The Loss of Individuality in Nineteen Eighty-Four
In the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four, individuality is an offence punishable by death, and the people live under constant supervision. The main character, Winston, lives in the totalitarian state of Oceania, where a figurehead known only as Big Brother is revered by the majority of the populace. In this state, those in positions of power are members of the Inner Party, while the rest of the people are either members of the Outer Party or part of the proletariat. Those who choose to rebel against the principles of the Party are not only killed, however, and instead are tortured until not even a trace of individuality remains within them. W.H. New stated that “Nineteen Eighty-Four is very much a novel about the conflict between Man’s responsibility to self and State”, and this very sentence speaks volumes regarding the situation Winston finds himself in. Among the conflicts that Winston is faced with in the dystopian society of Nineteen Eighty-Four, he makes many efforts independent of those around him to combat the force-fed principles of the Party with his own beliefs, but in the end fails to withstand the Ministry of Love’s methods of torture.
Throughout the novel, there are many challenges that enter Winston’s life in Air Strip One, and the manner in which Winston handles each situation gives readers insight into his ideals and views on the society he lives in. The fact that he must modify history for the benefit of the Party as part of his job, for example, is one of the major conflicts Winston is faced with in his life. He is forced to change newspaper articles and other things the public might see, in order to give the people the impression that the Party is perpetually correct. In one instance, he changes one of Big Brother’s speeches so it becomes a commemoration of a hero that never existed, but was a perfect fit for the Party’s image of the ideal. Once finished, Winston realized that the hero he had just created, “who had never existed in the present, now existed in the past, and when once the act of forgery was forgotten, we would exist just as authentically, and upon the same evidence, as Charlemagne or Julius Caesar.” (Orwell, 50) This act of changing the past, and then believing what one wrote even if they understand it is all a lie, are the principles of Mutability of the Past and Doublethink, respectively. Among his conflict with his job, however, there are those who work just as hard in other departments on destroying the English language. Newspeak, the language invented by the Party, is the language that is intended to replace English in Nineteen Eighty-Four. By gradually reducing the number of words in the people’s vocabulary, the Party is able to control the expression of thoughts and feelings more efficiently than through torture or death sentences. Upon hearing a man who speaks entirely in Newspeak one day during lunch, Winston feels as though the man is not actually speaking words, and instead that it “was not speech in the true sense: it was a noise uttered in unconsciousness, like the quacking of a duck.” (Orwell, 57) Newspeak is also one of the main principles of English Socialism – or Ingsoc – and it is clear from this event alone that Winston loathes it. The conflict that poses the greatest challenge to Winston, however, lies with the Party’s attempt to control feelings of love and sexual desire. By destroying love, the Party can transform natural feelings into respect for Big Brother and hate for the enemies of Oceania, which is done during the Two Minutes Hate and Hate Week. The first event where Winston’s hatred for the Party’s attempts at destroying these feelings is shown while he is at work, when he sees a girl wearing a “narrow scarlet sash, emblem of the Junior Anti-Sex League…It was always the women, and above all the young ones, who were the most bigoted adherents of the Party” (Orwell, 12).
Winston deals with the...
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