October 11, 2005

Nineteen Eighty Four

Writing about web page http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/1984/

My favourite book is 1984 by George Orwell. When I first read it as a teenager it had a profound impact on me. At the time I was just realising that the world is a pretty screwed up place, all in all, yet my peers and most adults accepted it cheerfully and without question, or at least seemed to. In Winston Smith, the book's protagonist, I found a soul mate – another who knew something was deeply wrong but couldn't express it nor find an ally in his plight.

Particularly profound was when Winston obtains a copy of the banned book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by underground resistance leader Emmanuel Goldstein. Just as Winston had found a description of the true nature of reailty in Goldstein's book, so had I in Orwell's book.

I'm older now and naturally no longer have such a messianic opinion of 1984. But I have read it many times and, though I have never studied it formally, have spotted the following apparent flaws and problems:-

  • In the first chapter Winston turns down the volume on the telescreen. Why would he ever have turned it up to need turning down?
  • Why are telescreens unaffected by power cuts?
  • Why do O'Brien and others write the Goldstein book? Is it accurate?
  • Is The Times actually published and printed? If so how can it be constantly rewritten with any credibility?
  • How does Julia obtain real coffee etc? Is it from corrupt inner party members and if so does she sleep with them? – if so why is she interested in pasty outer-party Winston and his itchy ulcer? If she just buys it on the black market then how come Winston never got in on the action with all his visits to prole areas?
  • Is there a genuine affinity between O'Brien and Winston? Does O'Brien take more time and effort over winston than your average subversive?

If anyone has any solutions to these, or any problems of their own with the book, I would be intrigued to hear.


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  1. Cathy

    • "In the first chapter Winston turns down the volume on the telescreen. Why would he ever have turned it up to need turning down?"
      The telescreens come on automatically. Possibly they also come on at a pre-determined volume?

    • "Why are telescreens unaffected by power cuts?"
      Why is hospital equipment unaffected by power cuts? The telescreens were deemed to be of vital importance; it's not stretching belief to imagine that each building had a UPS or a generator in case of power cuts.

    • "Why do O'Brien and others write the Goldstein book?"
      They wrote it to weed out those who are anti-Party. Anyone who agrees with the book (or who doesn't instantly report O'Brien) can be "disappeared" without question. This is why O'Brien pretends to be a leader of the resistance too.
    • "Is it accurate?"
      Part 3, Chapter 3:
      "'Is it true, what it says?'
      'A description, yes. The programme it sets forth is nonsense. The secret accumulation of knowledge — a gradual spread of enlightenment — ultimately a proletarian rebellion — the overthrow of the Party. You foresaw yourself that that was what it would say. It is all nonsense. The proletarians will never revolt, not in a thousand years or a million. They cannot. I do not have to tell you the reason: you know it already. If you have ever cherished any dreams of violent insurrection, you must abandon them. There is no way in which the Party can be overthrown. The rule of the Party is for ever. Make that the starting-point of your thoughts.'"

    • "Is The Times actually published and printed? If so how can it be constantly rewritten with any credibility?"
      I don't think the Times was printed, but the distribution method is never explicitly mentioned. It's been a while since I read the book, but I remember thinking there could be a central library of physical papers… which would be replaced whenever necessary.
      As for credibility, it is repeatedly stated that people had become so used to doublethink, to holding many contradictory thoughts in their heads once, to being "erased" if they were found to even be thinking the wrong thing, that they had become very adept at believing anything they were told. The key scene pointing this out (found it online) is demonstration that Winston attended during Hate Week – halfway through the rally the enemy was changed from Eurasia to Eastasia:
      "The speech had been proceeding for perhaps twenty minutes when a messenger hurried on to the platform and a scrap of paper was slipped into the speaker's hand. He unrolled and read it without pausing in his speech. Nothing altered in his voice or manner, or in the content of what he was saying, but suddenly the names were different. Without words said, a wave of understanding rippled through the crowd. Oceania was at war with Eastasia! The next moment there was a tremendous commotion. The banners and posters with which the square was decorated were all wrong! Quite half of them had the wrong faces on them. It was sabotage! The agents of Goldstein had been at work!"
      Credibility amongst the people wasn't a problem at all – everyone believed whatever they were told at the moment. See also: 2+2=5

    12 Oct 2005, 13:42

  2. Cathy

    • "How does Julia obtain real coffee etc? Is it from corrupt inner party members and if so does she sleep with them? if so why is she interested in pasty outer-party Winston and his itchy ulcer? If she just buys it on the black market then how come Winston never got in on the action with all his visits to prole areas?"
      I'm guessing on the black market, or in the poorer parts of towns… Winston bought a blank notebook, pen and ink without having to sleep with inner party members, after all. In fact, if you read that bit from the first chapter:
      "Party members were supposed not to go into ordinary shops ('dealing on the free market', it was called), but the rule was not strictly kept, because there were various things, such as shoelaces and razor blades, which it was impossible to get hold of in any other way."
      No big mystery after all. As for Winston getting in on the action, a) he did buy the aforementioned notebook etc, and b) Winston was never as daring as Julia, and he had more fear of being caught.

    • "Is there a genuine affinity between O'Brien and Winston? Does O'Brien take more time and effort over Winston than your average subversive?"
      Yes he does. O'Brien is intrigued by Winston because they are so much alike, except for the fact that O'Brien has perfected the art of doublethink and is a loyal Party member, unlike Winston. Winston seems much more intelligent than other people who are taken away – in fact, his intelligence is his greatest danger, since it means he cannot accept the Party line and the Party ideology like others do so unthinkingly – and so he is a curiosity.
      I think that Winston, in turn, recognises O'Brien's intelligence (even though he has bent it all to surviving in the Party and actually believing what the Party says is true) and thinks of him as a kindred spirit even before he thought O'Brien was a resistance leader. When Winston is arrested and tortured, he still has a feeling of reverence towards him because they are alike – see what he says about O'Brien's response to him saying that he hadn't betrayed Julia.

    12 Oct 2005, 13:42

  3. Thanks Cathy, that's really interesting. I think you make valid points regarding all the questions.

    I do see the point of Goldstein's book as a tool of the Party, but am still unsure why they give so much away in it. But I guess it could be argued it needs to be close to the bone to grab the interest of subversives.

    Regarding whether The Times is actually printed and distributed, I searched this morning and found the following quote, which seems to answer in the positive:

    "The largest section of the Records Department, far larger than the one on which Winston worked, consisted simply of persons whose duty it was to track down and collect all copies of books, newspapers, and other documents which had been superseded and were due for destruction. A number of The Times which might, because of changes in political alignment, or mistaken prophecies uttered by Big Brother, have been rewritten a dozen times still stood on the files bearing its original date, and no other copy existed to contradict it."

    Of most interest to me were your comments regarding the special relationship between Winston and O'Brien. It was actually a close friend of mine who first suggested this and I was always dismissive of it. But you paint a convincing case.

    Time to read 1984 yet again!

    By the way, as you seem to know the book better than most, are you aware of any other possible contradictions or loose ends?

    12 Oct 2005, 20:19

  4. I'm glad my points have convinced you. And good find on the Records Department quote; I had forgotten that.

    I wouldn't have said I know the book much better than most other people who've read it – I've only read it twice (though once was earlier this year, and I tend to have a reasonably good memory). I'm not aware of any internal contradictions within the book, though the main point is that it's a satire, designed to communicate important ideas. The essence is far more important than the details.

    12 Oct 2005, 21:35

  5. Flooring Direct

    Great Book

    16 Apr 2006, 17:13

  6. Monica

    Awesome booking. Old is gold.

    29 May 2007, 15:13


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