1984: Feminism And Existentialism As Critical Lenses
In George Orwell’s “1984”, we can look at it through a variety of critical lenses. There are examples and appearances of Marxism, feminism, existentialism, freudianism, and historical criticism. Marxism appears in this novel in the form of inner-Party members, and the lower Party members and citizens. In the story, “Winston addresses the Marxist ideal of separating social classes, with the upper-level Inner Party members and the mid-level Party members, what Marx considered to be the Bourgeois, and the lower-level Proletariat,”(Kelsi Lynelle). Winston has trouble accepting the Party’s ideas and beliefs, but if he speaks out, he will be punished. The higher members (inner-Party members), believe they are higher than the other, lower members and citizens, and that belief makes them feel justified to punish those who disagree with them. Marx believed that “when a group is oppressed by another group, there will be a revolution and that revolution will be led by the working class,”(Kelsy Lynelle). This Marxist thinking is revealed when Winston is thinking to himself and says, “If there was hope, it must lie in the proles,” (Orwell 71). The proles are the working class of Oceania, which is the setting of the story. The word proles is also literally short for “proletariat”, so we know Orwell intentionally implemented a Marxist lens into this novel. Another critical lens to look through is the feminist theory.
The story contains a feminist perspective, revealed by how Julia lives her life, hidden from the Party. Julia is a female who seems like a law-abiding citizen on the outside, but is actually a sex worker, and rebels against the Party. The Party is serious about being celibate, and it is one of the biggest crimes to have sex or love someone. This analysis claims that “Julia is also a very ‘slutty’ character for the era in which Orwell wrote. She pursues Winston, has had many lovers since she was 16,”(Feminism in George Orwell’s 1984). This may not fit the description of an ideal feminist woman, because Julia is working for men, but it actually is. This is feminism, because in Julia’s perspective, she is giving herself power by breaking the law, and getting away with it. She also realizes that by having many men desire her, it will be easier for her to control them, and she feels the power and control some men and higher have.
Existentialism is another critical lens through which we can analyze “1984”. The citizens living in Oceania, under the Party’s rule, are unable to practice existentialism due to the fact that the Party abuses their power and manipulates the population. We see this problem affect Winston and Julia in their everyday lives. They just want to do what they want, but cannot because they are under strict surveillance. They are forced to speak a new language to narrow the range of thinking, there are curfews to further prevent the citizens’ freedom, and punishment for disagreeing with what the Party believes. Although they are almost completely unable to practice existentialism in their setting and under their circumstances, Julia and Winston still find a way to have a little control over their lives. Julia is rebellious and chooses to disobey the Party whenever she has a chance. The party has a law against having sexual relationships with anyone, and are reserved strictly for having children. However, Julia finds opportunities to have sex with people, because it is what she wants. She meets Winston, and they break the rules together; together, they feel some freedom from the Party, and can finally do something they want to do. Winston however wants more than just sex, and wants entire freedom from the Party.
This work contains Freudianism as well, where Winston and Julia dream of getting what they don’t have, and what they want. When Winston first sees Julia, he wishes he could have sex with her, and wanted to achieve this by raping her, then killing her. He is thinking with his id, because he wants Julia, and thinks that the only way to get her is by raping, then killing her. He thinks this is the only way, because he thinks she works with the police. But he doesn’t do it because he knows the consequences if he decides to act on his desires. Julia also acts on her desires, but only does so when she knows she is safe from being caught. Her id wants to have sex with men, and her superego tells her she will face consquences if she is caught. And since she has escaped being arrested for all her previous, temporary relationships, her ego tells her she deserves being able to commit the crime.
We can look at “1984” through historical lenses; George Orwell based his novel off of his familiarity with the subject of the book. Orwell began writing “1984” right after World War II, which is why the story is about the life under the control of a totalitarian government. He was living in similar times as the setting of the book, and he was influenced by a previous writer’s works. The previous work, by Eugene Zamyatin, is called “We”, and the website says, “Not only are there parallels between We and 1984, but, as Mr. Hollis points out, Orwell wrote an essay in January, 1946 [See Tribune, January 4, 1946] in which Orwell praised Zamyatin and demonstrated his familiarity with We”, (1984 Critical Commentary). The site tells us there is a similarity between Zamyatin’s “We”, and Orwell’s “1984”, and since “We” was written about the Russian Revolution, which is a war, as World War II was a War. And as we know, Orwell wrote this book after World War II, and would have been motivated by the events of WWII, to write “1984”. Therefore we can see that George Orwell’s “1984” is a product of his historical context and background, and that historicism is a main factor in the creation of this novel.
The title of the book is also the year that the story takes place in: “1984”. The reason the title is the year 1984 is because it is a prediction of what George Orwell thinks the world will be in 1984. Orwell has been through many wars in his lifetime between 1903 and 1950, and he knows that WWII was fought by radicals and dictators. The message Orwell was trying to communicate through the title is that if countries were run by totalitarian governments and radical political parties, the world in the future will be a sad place where free will is almost completely abolished. For the reader, at first, the title just means the year the story takes place in, but after reading, it can mean how Orwell depicted the future, and/or how the world could have been like in the past.
The book contains quotes that capture the overall meaning of the text, such as “Who controls the past controls the future,”(Orwell 35). This is a Party slogan, and it is literally telling the people their scheme in front of their faces, but they are too brainwashed to know its true meaning. Another quote from the book states “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows,”(Orwell 84). Winston says this because even the most obvious facts are no longer true, according to the party, and if they can bring even a little bit of truth back, then the rest will come out. A party member says on page 268, “We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull”. This is significant because if the party controls how people think, they are able to control how reality is perceived by all the people, and therefore control all reality. If no one thinks it’s wrong, then it is now true. Another quote is from Winston saying ‘If there is hope, wrote Winston, it lies in the proles,”(Orwell 71). This is important because Winston still believes there is hope, and that the working class will be the ones to bring down the Party. However, Winston loses all of his hope at the end of the book, after he was tortured and had no choice but to follow Big Brother; “But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother,”(Orwell 300). Winston gave in and started believing Big Brother and the Party’s lies, because they overpowered him, physically, and mentally. All of these quotes relate to the Party having control over the population, and in the end show the readers that the Party wins.
I loved this story, because it has one of the most interesting plots I have ever read. The strengths of the text was that it always kept me paranoid of who was a good or a bad character, because all the characters had their true identities hidden. We didn’t know if O’Brien would turn out to be an ally, or an enemy, and also with Julia. I don’t know what I would ask George Orwell if I ever met him, but I would love to show and tell him how the world actually turned out, and show him that the world didn’t go down the wrong path that he described in the book. My experience reading this book is different from other literature, because this is the first time I had to keep going back into the book and learn more each time. It is also the first time I had to focus on deeper meanings and critiques in the story, so I took a lot more in from the reading than any other readings. I learned that if we put our trust into bad people, they will take advantage of us, and it may be hard to get them out of power. I also learned that even if you really trust someone, like Winston trusted O’Brien, they can still always betray you. I don’t expect this to have any long lasting effects on my life, because I do know it is still just a story, and I doubt anything as severe as the events taking place in the book will affect me (in my lifetime at least). Personally the section I found hardest was Section 6. I do believe it is my fault that I think it is hard, because I didn’t take full advantage of the time I was given, and I understand why it was hard for me. I also think Section 3 was the next hardest section, because I was not very familiar with syntax and analyzing diction beforehand.