt, Ian. "Winston Smith: The Last Humanist." On Nineteen Eighty-four. Ed. Peter Stansky. New York: 
    W. H. Freeman and, 1983. 106-13. Print.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent thoughts, thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Really awesome post! Helped me a lot with my analysis of 1984, thanks man!

    ReplyDelete

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