Madeline LaRossa October 24, 2012 C07789454 Potential Outcomes of Progress: Orwell’s 1984 1) Summary of the Book 1984 is an eye-opening novel written by George Orwell. Orwell wrote the novel in 1949 to outline how he projected society would be in 1984 if progress continued upon its current track. Orwell published the book as a warning that society must be careful about progress for progress’s sake, or conditions could end up similar to the way society is in his work 1984. The novel is divided into three chapters, or books, each with multiple subunits, and these sections tell the story in chronological order.
The book ends with an appendix on the principles of newspeak, the new language of Oceania. The novel follows Winston Smith’s experiences in London in 1984. Smith is a low-ranking member of “the Party,” the all-controlling ruling entity of their county Oceania. The Party (represented by Big Brother) has telescreens (two-way microphones and cameras) and spies everywhere with the purpose of finding and snuffing out anyone who is not fully and unquestioningly devoted to the Party.
The citizens of Oceania are not allowed to own their own property, are not allowed any privacy (even in their thoughts), are not encouraged to have sexual desires, are forced to live under strict rations in constant wartimes, and are forced to alter their memories and records as The Party sees fit. The book focuses on Smith’s secret disobedience of the Party; he thinks he joins an underground resistance movement However, he is eventually captured and tortured into honest belief of everything that the Party and Big Brother claim and represent. 2) Summary of the Chapters
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The beginning of the first chapter takes place in April of 1984 and introduces the reader to the book’s protagonist, Winston Smith. Smith is coming home to his dilapidated apartment building (ironically called “Victory Mansions”) and reflects both on his troublesome varicose ulcer and on the large posters plastered everywhere, all advertising the same blown-up face and stating “Big Brother is Watching You. ” The reader learns that although Smith is a low-ranking member of the Party, he is still under their oppressive control. Smith enters his apartment and sits in the alcove in his oom hidden from the telescreen; he proceeds to commit “thoughtcrime” by writing his true feelings against the Party in his secret diary. In the second and third parts of the chapter, Winston reflects on how there are spies everywhere searching for thoughtcrime and how a parent’s own child will turn him in. Winston thinks about his childhood and how the Party has falsified historical records as they saw fit, even though Winston is not allowed to acknowledge or even be having these thoughts. Winston also reflects on a man named O’Brien, with whom he works and whom he suspects may also secretly question the Party as he does.
In the middle of the first chapter, Smith goes to his job at the Party, where he falsifies old records in order to account for the Party constantly switching war enemies and eliminating questioning citizens. While at work, Winston hears an announcement from The Party stating that they are increasing rations, when Winston really knows that they are decreasing them. Winston observes how everyone believes this unquestioningly, but then wonders if he has given himself away when he realizes that a dark-haired woman has been watching him.
When he goes home, Smith writes in his diary about how he would love to have a steamy sexual affair because the Party discourages sex for any means other than reproduction. In the close of the first chapter, Smith writes in his diary about how any hope for rebellion lies in the “proles,” the lowest class in Oceania, and a rumored secretive resistance group called “The Brotherhood. ” Smith considers how bad the conditions are that everyone lives in, but then realizes that no one has any previous better conditions to compare it to, thanks to the Party altering all historical records.
He writes about how he once had concrete evidence that the Party was lying about the past, and he repeats his suspicion that O’Brien shares his sentiments towards the Party. Winston eventually walks into the proles’ district and sneaks into a forbidden shop to buy a paperweight, a relic from the past. As he is leaving the store, he realizes that the same dark-haired girl is watching him and believes that she is a spy for the thought police, and that he has surely been found out and will be eliminated. The second chapter starts with the dark-haired girl slipping Smith a note at work saying that she loves him.
The two eventually make secret plans to meet far out in the country, and Smith learns that her name is Julia. The two eventually do meet and have sex hidden out in the countryside, simply for the purpose of pleasure and defying the Party. Julia and Smith then return to their respective homes, thinking themselves undiscovered. Smith then rents a room above the shop where he previously bought the paperweight. Julia and Smith meet in the room whenever possible to have sex and share in the contraband food and drink they are able to obtain.
As the citizens prepare for a large political movement supporting Oceania in its ever-going war, O’Brien makes contact with Smith and arranges a secret meeting between the two, confirming Smith’s suspicions about O’Brien’s disloyalty to the Party. Winston and Julia continue to meet in the room above the shop, and eventually, the two go together to meet O’Brien at his home. O’Brien turns off his telescreen (as he can do this since he is an upper-Party member) and enlists Smith and Julia in The Brotherhood’s secret efforts to overthrow the Party.
O’Brien tells them that he will arrange to have The Brotherhood’s book of missions and truths delivered to Smith, and then bids them on their way. Smith does acquire the book, and the chapter ends with Smith and Julia reading it in their rented room. The book uncovers all of the Party’s lies and lectures on the Party’s ever-increased desire for complete control over all. The next morning, Julia and Smith realize that they have been found out by the Party’s thought police; the two are cornered in their room and restrained into custody. The last chapter opens with Smith locked up in the Ministry of Love, one of the Party’s three departments.
Smith is originally still hopeful for the Brotherhood, but he then sees O’Brien there working for the Party; Smith realizes that O’Brien has actually been an undercover member of the Party’s thought police the whole time, and that the Brotherhood has never actually existed. O’Brien begins to torture Smith, trying to impress The Party’s ideals and principles into Smith. Smith initially resists, but after weeks of torture, he yields on all aspects of the Party and its teachings except for one: Smith still refuses to betray his feelings for Julia.
Smith is transferred to more comfortable quarters in the department and is content for a while, until he accidentally reveals his prevailing love for Julia. O’Brien brings Smith to the infamous “Room 101,” where everyone is tortured with his or her worst fear. There, Smith is threatened with rats that will slowly eat him, so he finally renounces his love for Julia. At the very end of the last chapter, the story leaps to when Smith has been released back into society. Smith now honestly believes in everything that the Party does and represents and he respects them whole-heartedly.
He runs into Julia by chance, but they both are now different people and go their separate ways. Smith eventually has a fleeting memory of his childhood but quickly dismisses it as a false memory, congratulating himself on his victory over himself and his unquestioning love for Big Brother. An appendix follows the last chapter of the book, explaining some of the vocabulary and grammatical structures of Oceania’s official language, New-speak. 3) Relation Between the Book and Class Materials Orwell’s 1984 holds great relevance to the topics we have recently covered in class.
First of all, 1984 references, on several occasions, then tendency for people to get drawn into mass sentiments, doing things without knowing why they are doing them. In class, we referred to this as “collective behavior,” and defined it as “behavior that doesn’t involve that deliberate interpretation—instead we just get swept up and act as others are acting” (Weinstein, 2012). As an example, we discussed how people get swept up at a basketball game and react favorably simply because everyone around them is doing so, without specifically thinking about or analyzing it.
We talked about how this can also lead to “circular reaction,” when a person reacts off of the person next to them, and then the person next to them reacts based on the original person, and so on, leading to amplification of the original reaction. 1984 touches on this concept several times. Early in the novel, the character Smith reflects on something called “the Two Minutes Hate,” in which everyone gathers once a day and simply hates and yells out against Oceania’s wartime enemy.
Smith realizes that the mass hysteria of everyone around him can even change his own sentiments momentarily, as Orwell writes, “At those moments his secret loathing of Big Brother changed into adoration, and Big Brother seemed to tower up, like a rock against the hordes of Asia. . . ” (Orwell 15). Later on in the book, Smith talks about how the uneducated Proles get swept up into moments of blind patriotism without really knowing or understanding what they are rooting for.
Smith notices that “The poles, normally apathetic about the war, were being lashed into one of their periodical frenzies of patriotism” and realizes that the upper Party encourages this behavior in many slick ways, including propaganda and mind control (Orwell 149). Orwell yet again wants us to understand the dangers of this behavior as he writes “Times beyond number, at Party rallies and spontaneous demonstrations, she [Julia] had shouted at the top of her voice for the execution of people whose names she had never heard and in whose supposed crimes she had not the faintest belief” (Orwell 152).
Orwell impresses upon the reader the importance of fighting this mindless behavior since this mindlessness can be very dangerous. We discussed in lecture how historically, people have often gotten swept up into mindless bureaucracy, doing things simply because everyone else is or because it is what they are used to doing or are told to do. We talked about how dangerous this could be--- it can allow a bureaucracy to gain much more power than it ever should be able to, since its citizens do not question the things that the government does and implements, as occurs in 1984.
Secondly, the attributes of progress and the ways technology influences it play a large role both in 1984 and in our class discussions. Early on in the work, 1984 overlaps some of the topics we have covered in class as Orwell references some of the various ways that “progress” is exhibited in a society; Orwell writes, “The Party claimed, for example, that today forty per cent of adult proles were literate; before the Revolution, it was said, the number had only been fifteen per cent.
The Party claimed that the infant mortality rate was now only a hundred and sixty per thousand, whereas before the Revolution it had been three hundred. . . ” (Orwell 74). Just as Orwell uses factors such as literacy rates and infant mortality rates to measure progress in society, we also learned in class that these can be important indicators of how a society is changing, as well as death rates and other statistics. Similar to how we learned in class that progress just for progress’s sake must be discouraged as it can lead to detrimental results, Orwell is warning against this very occurrence all through 1984.
More specifically, Orwell warns against the dangers of excessive technological advancements: “Science and technology were developing at a prodigious speed, and it seemed natural to assume that they would go on developing. This failed to happen. . . partly because scientific and technical progress depend on the empirical habit of thought. . . As a whole the world is more primitive today than it was fifty years ago” (Orwell 189).
Orwell later warns that technology can indeed ruin our private lives by allowing us to be constantly watched and submitted to endless propaganda. The character Smith reflects upon this when he says “Every citizen, or at least every citizen important enough to be worth watching, could be kept for twenty-four hours a day under the eyes of the police and in the sound of official propaganda. . . The possibility of enforcing not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects, now existed for the first time” (Orwell 206).
We discussed this very possibility in class when we talked about how citizens of today’s society are created technology that is smarter than us, and about how dangerous this could be towards the safety of our society in the case of a technological revolt. Professor Weinstein also pointed out how excessive technology can make it even easier for government can control us and gain power excessively; he pointed out that the government could be watching us right now through the webcams on our laptops and listening to us through our phones.
Additionally, both our class lectures and 1984 reference aspects of a class system and a hierarchal society. First of all, when we discussed in class the characteristics of a bureaucracy, we talked about the concept of ascribed versus achieved statuses. We learned that in the family setting, a status is ascribed—a person is born into their position. However, in a bureaucracy such as that present in 1984, a status is instead something that must be worked for and earned—it is an achieved status. 1984 touches on this in the secret Brotherhood’s book, as the book lectures “In principle, membership in these three groups is not hereditary.
The child of Inner Party parents is in theory not born into the Inner Party. Admission to either branch of the Party is by examination, taken at the age of sixteen” (Orwell 208). In lecture, we learned that since statuses are achieved in a bureaucracy instead of ascribed, the power of the status is held by the position itself, not the person that holds the position. In other words, we learned that in a bureaucracy, a person is simply filling a role that could be filled by anyone; if a person dies or no longer wishes to hold their position, it can quickly be filled by another person.
People, or a policeman, for example, only hold power because of their uniform and job, not because of who they are on a personal, individual level. 1984 also teaches this concept; at one point, Julia is expressing how happy she is to finally escape her generic job position in the Party and instead simply be an individual woman as she exclaims, “In this room I’m going to be a woman, not a Party comrade” (Orwell 142). 4) Relation Between the Book and a Personal Experience 1984 and its teachings hold close relation to a personal experience I recently had.
Last week, I had a huge assignment that I was trying to do for one of my classes. I settled in to start working on the paper, but then my phone rang. I picked up because it was my mother, and I ended up involved in a thirty minute conversation. I eventually hung up with my mother and returned to the paper, but soon after, I heard someone start talking to me from my computer! I soon realized that I had accidentally left my video messaging on on my computer, behind the screen on which I was writing the paper, and one of my friends had seen that I was online and started video chatting me.
Since she had started the conversation, I was then obligated to hold a conversation with her in order to not be rude. All the while, I was distracted from working on my assignment. Once we finished talking and I turned off my chat program, I was tempted to check my email before I got back to my paper, but I realized that if I did, I may indeed never get to my paper. This showed me that technology certainly can be dangerous towards progress, not only on a large societal scale, but also as far as the simple task of writing my paper.
All of the means of technology that my friends were using to contact me were simply invading my privacy while I was trying to concentrate and have a private evening to do an assignment. Reading 1984 only supported and increased my awareness of how distracting technology can be, and how dangerous and detrimental it can actually be in the grand scheme of progress. 5) Critique of the Novel 1984 has many positive aspects. I really enjoyed how Orwell used a fictional situation to teach readers and warn them against dangerous conditions rather than simply lecturing the readers about what they should and should not be doing.
I liked this because even though a lecture-style presentation of material teaches important concepts, I feel that putting these concepts into a theoretical story helps the reader to remember the concepts and understand how they can be practically applied in real life. Although the ending is sad for the reader (as it extinguishes all hope that anyone could hold out against the Party’s mind control and excessive practices), I liked it because I thought it was important to drive Orwell’s teachings home.
I felt that this ending was necessary because through the way things ended, Orwell showed that if society continued as it was in 1949, conditions would eventually get so bad that even the smartest individuals would not be able to undermine and revolt against the political entity, and there would be no hope. I feel that this was necessary because it shows just how important it was that people altered the path down which society was headed. I am hard-pressed to find anything that I dislike about Orwell’s work.
At some points during the first half of the book, I wondered if Orwell’s long and detailed description of the conditions and unspoken rules of Oceania was really necessary, but as I read farther in the book, I realized that all of the descriptions were indeed necessary so that the reader would fully understand and grasp all of the terrors that were in store if society’s current track was not derailed. All in all, I really enjoyed this book, and it helped me to further understand many concepts that we discussed in lecture.
When it was published in 1949, 1984 was, and remains as such now, an eye-opening warning of the way our lives will change if we ever allow our society and government to run away with itself by striving for progress simply for progress’s sake. Citations Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Penguin Group, 1949. Weinstein, Jay. Class Lecture. The Components of Change. University of Miami, Miami, Florida. 9 October 2012. Weinstein, Jay. Class Lecture. The Engines of Change. University of Miami, Miami, Florida. 16 October 2012.
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