In literature, various theories exist that allow one to evaluate and better understand literary works through the application of those theoretical criticisms. Literary theories and their analyses allows people to gain a deeper understanding of literature and how it relates to the real world. The book titled, 1984 describes a dystopian society called Oceania in which citizens are not equal to one another and are oppressed by The Part which is led by a dictatorial leader known as Big Brother.
(Orwell) The protagonist, Winston Smith, a 39 year old man working a deceptive government job, shows the potential for wanting a revolution yet he never manages to put his thoughts into action.
Various critical theories are evident in the book titled 1984; thus, George Orwell demonstrates his novel heavily through the critical theory of Marxism. To understand George Orwell’s novel 1984 through a Marxist lens, one must first understand Marxism in relation to literature. Marxist criticism is much more than a communist era ideology.
Many people overlook Marxist criticism in reference to the failed Communist Bloc in Europe that ended with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. (The Collapse of the Soviet Union) Not only do these people ignore the fact that communist governments still exist today, but also they do not realize that there has never been a society that completely envelopes the theories of Karl Marx. Karl Marx is the founder of Marxism.
For Marxist criticism, getting and keeping economic power is the motive behind all social and political activities, including education, philosophy, religion, government, the arts, science, technology, the media, and so on.
Thus, economics is the base on which the superstructure of social/political/ideological realities is built. (Tyson 51) The leading party of Oceania in this novel aligns itself with this description with ease. The Party is primarily motivated by getting and keeping economic power and as evident in this novel, once economic power is reached, the Party then seeks to control the minds and actions of its citizens. Social class differences are a primary topic for marxism whether they are economic or otherwise. Marxist today refer to social class structure as socioeconomic classes instead of just social class or economic class because the two go hand in hand. The reason for this new classification is that economic power always includes social and political power as well (Tyson 51) because whoever controls the flow of money can use it to manipulate society and politics. Even in today’s democratic governments, this idea is evident. Big corporations use lobbying and campaign donations as a way to manipulate those who are in positions of power to favor the agenda of these multi-million dollar organizations.
In a more dictatorial government the money mostly belongs to the monarch, dictator, or ruling party in charge; hence, giving all power to one person to control the entire country. In this situation, Karl Marx and George Orwell would state something along the line I told you so, had they been alive today. Ironically, today the world is in a situation where the top 1% of the population controls about 99% of the wealth. Marxism ideas align greatly with the social class. Marxism aligns itself with class differences, economic and ultimately attempts to reveal the ways in which our socioeconomic system is the ultimate source of our experience (EBSCOhost). This means the political ideologies of a literary work are directly related to the world. For example, classism is used by the Party to hand over those at the top of the government more power than the average citizen. This causes the average citizen leading to oppression. Orwell mentions, Winston wrenched his body out of bed ” naked, for a member of the Outer Party received only three thousand clothing coupons annually, and a suit of pyjamas was six hundred ” and seized a dingy singlet and a pair of shorts that were lying across a chair. (Orwell, 33). By being forced into poverty, the people of Oceania have been placed into a lower class and oppressed by those at the top of the Party. According to Marx, when a group is oppressed by another group, there will be a revolution and that revolution will be led by the working class. Winston reflects on this concept directly, as he is writing in his diary: If there is hopeit lies in the proles (Orwell 69)
Another example of a classic Marxist theme that can be seen in 1984 is the amount of oppression forced upon people of subordinate social classes, along with an unequal distribution of wealth. Using Marxist criticism to interpret 1984 helps the reader to very quickly recognize the class system that exists within the dystopia of Oceania. Oceania is a totalitarian state, meaning it prohibits opposition parties, restricts individual opposition to the state and its claims, and exercises an extremely high degree of control over public and private life (Wikipedia). There are three main social classes in Oceania. Winston describes the social classes as the Inner Party, which are the exclusive upper- level Inner Party members, the mid-level Outer Party members, and finally the lower-level working class citizens, or Proletariat. The upper and mid-level citizens are considered to be the bourgeois of Oceania. Karl Marx stated that when a group is oppressed by another group, there will be a revolution led by the working class. Since 85% of the population of Oceania is the Proletariat or proles, Winston believes that only these lower class citizens can have a big enough revolution to overthrow The Party. Winston states because only there, in those swarming disregarded masses, eighty-five per cent of the population of Oceania, could the force to destroy the Party ever be generated further explaining how the proles could get what they wanted, freedom (Orwell 69). He described the upper and mid-level Party members, Rebellion meant a look in the eyes, an inflection of the voice; at the most, an occasional whispered word. But the proles, if only they could somehow become conscious of their own strength, would have no need to conspire.
They needed only to rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies. If they chose they could blow the Party to pieces tomorrow morning. Surely sooner or later it must occur to them to do it (Orwell 69). As Karl Marx believe, the lower working class will eventually get tired of the government oppressing them and will revolt. This same concept is evident across the revolutions multiple countries have had that resulted in a restructuring of the government that they were a part of. Take for example the American French revolutions that resulted in the establishment of a democracy and the ousting of a monarchy. Winston states how the proles need to awaken because they have been brainwashed by The Party and can not see their own power. Cunningly, The Party does not like for the proles to have strong Party ties or political feelings. By keeping the proles out of their business and emotionally neutral, The Party is able to control the masses and prevent an uprising. The Party actually believes that the Proles are not even considered human beings and therefore they are of no direct threat to The Party regardless of their immense population. According to Marxist theory, when the working class becomes more aware of being treated unjustly and eventually unite to fight back, Big Brother will not be able to sustain this type of autocratic government. Winston’s government job is at the records department. His job responsibility is to make sure historical records only state what The Party wants them to. He does this by fabricating the records to records to reflect The Party’s agenda either with a twisted truth or an outright made up story. Another form of brainwashing the party uses is big telescreens in all houses and streets that constantly display the state run media news or promotional propaganda for The Party.
These telescreens are used by the Thought Police as well to track the activity of the citizens and make sure they are not thinking or doing anything rebellious. These telescreen have socioeconomic class divisions as well. For example, the Outer Party members have to keep their screen on 24/7 where as Inner Party members are allowed to turn their screens off for short periods. By spying on its citizens, The Party seeks complete control as a part of having total power. Irving Howe mentions in his analysis that Orwell’s profoundest insight is his insistence that in a totalitarian society man’s life is completely shorn of dynamic possibilities (Howe). He goes on further to state that life in such a society is completely predictable and manipulated. Even though the ruling power of a totalitarian nation and its economy may evolve and develop, the life of its citizens will remain static (Howe). The party does not consider race or gender when selecting a new inner party; therefore, a Marxist would relate with the aspects in which Inner Party members are appointed in Oceania. According to the Britannica Academica an article on Marxism states, To go directly to the heart of the work of Marxism, one must focus on his concrete program for humanity (Britannica Academica). Orwell presents a pessimistic view of the totalitarian government by oppressing its people. He illustrates no hope for any positive changes to happen. A Marxists would have a more optimistic point of view, while reading 1984. Marxism is a belief that over time change is inevitable, especially in oppressive societies as the working class becomes aware of their problems (Britannica Academica). Big Brother avoids a fight back by taking advantage of the people’s duty to the state; thus, constantly assigning jobs to the working class to keep them busy.
The working class will remain content by feeling productive; therefore, Big Brother will be at the hearts of the working class. On the other hand, if someone doubts Big Brother that is enough to erase the ideology on which Oceania is founded. Hence the Inner Party would figure out and eliminate those who dare to question the governmental system. Even though Winston is captured and brainwashed before a revolution can be triggered, hope is presented in accordance with the Marxist theory. For example, Winston at one point writes in his diary, If there is hope, it lies in the Proles (Orwell 69). This captures a glimpse of the Marxist theory, and shows Winston to be one of many who are in the struggling class and undergoing oppression taking place in Oceania. According to the Marxist theory, it is people like Winston who will question authority, unite with the working class members, and eventually fight against their oppressors. Marxist would have some sympathy for Oceania to eliminate all overt religious and family- oriented values. This can cause both family and religion to divert one’s attention from the common goals of their society. However, Oceania’s population has a quasi-religious affection for Big Brother, they not only like their leader, but love him. For example this idea is similar to how many chinese viewed the communist party leader Chairman Mao as a great leader, even though he caused extreme damaged to the Chinese culture, society, economy and foreign relations. According to the Marxist theory, this concept would pose a large threat in any society.
As we learn in the end of the novel, Winston gets arrested for his rebellious thoughts by going to see O’Brien, a man of the Upper Party whom Winston thought to be a fellow revolutionary. O’Brien being a spy as well, exposes Winston and his lover Julia. Winston succumbs to the beatings and torture from The Party and gives into the propaganda being forced upon him. His revolutionary thoughts are crushed and replaced with a thoughts that are in support of the party. The end of the novel displays the extensive length The Party had to go to in order to make Winston and Julia turn on each other and become completely brainwashed. This method was effective because there was only the two of them. However, if the Proles who make of 85% of the population were to all revolt, this extensive method would be useless. Marxist criticism helps us understand why the Proles do not revolt, but also helps us see the potential power that the working can have if the are able awaken. From a Marxist perspective, it is clear to see that the world of 1984 has lost control. This aligns with the idea that not only does the working class realize this means being controlled by a higher authority, but it also represents losing a part of one’s self and becoming just another part of an all too powerful system. Several aspects of Marxism are evident in this book. These aspects include socioeconomic class struggles, oppression of lower classes, inequality, and resistance. Similar to the theory of Marxist criticism, The Party’s primary motive was to maintain its economic power which led to its oppressive and invasive social and political actions. Through a Marxist lens, one can understand that although Winston is clearly conscious of the oppression taking place around him, he is helpless and eventually is forced to become like the rest of the citizens of Oceania who have been led to believe that The Party is almighty.