A. P. English 12 21 March 2011 Contemporary Society vs. 1984 In his dystopian novel 1984, Orwell expresses his vision of the nearing future through a fictional plot. Within the plot, Winston Smith, the novel’s protagonist, lives a life controlled entirely by a manipulative and exploitative government. He, embodies the stereotypical personality of each citizen of Oceania—a person who abides by the laws of the ruling Big Brother government. Through the developing setting and characterization of our protagonist, the reader is able to witness the numerous aspects of control, manipulation and exploitation exercised by the Party and Big Brother.
As his frustrations with the Party’s control of history and longing desire to meet with a female co-worker increase, Winston begins to question the society he once aimlessly conformed to and the laws he once followed. Through Winston’s ordeal, Orwell expresses his concerns with an exponentially expanding American government. Such gross violations of personal liberties have played a prominent role in America’s past as well as in its present. While writing the novel, Orwell recollected his childhood experiences in an oppressed India and began to draw comparisons to the then-current state of America.
During the 1940s, America experienced increased military involvement, significant expansion of the federal bureaucracy and world dominance. In turn, Orwell’s writing of 1984 seemingly serves a cautionary and educational purpose. Honest government may expand into an oppressive one if its citizens do not vigilantly monitor its activity. In contemporary society, Americans face similar circumstances to those subject to the environment portrayed in 1984. The unfortunate happenings of the Terrorist Attacks on September 11th, 2001 still affect Americans presently.
Consequently, Americans knowingly placed greater trust in their government and sacrificed certain liberties for superior security. Resulting legislation, such as the Patriot Act of 2001, allows the US government to bypass certain privacy rights in order to ensure safety within the nation. During the summer of 1798, the Alien and Sedition Acts passed by congress brought the United States closer to a “Big Brother” institution than ever before. The Alien Act “authorized the president to arrest and deport aliens suspected of ‘treasonable’ leanings” Davidson 219). With no clear definition as to what actually constitutes a “treasonable leaning,” the president could’ve forced someone out of the United States the instant they engaged in a form of anti-American protest. Surveillance cameras in most buildings and some public streets further demonstrates the constant and grim reality of governmental supervision. US troops are stationed throughout the Middle East in addition to their already inhabited locations.
Similar to those subject to the omniscient Big Brother government in 1984, Americans are controlled by specific qualities and principles, social constraints, manipulated by a homogenous and monopolized society and exploited by the falsified allure of the “American Dream. ” “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows. ” (Orwell, p81). Such a simplistic definition of freedom misleads those striving for absolute freedom. In fact, American and Oceanian citizens share ultimate freedom if freedom was solely confined to its previously stated definition.
However, the reader knows that those within Oceania are enslaved by their own totalitarian government. Therefore, freedom’s true definition is much more complex and often contradictory. The contradictory nature of freedom and democracy proves the similarities between America and Oceania. Although not as radical of their 1984 counterparts, Americans defer to an elitist society to maintain their “freedom. ” “In a paradox for democratic theory, the masses express the greatest confidence in the most elitist, nonelected branch of the government” (Dye 309).
With greater confidence, comes blind trust. Since Americans allow a minority of elitists to dictate their society, true freedom and democracy cannot exist. Therefore, Americans are more like pawns that are governed by a select few, which was the reality of those subject to the Party, rather than the assumed impression that the majority controlled its own destiny. Throughout Orwell’s novel, 1984, a fictional character named Big Brother exists. Throughout the town of Oceania are constant reminders of Big Brother’s existence and his limitless oversight on the community.
In addition to the sense of surveillance by Big Brother, telescreens within every household and microphones scattered across the town, further accentuate the lack of privacy within Oceania. Ultimately, in 1984, technology’s sole purpose was to intrude into each citizen’s personal and private life. As technology further engulfs itself in modern society, aspects of 1984 are become more prominent. While telescreens are not exactly monitoring us every second of the day, many people are probably unaware of how public most of their private life really is.
Between computers and security cameras, it really is not too hard for a member of some government agency to keep track of what someone does everyday. In contemporary society, human interaction and technology are becoming exceedingly intertwined. The rapid advancement of technology has allowed for the possibility of an inseparable combination of humans and technology. Upon writing his novel, Orwell extrapolated much of the detail about the technology within 1984 because of its unavailability or primitive features.
The technology of modern society far exceeds that of 1984. If government could utilize lesser quality technology and control an entire population, what could amass if the technology were superior? Cell phones, computers, cameras, global positioning systems (GPSs) and other significant technological inventions in modern society have numerous benefits, but beget several drawbacks to ponder. Within each computer and cell phone are locating devices which allow the respected companies to observe the websites visited and the location of the each device.
Wiretapping, legalized by the Patriot Act of 2001, permits governmental monitoring of telephone and Internet conversations to ensure safety. Surveillance cameras survey the actions of pedestrians to prevent crime. Although most of these cameras are operated by private businesses, privacy is still invaded. Realistically, the government’s use of technology as a means to intrude on American privacy is a definite possibility. In the past, and currently, the US government has used technology in order to ensure safety despite sacrificing certain liberties.
With humans bearing a greater dependence on technology, the exploitation of technology by the government would prove devastating and irreversible. “War was a sure safeguard of sanity, and so far as the ruling classes were concerned it was probably the most important of all safeguards. While wars could be won or lost, no ruling class could be completely irresponsible” (Orwell 198). The focal point of the Oceania’s economy was its overextending military. The constant war, overshadowed by the developing plot involving Winston, provides justification and a safeguard against its citizens.
The purpose in participating in a perpetual war is to consume human labor and commodities. Without commodities, Oceania is able to justify their engagement in an unwinnable and “necessary” war. In addition, constant warfare keeps the population fearful, and creates emergency conditions whereby the government can expand its powers. People, manipulated into fear, will respond more favorably to regulations in times of war. Accompanying the sacrifice of personal liberties, following the distressing events on September 11th, 2001, includes an extension of military activity.
First beginning with Former President Bush, and current President Obama, the US Army is combative throughout the world, specifically the Middle East, in its attempt to curtail acts of terrorism. Seemingly, as in the case with Oceania, the United States is continuously in a warring state. When peace is made with one country, war is claimed or threatened on another nation to continue a military presence. The Department of Defense, comparable to the Minister of Peace, allocates the largest level of budgetary resources and coordinates the activity of the United States armed forces. Not counting the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Defense budget is expected to be $553 billion in 2012, up from $549 billion in 2011” (Factor 24). In addition, the Department of Defense posts useless statistics, incorrect economic predictions, and slanted opinions polls. The most infamous example of incorrect statistics and bias speech was Former President Bush’s Mission Accomplished speech. In spite of the continuing warfare, Bush stated this was the end to major combat operations in Iraq. Certain aspects of the Oceania war machine further manipulate the actions of the Oceanian citizens.
The government of Oceania, orchestrated by the Party, influences its citizens into believing that they have a common enemy in the Brotherhood, specifically Goldstein. The Two Minutes of Hate, a daily period in which Party members of Oceania must watch a film depicting The Party’s enemies, entices mob action and a blind expression of hate. The picture of Goldstein comes up on the screen, while the people scream in anger and horror at the image. Goldstein, they are told, is everywhere and must be destroyed.
The similarities to modern society are more real than apparent and speak to what has been happening in the United States since World War II. Each significant event in history has seen evil characters that have been determined on destroying “the American way of life. ” During World War 2, Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin led the rise of fascism and against democratic principles. During the Red Scare, Mao Tse-Tung of China disturbed American peace with communists influence on the American public. During the Arms Race, Lenoid Brehznev of the USSR challenged the social integrity of America.
During the 1980s, Saddam Hussein of Iraq and now Bin Laden promoted use of terrorist attacks to harm Americans. Like Goldstein in Oceania, each man menaced society, striking fear and hatred into the peoples’ hearts. After their deaths, American society was not safer and soon after a replacement continued to terrorize America. Ultimately, the Party’s slogan “War is Peace” perfectly represents their exploitation of war and stronghold over their citizens. Through the expression of the slogan, the Party contends that in times of war, Oceania is at peace.
Such a contradictory statement provides an example of the Party’s use of “double think” and manipulation of the people. Oceania – the Party – is able to remain at peace during times of war because of a war’s natural temperament. War acts as a means to ensure a stagnant social structure and prevent true socialism. War, specifically in 1984, guarantees a destruction of produce (Orwell 191). With a scarcity of produce, economic disparity becomes apparent and overprotection of produce becomes unlikely. Thus, the Party is “at peace” because revolution or any social change is improbable.
Similarly, war has a parallel effect in modern society. In times of war, America is economically and socially stable. War creates an abundance of jobs which distills any opposition from the lower class which has an innate tendency to protest the actions of the highest class (Orwell 199). Industries rejoice as the government agrees to purchase any and all military related goods. The government expands its power by restricting several personal liberties which are voluntarily and willingly bequeathed by the people. The nation rallies around a common enemy, fueled by propaganda, and confidence in its government reaches a pinnacle.
War establishes peace to authorities dictating the path of the nation: War is peace. Throughout 1984, the Party, in accordance with the Ministry of Truth manipulates its control of the past and rewrites history. In rewriting history, the Party ensures the completion of one of its slogan: “Ignorance is Strength. ” The constant change of the “truth: and destruction of supporting records, allows the Party to keep its citizens ignorant of its true actions. Thus, the Party avoids confrontation with questioning and aware citizens. To address those unaffiliated with the Party, the Party ses a more indirect approach to keep the Proles ignorant. With guaranteed liberties, the Proles are content with their uncommon privileges and do not seek to interrupt their happiness and therefore do not challenge the Party. According to the Party, promoting ignorance prevents doubt and creates a powerful strength in the idea. The only way to keep an idea strong is to remove all suspicion of doubt. If one has no reason to question a belief, then that belief will remain despite its unreasonableness. And if this lack of questioning can become indefinite, then the belief is also indefinite.
In American history, some events are understated, while others are overstated to glorify patriotism or conform to modern belief. Most recently, President Bush’s vacillation through several reasons to invade Iraq provide an example of understatement and deceit in politics. Initially, President Bush stated that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction which would prove harmful to Americans in the near future. After no weapons of mass destruction were found, President Bush stated that then President Saddam Hussein had anthrax and other biological harmful weapons.
Anthrax was found in Iraq; however, the United States did not mention that the same anthrax was sold to Iraq by America. President Bush, then, justified the military activity in Iraq by claiming to fight terrorism and spread democracy. Congressmen, who supported the War of Terrorism, eventually reversed their opinions of the war and stated that the President and the Department of Defense provided inaccurate accounts of the terrorist activity in Iraq. President Bush’s waving between his reasoning to invade Iraq demonstrates an ability to keep Americans ignorant of the true motives of US invasion in Iraq.
In 1984, there was an obvious separation of wealth. The London that Winston Smith calls home is a dilapidated, rundown city in which buildings are crumbling, conveniences such as elevators never work, and necessities such as electricity and plumbing are extremely unreliable. The grimy urban decay offers insight into the Party’s priorities through its contrast to the immense technology the Party develops to spy on its citizens. The conditions O’Brien, an Inner Party member, lived with greatly differed from the livelihood of Winston.
O’Brien’s home was ornately furnished and enjoyed the likeness of cigars, coffee and tea. In modern society, the trend continues. The wealthy can afford to live lavishly, while the poor can barely afford to live. The concentration of wealth significantly favors the elitists. Those poor, in America and Oceania, ignorantly misuse their money on lotteries with the false hope of becoming wealthy. Despite being regarded as a fictional novel, 1984 and its portrayal of a controlling and exploitative government are comparable to the current conditions of modern society.
Through Winston’s characterization, Orwell expresses his concerns with an exponentially expanding American government and a foreseeable future. Orwell, as told through 1984, envisioned a world of constant surveillance, where the privacy of the individual was virtually extinct. Although the technology he predicted seems unsophisticated, the concept of surveillance is applicable. Naturally, as the government expands, intrusion on the personal lives of its citizens is becoming accessible and simple.
The use of technology, such as computers and cell phones, is becoming greatly intertwined in human interaction and everyday life. These advances in technology can be interpreted both positively and negatively. Legislations, such as the Patriot Act (2001) and the Alien and Sedition Act, have given the government an almost limitless means to interrogate radical thinkers. With the initial reading of this polemic book, Orwell’s work was subjected to pillory of all sorts; however as society has let time take its course it seems that those who criticized this work were the most jejune of all, about our Lugubrious society.
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