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The Role of the Government in "Nineteen Eighty-Four " and What it Means to the Contemporary Reader

Hausarbeit 2007 15 Seiten

Anglistik - Literatur


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 The Novel
2.1 The Government
2.2 Politics and Control
2.3 Citizens' Reactions

3 Orwell's Inspiration

4 Present Reality
4.1 Big Brother Is Watching You
4.2 Counter Movements
4.3 Influence on Other Works

5 Conclusion

1. Introduction

From all utopian/dystopian novels ever published, George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, along with Huxley’s “Brave New World”, surely has the highest influence on modern culture. Being translated into sixty-two languages since its publication, the novel had a big influence on language, the development of the science-fiction genre and the view on governments all around the world. It provides an important warning to pay attention to political decisions, new laws and the critical increase of mass surveillance. Orwell’s ideas presented in the novel spawned numerous other novels, movies, television shows and awareness groups against an orwellian world. The reason for this development was in the end Orwell’s depiction of a horrible kind of government, which seems to be in infinite control of its citizens. Hence, the term “orwellian” emerged into popular culture to describe totalitarian states and governments with such tendencies.

This paper is going to give a closer view on the way the government described in “Nineteen Eighty-Four” works, how it came to power, how is makes use of its power to preserve it and how the ordinary citizens deal with living under such a government. Furthermore, this paper will come across the historical circumstances that inspired Orwell at his time and finally we will observe the present to compare the situation in several selected countries and especially the United States of America all over the world with Orwell’s fearful vision.

Reliability of information and lack of information is of course a big problem in the case of the Ingsoc government. The reader is always bond to the limited perspective of the main character, Winston Smith - who himself is probably deceived and lied to by O’Brien most of the time. The lack of perspectives often makes it impossible to be sure if that what is told is the truth, so it is necessary to presume, assume, speculate and calculate with probabilities to draw a picture of the whole. If this goal is finally achieved, remains the decision of the reader.

2. The Novel

2.1 The Government

The government of Oceania and its department, Airstrip One, is officially structured straight hierarchically. In The Book from Emanuel Goldstein, the pyramidal structure of the society of Oceania is reviewed: The top leader is Big Brother, a semi-divine figure that The Book strongly suggests not to be a real person at all, but rather a phantom created by the Party to serve as a focusing-point for love and fear, pretty much like Kim Il-Sung, the Eternal President of the Republic of North Korea, who is dead since 1994 but still entitled as leader. Under Big Brother comes the Inner Party, numbering less than two per cent of the total population (The Book explicitly states that the Inner Party never numbers more than 6 million). If Big Brother is dismissed as a phantom created by the state, the Inner Party members are the real rulers, in firm control of everything. Due to the limited perspective of the main character of the novel and the fact that he and the reader get to know only one member of the Inner Party, O’Brien, it remains completely speculative how the Inner Party is structured. Speculations reach from the point that its members function as a committee that makes decisions on the basis of a democracy of the elite to the point that there may be a party member who serves as president behind the image of Big Brother (see ‘Influence on other works’ - Equilibrium). Another possibility, which is a mix-up of the two mentioned before, is that the Inner Party is in itself divided into a number of semi-autonomous cells, all checking each other to stick to the general policies of the state and all just working for keeping and extending power for the governing system as such. Proof for all three assumptions is given in the novel: When Winston and Julia visit O’Brien in his quarters, he mentions that he has the privilege to turn of the telescreen to avoid surveillance but also that: “It is unwise even for members of the Inner Party to turn off the telescreen for more than half an hour.” (Orwell, 1949: 140). This of course indicates that he and his kind are also under constant surveillance, either by the Thought Police, which would then work as a somehow independent executive branch of the government, reporting to a certain leader, or by other members of the Inner Party. It seems quite a paradox that those loyal to Big Brother join forces to support the totalitarian leadership without trusting each other the least. The basis is rather solely the focus on Big Brother and loyalty to him (Bienst, 2005: 3). The structure of the Outer Party, as described below, would push the theory of a cellular structure, where no one really knows about the assignments of his or her fellow workers, more in favour, if we assume that one structure works for the whole of the party.

The Inner Party controls the much larger Outer Party, described as servicemen who execute the orders of the Inner Party at the four different ministries. Although the main protagonist, Winston Smith, is, as most of the people he meets throughout the novel, a member of the Outer Party, the reader does not get to know much about its structure. The reason for that is Winston Smiths lack of knowledge. In fact, Winston hardly knows more than a few of his co-workers by name and nothing about the work they do, because: “People in the Records Department did not readily talk about their jobs.“ (Orwell, 1949: 37). He knows even less about the work of O’Brien (at least until he and Julia are captured) or what is really happening at the other ministries. It seems to be the general policy of the state to reduce individual knowledge merely to the personal field of work and some trivial additional information.

Outside the Party altogether are the proles or proletarians, the masses numbering perhaps 85 percent of the population. The proles have no political power at all and they are never even asked about their point in any political decision. They bear in fact much resemblance to the peasants in feudal times, as the only thing they are good for is workforce. The proles are fed with meaningless literature and entertained and scared by the ongoing of the war and they are, much more than members of the Outer Party, withhold many goods of daily life. The main problem for the proles, thus is to obtain these goods of daily life, which keeps their view away from any important matters of the state, as Berthold Brecht said: “Erst kommt das Fressen, dann die Moral.” (Brecht, 1928). Although Winston thinks that the proles may be able to organize their masses to plan and carry out a coup d’etat, as he mentions: “If there is hope [...] it lies in the proles.” (Orwell, 1949: 59, 69), this is not likely to happen as long as their focus of fear is kept on the recent enemy of the perpetual war Oceania is into (see ‘Politics and Control‘). Nevertheless, other writers like Samuel R. Delany state that a revolution of is still possible, as: “The only important elements in any society are the artistic and the criminal, because they alone, by questioning the society’s values, can fore it to change” (Delany, 1966: 74,75). Crime and art are, since the proles are not considered so important and therefore not under such strong surveillance as members of the Outer Party, are still vital parts of the sub-society of the proles, as Winston Smith encounters several times.

2.2 Politics and Control

Not much is known about particular inner or outer politics enforced by the Inner Party of Oceania, as the reader is not told about the existence of ‘official’ offices of the state. Although we have to keep in mind that the existence of particular ministers is not necessary at all, because Big Brother is responsible of everything. This leads to the assumption that all orders are given by anonymous members of the Inner Party in the name of Big Brother to then be carried out by the responsible departments of the Outer Party. Proof for that is the fact that Winston Smith never mentions who provides him his work assignments and that also he does not know where exactly the work he has done is sent to. It is a point of speculation if the three ‘traitors’ Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford, from the photograph that finally convinces Winston Smith that he is falsifying the past, were executed on the sole reason that they held to much power as individuals and that their names were familiar to the people.



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Institution / Hochschule
Universität zu Köln – Englisches Seminar
Utopia Dystopia Utopie Dystopie Government 1984 Orwell Ninteen Eighty-Four Equilibrium V for Vendetta Englisch English Fahrenheit 451 Literatur Literature Analysis Politics Power personal freedom



Titel: The Role of the Government in "Nineteen Eighty-Four " and What it Means to the Contemporary Reader