Sunday, June 1. 2008
4:52pm: Added information on the "Star Point" themes.
5:21pm: Added information on the "Humanity" theme to the "Themes: General" section.
5:25pm: Added "Characters" section, along with information on Winston and Julia.
6:00pm: Added O'Brien and Parson to the "Characters" section.
6:20pm: Added Syme and Ampleforth to the "Characters" section.
6:35pm: Added "Oppression" and "Loss" to the "Themes: General" section.
6:51pm: Added "Corruption" to the "Themes: General" section and Charrington to the "Characters" section.
7:44pm: Added "Fear" and "Memory" to the "Themes: General" section.
7:57pm: Added "Conflict" and "Freedom" to the "Themes: General" section.
That's it! I worked very hard on this - I hope you find it to be useful on your essays and creative projects as well as for your tests.
Winston is the book’s protagonist, an unhealthy middle-aged man whose simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic perspective provides us with access to Orwell’s horrifying world. Winston is mildly intelligent, although not exactly a genius. He’s perceptive enough to pick up on certain Party lies, and his ability to remember the past makes him unusual. What makes Winston stand out, however, is his willingness to be guided by his instincts. It’s his instinct that makes him realize that the world’s gone wrong somehow, his instinct that drives him to meet with Julia rather than condemn her as a thought-criminal, and his instinct that inexorably drives him into O’Brien’s clutches.
He’s a flawed human being, and not an incredibly likeable one. There’s no reason to believe that this ordinary man can defeat an unbeatable system. His normalcy, however, allows him to be honest, and leads us to trust him in ways we trust no other character. What we see with Winston is what we get, and there’s something comforting about that in a world where parents can’t even trust their children.
Julia begins the book as Winston’s imagined enemy; he views her with a combination of lust and disgust during the initial “Hate” scene. (Winston’s true enemy also makes an appearance in this scene, but we’ll get to him later.) However, Part Two paints Julia as an enthusiastic (yet apathetic) ally. She’s overjoyed to make contact with someone else who loathes the Party, and her unusually quick wits allow her to see through Party doctrines that even Winston swallows unthinkingly. However, her interest in overthrowing the party is mild at best. “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism” literally puts her to sleep. She has the gifts Winston needs with none of his drive. Together, they make a revolutionary; apart, they are incomplete halves.
As the only major female character in the novel, Julia’s painted pretty shallowly; Orwell struggled to realistically portray women, which is one of the reasons the Julia/Winston conversations sound so oddly stilted (whereas the Winston/O’Brien conversations seem fairly normal). Limitations aside, Julia gives the novel its narrative kick. Her partnership with Winston drives the middle section of the book, and their separation sets the stage for the conclusion. Without the bond between the two main characters, the book could have ended fairly quickly. Instead, the silent battle each fights (and loses) on behalf of the other prolongs their pain – and makes their individual defeats all the harder to stomach.
O’Brien is the novel’s multifaceted villain, a figure whose influence hovers over the entire narrative until the final chapter. His intelligence, like Julia’s, is both unusually perceptive and frustratingly blind. As a member of the Inner Party, O’Brien engages in the strongest type of doublethink. This enables him and his ilk to maintain their stranglehold on power in Oceania, and allows him to justify what he does to Winston and others. Yet he simultaneously seems to think that he’s doing something that’s almost noble – even though he’s clearly aware he’s “evil.”
O’Brien fascinates readers as thoroughly as he fascinates Winston. There’s a seductive air of mystery about him, and that mystery leads us to hope irrationally – as Winston does – that he’ll save the day in the end. He seems so refined, with his spectacles, servants, and wine. His betrayal of Winston punches readers in the proverbial gut, and the revelation that he’s been waiting to snare Winston immediately removes any sort of rationality from readers. Think about what you thought as you read the end…you probably felt dread, and anger, and disappointment, but were you thinking things through logically as you turned the pages? Were you hoping Winston would somehow escape the seemingly inescapable?
Finally, O’Brien represents contradiction, and not simply through doublethink. He is the father figure who punishes, the torturer who perfects through destruction, the darkness and the light. When he leaves the narrative for good, he leaves behind a “perfect” Winston – a Winston who is no longer himself. In this way, O’Brien is a sort of “anti-god” – the creator who destroys.
Parsons is another type of villain altogether. He’s not malevolent, but he’s definitely dangerous. While O’Brien is dangerous because his insanity turns his brilliant mind toward evil ends, Parsons is dangerous because men like O’Brien are powerless without the support of him and his kind. Parsons blends mindless, blind loyalty with tireless enthusiasm in order to support the Party, and the Party taps this “stupid nationalism” whenever they need to shore up their power. They do it to the Outer Party, they do it to the proles – and they do it well.
Parsons almost crosses into self-parody when we see him in Part Three; he’s completely unaware that he didn’t say anything against the Party, and splits his time between loathing himself for his “disloyalty,” feeling grateful to Big Brother for “his” willingness to “cure” him, and feeling proud of his daughter for loving the Party enough to turn in her own father. It never even occurs to him that unconscious speech against Big Brother shouldn’t be an offense punishable by death. However, nothing is funny about that scene; readers are either disgusted, horrified, or some combination of both.
Parsons’s patriotism is as relentless and mechanical as the actions of any Inner Party member, and that’s why he’s so dangerous. Without people like him, the Inner Party has no one else to protect it from the larger Outer Party, let alone the proles. Ironically, the Inner Party is incredibly aware of history and historical trends (I say “ironically” because they are simultaneously dedicated to eradicating that history). They know all too well that some of history’s worst atrocities have been committed by leaders who were empowered by the violent and the loudmouthed, the angry and the stupid. The support of millions of Parsons powers the Party – and when they’re used up, the Party discards them like so many used batteries.
Syme works in the Ministry of Truth, and edits an edition of the Newspeak dictionary. He is the anti-Parsons, resembling O’Brien more than anyone else. His casual dismissal of the proles, along with his enthusiasm for Newspeak and the destruction of thoughtcrime, make him a wonderful supporter. Yet his mind makes him dangerous because, like Julia’s, it’s too perceptive. The Party does two things with strong minds: It incorporates them (O’Brien says they “got him a long time ago,” implying that he did not always occupy his privileged position) or destroys them. Syme is destroyed.
It's important to note that it's not Syme's knowledge that makes him dangerous. After all, if that were the case, the Inner Party would be too busy executing its own members to function. Instead, it's his ability to reason that threatens the Party. His death is the book’s casual reminder of the lost value of intelligence – and the danger inherent in “standing out.”
Ampleforth is a poet who works for the Ministry of Truth. We see him a couple of times – he’s mentioned when we first see Winston at work, interferes with Winston’s initial attempts to meet Julia, and thrown into prison at the outset of Part Three. His crime was his decision to preserve “God” as the final word in the second line of a Kipling couplet (“rod” being the final word of the first line).
Ampleforth matters because his crime matters. The nature of his crime is two-fold. Orwell is obsessed with language and the ways in which it controls our ability to think – just look at Newspeak! His other writings also grapple with the idea of words giving and limiting power – well-chosen words liberate, etc. Ampleforth is an extension of himself, especially because he preserves the rhyme – something Orwell himself doubtlessly would have done.
Secondly, look at the word he left in – “God.” While the Party itself is clearly atheist, it’s not exactly secular – the devotion they demand to Big Brother goes beyond “cult” levels and becomes a type of worship. They substitute human fiction – Big Brother probably isn’t even real – for the human spirit, just as they substitute fiction and deceit for everything. Ampleforth’s imprisonment doesn’t represent atheistic overreach – it represents the destruction of the spirit and the soul. If you think about it, the entire purpose of the Ministry of Love - especially Room 101 - is to defeat the soul. It only makes sense that Ampleforth’s refusal to pervert a poem any further would threaten the party enough to warrant his destruction. After all, what is poetry but the language of the heart?
Charrington is eventually revealed to be a member of the Thought Police. Before then, he appears to be a kindly and discreet shopkeeper. He provides Winston with the seeds of his own destruction – the diary, the paperweight, the loft, and access for (and to) Julia. We should be suspicious when he refuses to engage in thoughtcrime himself (refusing to finish the song), but we, like Winston, are too caught up in everything else to notice that this fellow seems a bit odd.
As a member of the Thought Police, Charrington’s picked a perfect location. How better to catch those with dangerous thoughts, with a dangerous interest in a non-existent, non-Party-sanctioned version of the past, than to run an antique shop?
Themes: Star Points
1984 forces us to be human, and to notice what we do as human beings. We hope for an impossible outcome, placing our trust in characters we have no reason to believe or even like. Its characters are unlike any we’ve previously covered, and yet they’re strikingly similar to Edna and the little boy – spending each day in a lopsided battle to preserve their dignity and control, treating nuggets of fresh awareness and self-knowledge as though they’re treasures.
I mentioned that the star diagram was incredibly distorted for Winston, a man whose every action carries with it the possibility of retaliatory execution. What are independence and security for him but abstract concepts, ideas whose very existence fade further with the publication of each edition of the Newspeak dictionary? How can he have a concept of love when everything about relationships and family structures have been perverted beyond recognition? How can he find enlightenment when everything that governs his existence seeks to further enslave him in ignorance? And how can he develop an identity when his entire job depends on his ability to make his influence invisible?
Yet the star exists for Winston, just as it existed for the others. Every moment from Parts One/Two is about his attempt to drag one of those disparate points a little bit closer to himself – and Part Three is about how each of those points is systematically torn from him. First, the Party removes his independence (imprisonment). Next, they remove his security (physical torture). They move next into destroying his knowledge and understanding (torturing him into believing he’s insane, entering the second stage of re-integration). They take away his sense of identity (“we will empty you and fill you with ourselves”). Finally, they destroy the last vestige of humanity within him – his love for Julia. As long as he clings to one of the Star points, he cannot be beaten; the Party can destroy everything about him, his body and mind, but they cannot declare victory until they earn that final desperate surrender.
Humanity – This one ties closely to the Star Point discussion. I want you to notice two things about “humanity.” First, note the inhuman nature of the Party. You can’t really imagine other human beings doing this to one another – and yet Orwell does just that. The dehumanized Inner Party is particularly eerie, with O’Brien putting a “refined” face on ruthlessness and greed. The Inner Party are gluttons – not just because they enjoy better tobacco and food, but because they consume simply for the sake of consuming.
The Party itself is a representation of what we’re willing to do in the pursuit of power – how quickly we’ll sacrifice basic human qualities in order to justify a desirable end, or what terrible lengths we’ll go to in the name of control and protection. In other words, they are what we become when we throw away the Star, when we dedicate all of our energy to the amassing of power for power’s sake.
The other element I want you to notice lies on the opposite end of the political spectrum from the Inner Party. The proles are mindless and disgusting, contentedly grinding their way through each day without questioning why their lives take the shapes they do. Yet they are the source of Winston’s tentative optimism, his great sleeping hope for the future. Theoretically, the proles will rise up one day and undo the damages the insurgent middle class has wrought on the rest of the world; sheer numbers dictate that they will overthrow the Party. (Notice how Orwell always foreshadows developments? Do you really think his repeated insistence through Winston that the proles will rise up – bookended with Winston’s repeated (and eventually proven) assertion that he will be captured and killed – was an accident? Also, what are the proles obsessed with? A lottery – a probability game. Since the odds are overwhelmingly high that the proles – the 85% of the population currently dominated by the Party – will eventually become tired of living under someone else’s boots, a knowledge of odds seems to be a worthwhile and symbolic pursuit.)
The proles’ greatest strength is that the Party takes them for granted and ignores them as deeply as they ignore it. This allows them to retain their humanity, which is the greatest weapon in an ideological battle against the Party. That’s right: By allowing its most dangerous opponent to retain its humanity, the Party has devised its own demise.
True, dangerous individuals are hunted down and killed – but look at how far Winston got on his own! It may seem unlikely, but the odds are actually overwhelmingly stacked in favor of the proles; it’s simply a matter of noticing that truth and acting on it. Orwell drops hints that this will happen; whether you believe him determines whether you feel 1984 ends with hope or despair.
Oppression – It’s not hard to find oppression in 1984. If you’re looking for specific examples, look at the ways in which the Party controls its citizens from waking (the Physical Jerks) to sleeping (the telescreens watching them as they sleep). The Eye always watches you – or at least you think it does, and you don’t really want to risk finding out whether it’s working. Thus the telescreen becomes a self-sustaining system of control – no one even needs to monitor them as long as people believe the surveillance is active.
Loss – 1984 is a story built on loss – the loss of our humanity, our heritage, and our thoughts. Winston loses everything in the end because he loses himself; his desperate screams in the rat-cage are the death rattles of his soul, the freshly emptied body crying out for physical preservation. Those “close” to him are killed or torn from him. He cannot enjoy a family because he’s lost the concept of what a family should be. He cannot enjoy much of anything; the basic human right to the pursuit of happiness has been removed.
Before he reaches the very end, Winston loses his paperweight (an important symbol in the book, and a charmed object for him), the most concrete link to the past in a book filled with them. Winston dreams of the past, but such dreams are transitory, and disappear upon waking. He loses song lyrics; he loses his wife. His job deals with loss, and as long as Winston’s doing his job well, no one will even know he’s doing it. In other words, Winston’s job is about losing truth so effectively that no trace of himself exists to be remembered.
Fear – Everything done in Oceania is done out of fear. People compromise themselves out of fear, or play on fears in order to elevate themselves. (Winston refusing to express himself outside of the diary in Part One is an example of the former; Parsons’s daughter’s decision to have her father imprisoned in order to gain attention is an example of the latter.)
It is the fear of the Unknown Other that sustains Oceania’s drive toward war – and the fact that the fear is completely misplaced only makes it more effective. By fearing Neo-Bolshevism and Obliteration of the Self/Death-Worship, followers of Ingsoc can assure themselves that their way of life is superior to other ways, and that those other ways threaten a familiar existence. This gives them something to fight for and against, which gives the country the ability to sustain itself (and the Party the ability to hold power). In this way, 1984’s central paradox is revealed: The country can only survive in its current fashion if it keeps destroying itself from within. This war – not simply on Eastasia or Eurasia, but on everyone outside of the Inner Party – brings peace.
Memory – Memory is both useless and extremely dangerous. It’s useless because the Party can annihilate you for remembering something you aren’t supposed to know; they have an entire Ministry dedicated to destroying/altering memory and preserving those changes. To remember something is to make yourself a target, to weaken your chances at a long life; to remain ignorant is to give yourself strength.
Moreover, memories are unreliable. The old prole doesn’t seem to be giving Winston any information he can use (although readers who re-read the section afterwards will notice Winston simply doesn’t know how to recognize the information he’s been given). Winston’s own memories of the past come and go. He begins to doubt his own memories once he’s forced to do so. What’s the point of remembering something when it can’t do you any good?
However, memory represents the Party’s Achilles’ heel. You can convince people they’re insane once they’re in your clutches, but what happens if some of your targets evade you for a while? What happens if their influence spreads? Fewer things make people angrier than being lied to or about, and the fury of the proles upon finding out they’ve been duped all along would be tremendous. This is why the Party obsesses over making itself look perfect in the past even as it tries to stop people from thinking; it’s trying to cut off the means of its own destruction.
Conflict – Conflict exists within certain members of Oceanian society; it is that internal conflict that leads to thoughtcrime. That’s why Newspeak, doublethink, etc. are each predicated on the idea of ordering everything. With order, conflict (and the need for it) becomes unthinkable.
Notice, also, how many of the conflicts in 1984 are manufactured. The battle between the Brotherhood and the Party is fake; so, too, is the war itself. The prisoners of war are real, but they’re just fuel for the hate machine – like so many coals in so many furnaces.
Why manufacture conflict? Because people tend to do stupid things in order to feel safe. The promise of conflict (and the chaos that ensues) paradoxically allows the Party to hold power as the bastion of safety and stability Oceania needs.
Freedom – It doesn’t exist, even for the Inner Party. While the Party gains total control over virtually anything it wants, it also controls itself. It may give itself access to luxuries, and its members may be able to shut off their telescreens – but it imprisons its most powerful members in the vise of doublethink most strongly. The proles are the only ones who are free, along with the animals, because they aren’t supposed to matter. It’s just another paradox: The more you matter, the less free you are.
Corruption – The party corrupts everything – the family instinct, the sex instinct, the urge to belong, compassion for others – that makes a person a person. Look at Winston when we first meet him. He has no idea where his wife is, or what happened to her – nor does he care. (This is a chilling image of what the Party can do to the idea of family, underscored by the Parsons’ children running roughshod in Chapter II.) The Party also perverts the sex instinct to the point where human beings are no longer supposed to desire it – yet it simultaneously forces them to engage in actions that now disgust them. By forcing people to hate what they are now forced to do, the Party asserts its total dominance over them. That’s the key to the corruption in 1984 - it’s all about asserting control over people (for the sake of getting to do so).
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Mr. Feraco, I just had a fun idea. I think we should have a cultural exchange party. Basically, everyone brings food that relates to 1984, Great Awakening, and And the Earth Did not Devour him. It would be fun and interesting. It can give us a better understanding about each book's food culture.
After going to a BTSA meeting, it turns out that there are a lot of things you have to take into account - food allergies, etc. - that make it a little too complicated to stage on such short notice. We'll have to content ourselves with Donut Day on the 9th!
Hey, i got answers to the study guide from feraco's question. Anybody wanna double check if i got em right?
1. Falsify and recreate documents.
2. Ulcer in leg
5.Ministry of Peace ( Minipax), Ministry of Love, (Miniluv), Ministry of Truth, (Minitrue), Minstry of Plenty (Miniplenty).
6. They are not controlled by the concepts of Ingsoc.
7. Thoughts that wants to overthrow the party.
9. Big Brother, Goldstein
10. War is peace, Freedom is slavery, Ignorance is Strength
11. Memory hole
13. Charrington’s shop
14. Eliminates thoughtcrime
15.Invents Captain Oglivry. Erase Captain Tillotson
16. Able to hold to contradictory thoughts at the same time
17. Parson’s children
18. Sinking ship+ Tube station
2. Capitalist. Bad fat people
4. Sex with prostitute
5. I dun understand why
7. Part of his job
9. Facial expressions that is unusual
10.Aaronson, Rutherford, and Jones.
11. Rocket bomb came.
12. Glass paperweight
13.Under the chestnut tree…
14.Photograph of the 3 ppl with the party.
15. He is too smart
18. Doublethink, Mutability of the past, newspeak
3. Destroy and build
4. Inner party
5.Low=equality. Mid=high. High=maintain power
7.Smashed. Childhood and past is gone.
8. He loved BB
9. Atomic War
10. Purpose is to maintain power for evil
11. He is insane
12. Will betray anybody.
13. Cause he hasn’t betrayed Julia yet.
14. his body thru a mirror.
15. They betrayed each other etc
16. starvation, torture. Pg 216.
17. Behind painting of St clement
19. Chestnut tree café
21. Daughter thru sleep. Proud
22.learning, understanding, and acceptance.
25. The Party will make you betray each other.
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