Human Connection in George Orwell’s 1984

A book I’ve always meant to read…

The Bookshelf of Emily J.

I read George Orwell’s 1984 (1949), number 8 on the BBC book list, last summer for the first time.  This surprised a student of mine, one of the only students I have encountered over the years who was actually majoring in English.  I teach English 1010, Introduction to College Writing, and my students usually consist of people who dislike writing and reading.  Those who major in English tend to have taken AP English in high school or test out of my class.  Anyway, this particular student always brought a book to class with her, and we had great fun discussing her other classes and papers together after class.  But when I mentioned that I had just read Orwell’s classic for the first time, she gaped.  I can’t even exaggerate how long her mouth was open or how visceral her reaction was to my admission.  I supposed I should have…

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One thought on “Human Connection in George Orwell’s 1984

  1. Pete Rogan says:

    Most people read ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ in high school, and take away the dystopianism, the heavy oppression of politics for its own sake. They don’t get the human tale of Winston and Julia and the ultimate goal of shattering every human connection. So it’s good to see Emily J. reveal this to those of us who have read and forgotten it.

    What remains to be said is the analysis behind the need to crush all human feeling for the sake of a political and social ideal (though that word is hardly adequate). If, as O’Brien says, the purpose of power is power, and the purpose of torture is torture, then what links them? To presume that power is torture obscures the necessary purpose behind these actions and the essence of their connection. There can be power without torture. There can also be torture without power. What links them? What makes us link them? Why does one lead to the other? Is it nothing more than the visceral and primitive urge to dominate? This is a personal emotional link. What turns it into an institution?

    This is Orwell’s question to us. How are we compelled to become a part of our own destruction? What dark urge gets touched by the polity of power and oppression to become a willing participant in the destruction of civilization? He notes four extremes — Winston, who wants nothing to do with any of it; Julia, willing to use the machinery of oppression to camouflage her true feelings; the hapless Parson, turned in by his own daughter for uttering anti-Big Brother phrases in his sleep and happy to be punished therefor; and O’Brien, who has mastered the difficult task of bridging his humanity to the impersonal needs of the Party and who serves his inhuman ideology with eyes open, his humanity used as a bait and a snare. Orwell leaves us to contemplate these, and the wholly inhuman children, without speculation as to how they came to be or what will become of them.

    And this remains a problem for us, not for the Twentieth Century any more but the Twenty-First. As Boris Pasternak noted, writing his “Dr. Zhivago” about this time, while people can be poisoned by ideology there are some who cannot be so poisoned, yet who do not turn into the monsters they face every day in the street and in the Party. Whose vision of what will happen is more true? When will people read “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and ask how this world, these people, these horrible deformations of the human spirit could ever come about? And will we find a cure?

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