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The novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was written by George Orwell and first published in 1949, the year before his death. The novel is situated in Oceania, which consists of the Americas, the Atlantic islands, which includes the British Isles, Australasia and the southern portion of Africa. The novel is set in the year 1984 (as far as anyone can tell). It is fundamentally a novel about a society that is run by the all-powerful ” Big Brother”. The main character is Winston Smith, a social outcast, who lives on Airstrip One in the chief city of London.
Airstrip One is the third largest providence of Oceania. Winston is not unlike the other outcasts, they too find as he does, the values of the society they live in to be repugnant but Winston is, by any human standards, fairly normal. Winston lives in a totalitarian state. The methods employed by the government are designed to oppress individual thoughts, emotions and even individuality itself. Almost all freedom is removed from a person’s existence. An existence is all that it is; it cannot be called a life because every aspect of being is regulated.
This oppression is one of Orwell’s recurring themes throughout the novel as Winston seeks an escape from the oppression of the policies. He looks back to the past, when the all mighty Big Brother (who is the head of the all powerful Party) was not in power and when life was ‘normal’. Although Winston cannot recall experiencing this ‘normal’ life, he feels it must have existed at one point because he thinks “Why should one feel it to be intolerable unless one had some kind of ancestral memory that things had once been different? ”
Winston’s fixation with the past is conveyed through recurring themes of oppression and individual relationships in the novel. By examination of this fascination, the reader is able to conclude that recollection of the past is what fundamentally makes us human and this recollection can act as a healing process. Winston is employed at the Ministry of Truth, which contradictorily, concerns itself with lies. It is upon these lies that the foundations for Big Brother’s domination are built upon. The Party specializes in deceptions, contradictions and all means of controlling reality.
Only in the controlled insanity that the Party has created, can two plus two not necessarily make four. They brainwash people so that the Party can maintain it’s complete domination. The Ministry of Truth is basically a propaganda machine. Any incorrect information (incorrect could mean contradicting a statement by Big Brother, or a piece of ‘dangerous’ data) is, to use the Party’s word, rectified, “Day by day and almost minute by minute the past is brought up to date. ” I believe there is a great deal of irony in the job Orwell supplies Winston with.
Winston is obsessed with the conservation of the past; he seeks continuity in his life. Yet he is paid for, and enjoys, the systematic obliteration of any remnants of the past. In my opinion Orwell gives Winston this job to provide him with a motive for his fixation with the past. It may also explain why Winston appears to posses a more extensive memory span than most others in Oceania. He is constantly having his memory refreshed making it much harder for him to swallow the lies that he himself provides Oceania with. In a way this almost tempts Winston to rebel, to commit thought crime.
In asking Winston to destroy evidence, the party has really preserved a large proportion of it within his memory. This makes him through no great fault of his own, a criminal. It is Winston’s memory that perhaps provokes him to search for items that have not been altered, anything that provides a glimpse to previous life. This compulsion to learn about the past is a natural feeling for humans but the party has succeeded in destroying this feeling. Winston’s wanting to find out about the past brings him closer to a human existence as we know it.
Winston is prompted to create one of these insights to the past in the form of a diary. It is written, as Winston himself wanted, for the future generations rather than himself. It will provide them with a window on the past, something Winston himself desires. The diary, by its very nature is a dangerous item for a Party member to possess. It is a continuous record of facts and opinions, and the Party wishes have total control over, and access to, all of these. Winston uses it to vent his anger and inner sorrow. He records some events that haunt him, and he reveals his true feelings towards Big Brother.
It allows him to make a history that will be accurate, unlike the ones he encounters on a daily basis. It connects him with how he lives now, with how he used to live. It lets him prove, if only to himself, that the facts and figures churned out by the Party are nonsense, and that he is not crazy. Even the diary itself is associated with the past. The cream paper and real ink pen add to the nostalgic feel of the diary, and this attracts Winston to it. “Its smooth, creamy paper, a little yellowed by age, was of a kind that had not been manufactured for at least forty years past.
” The diary is a relic, a memento of the past, it provides a view into how people previously lived and thought. Without a view into the real past people have nothing to compare the present day with. Being able to think back and dwell on past experiences is what makes us who we are. Orwell uses clever symbolism to convey the fragile and complicated relationship between Winston and Julia. Orwell harnesses this relationship to emphasize the themes of oppression and healing and to show how the past can act as a healing process. Winston seeks out any relics of the past he can.
He is especially fascinated with a fragile piece of coral embedded within a lump of glass, flat on one side with a convex surface on the other. He presumes it is a paperweight but does not use it. He merely admires it. This paperweight is typical of the past in Winston’s eyes. It was created, not particularly to be used, but to be aesthetically pleasing. “The thing was doubly attractive because of its apparent uselessness. ” It is associated, in Winston’s mind, with the past, with continuity and with beauty. It is these features that Winston yearns for in his life.
“What appealed to him about it was not so much it’s beauty as the air it seemed to possess of belonging to an age quite different from the present one. ” The paperweight is symbolic to Winston. To him it represents his life with Julia. They are the fragile coral and the glass is their existence. When, upon Winston’s capture, a member of the Thought Police smashes the paperweight, it conveys the shattering of the world he and Julia have created for themselves, the end of Winston’s life, as he knows it. He would be made by the Thought police to forget the past as he remembered it which would kill his love for Julia.
The love people remember is what shapes them as people. Orwell also uses the past to give an insight into Winston’s inner demons, the things that torment him. The dream sequences in particular I find to be very well executed. They not only provide the reader with a glimpse at Winston’s character, but also remind Winston of his sorrow and guilt. It is the recollection of these past experiences that make us human, and this is what Winston seeks. In order for these feelings to be unlocked, it takes another emotion: love. Winston’s love for Julia restores his memory. This rough recollection of the past brings Winston to feel,
“There was no reproach in either there faces or in their hearts, only the knowledge that they must die in order that he might remain alive, and that was part of the unavoidable order of things” These feelings of selfishness and guilt are ones which, although painful to think about ultimately heal us and make us fuller and more rounded beings. One of these recurring dreams is an extremely vivid and mournful vision of his mother. Winston recalls his last moments with her before she disappeared, and presumably died, and the resulting image portrayed is extremely moving to the reader.
It depicts Winston’s selfishness perfectly, but now, when he is loved enough to remember, it will heal him. During his memories of his family, he realises that his mother’s death was tragic in a way that is no longer possible. For something to be tragic there must also be loyalty and dignity. “Tragedy, he perceived, belonged to the ancient time, to a time when there was still privacy, love and friendship, and when the members of a family stood by one another without needing to know the reason. ”
The best example of how Orwell shows how the past acts as a healing process is when Winston has finally realises that people in his present-day world are in actual fact not human, in the sense that they have their own opinions and ideas. He notices that only the proles have held true to the archaic values of loyalty to one another, individual relationships and to love. “The proles had stayed human. ” It is in this scene that the full effect of the Party’s atrocities hits Winston. He realises that the Party has not merely suppressed him; he has in effect been killed.
Nothing he does, thinks, or says has any relevance any more. “When once you were in the grip of the party, what you felt or did not feel, what you did or refrained from doing, made literally no difference. Whatever happened you vanished, and neither you or your actions were ever heard of again. ” . The past does not just rejuvenate Winston’s mental well-being, it also has effects on his physical health. A leg ulcer has troubled Winston, but when his memories are unlocked, through love, he notices that it almost completely recedes.
The leg ulcer is perhaps used by Orwell to physically prove to the reader the points he has made about the past, that it is ultimately a healing process. Throughout the novel, Winston’s ‘quest’ is to discover himself and become a human being. He looks back to past experiences and feelings as a way of becoming human, something most members of his culture are not. He is classed as unorthodox in a society where he is one of the very few rational people. I feel that in his fascination with the past Orwell shows that without the past we would not be the people we are and that by recollection of previous experiences we heal present ailments.