“Nineteen Eighty-Four” and the dystopia genre


Through Pamela Bedore, Ph.D., University of Connecticut

Written by George Orwell in 1948, 1984 is the most compelling masterpiece in the dystopia genre. The novel carries with it an enormous sense of urgency. The grim world Orwell describes seems almost real. He not only shows good writing but the power of his prose style: understated, austere, completely visceral.

1984 explores how, within a totalitarian structure, an individual is kept powerless. (Image: Prazis Images / Shutterstock)

Winston Smith, the protagonist

There is a narrative framework which, while crucial for many utopias, is equally important in 1984. Winston Smith is the main protagonist of the novel. Its name itself clearly refers to Winston Churchill and Adam Smith. Winston Smith offers a perfect perspective on the world of Oceania, constantly at war with Eurasia or East Asia, and constantly allied with one another.

Winston is the only perspective we ever have in this dystopian novel. Yet it is a perspective that, for the reader, is immersive. You almost start to feel and think like him.

This is a transcript of the video series Great utopian and dystopian literary works. Look at it now, Wondrium.

Immersivity of a dystopia

Winston thinks about very subversive things, dangerous things. It’s especially interesting because Winston seems to be such an ordinary guy. He is 39 years old and has long been separated from his wife, to whom he married without love. He lives alone in a modest room that still faintly smells of other people’s cooking, especially the endless cabbage concoctions favorite of his neighbors, the Parsons.

One wonders why Orwell provides the reader with such specific and, frankly, mundane details about the life of his protagonist. It’s probably part of the immersive ability of dystopia. Winston is not just a mind that thinks about the best or the worst ways to organize a society, it is a person with a body, a body that suffers from the aches and pains of middle age, a body that responds. , somewhat to Winston’s surprise – to Julia, a much younger woman who takes an unexplained erotic interest in him.

Learn more about origins of utopia.

Power in a dystopia

Principally, 1984 is all about power in a dystopia. It delves into the question of how power works and which elements of a culture are most involved in its creation and perpetuation. It further explores how, within a totalitarian structure, an individual is kept powerless in the face of the state.

Now, Winston is not completely helpless. After all, he is a Party member. He still wears overalls, a former symbol of oppression that the Party has renamed as the uniform of the ruling class.

Yet as a narrator embodied in a complex relationship to power – the power of the state and the power of Julia’s sexuality – Winston is vulnerable; deeply, deeply vulnerable. And that makes the reader vulnerable too, which turns the page on us. Orwell, like Zamyatin and Huxley, explores the idea that sexuality is a key means of both control and rebellion in a dystopia.

Adjustment to reality

Winston works in the delightfully ironically named “Ministry of Truth Archives Department” and is good at his job correcting errors in the historical records. If, say, the chocolate ration of 30 grams per week were suddenly lowered to 20 grams per week, what Winston’s office would do would be go back and change the record to show that the chocolate ration had always been 20 grams. Like that, no one can complain.

Not only can no one complain – at some point, when a company’s historical record is constantly updated accurately with the present, it’s not just that no one can complain; is that no one can remember. So, what may seem dishonest or inaccurate is really just an adjustment to reality.

O’Brien: the sinister character of Orwell

A photograph by author Anthony Burgess.
A famous example of Doublethink is
2 + 2 = 5 used by Anthony Burgess for his novel 1985. (Image: Zazie44 / Public domain)

Orwell forces us to think about how it would be possible for Winston to do this work without being to some extent tainted with knowledge. The answer to that question lies in O’Brien, one of the most wonderfully sinister characters in the book.

O’Brien first approaches Winston as a friend, a subversive who gives Winston a book allegedly written by a member of the Brotherhood, a rebel group.

But it is O’Brien, a member of the Interior Party, whose Party affiliation is in question for the first two parts of the novel. It is also through his character that Orwell explains the concept of Doublethink.

Double think in a dystopia

Doublethink is a concept that assimilates two mutually contradictory belief points in a dystopian society and merges them into one. Orwell shows that for O’Brien, squaring the circle, being in charge of changing history and believing in changes, is easy. Anyone can do this with enough practice.

The most famous example of Doublethink, however, is 2 + 2 = 5. Anthony Burgess uses this for the epigraph of his 1985 novel, in which he imagines a different but complementary view of the world a year after defining Orwell’s vision.

Except Burgess, it’s a little too smart. The full epigraph reads as follows:

2 + 2 = 5. A notice posted in Moscow during the first five-year plan, indicating the possibility of doing the work in four years, if the workers put their backs on it.

Learn more about utopian technologies.

Language and reality in a dystopia

1984 embodies the power of language in a dystopia to shape thought for good or for evil, and explores the devastating potential of language to destroy both personal and cultural identity, what we might call memory and history , when used to preserve a totalitarian system of government.

According to the bureaucracy of Oceania, the super state in which the novel takes place, if you lie enough times, it becomes the truth. He plays with the very notion of truth and reality. He questions whether truth is not empirical and is a social construct, something that only exists because we all agree that it exists.

The novel therefore focuses on really important issues and contributes significantly to the dystopia genre. This is what makes dystopia so popular even today. Orwell’s novel, however, does not provide an answer to the question of how the grim future can be avoided.

Yet he still has hope when Winston finally realizes that “The object of torture is torture.” The object of power is power ”. From where, 1984The dystopia approach is underscored by Orwell’s concerns about the notion of truth and reality and a deep commitment to connecting language to reality.

Common questions about 1984 and the kind of dystopia

Q: What is the novel 1984 mainly about?

The novel 1984 above all concerns power in a dystopia and questions the functioning of power and the elements of a culture involved in its creation and perpetuation.

Q: What is Doublethink?

Double think, in 1984 is a concept which assimilates two contradictory logical points in a dystopian company and merges them into one.

Q: What idea are Orwell, Zamyatin and Huxley exploring?

Orwell, like Zamyatin and Huxley, explores the idea that sexuality is a key means of both control and rebellion in a dystopia.

Keep reading
The utopian plan in “Those who move away from Omelas”
Understanding Utopia in Postmodern Literature
The Great Utopian Thinkers of 19th Century America


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