Research Rough Draft
George Orwell toys with the issue of morality in his novel 1984 and in his toying implies the question of a “moral choice” (Reilly 63) : what to choose as our future. The answering of this question involves more than issues of “good” or “bad” ideologies, but a working definition for amoralistic values. The broadening of vision to look beyond what is good or bad may help the contemporary individual to decide on the “best” ideology without the preconception of its merits.
1984 depicts a bleak nightmare future that has so ingrained itself upon the minds of today that many ideas of dystopias with much the same style are deemed ‘Orwellian’. One could say this novel has had continuing impact on the world culture from the time it was written to well beyond the year it was meant to depict. The dystopia that the novel depicts inherently brings to mind various questions and interpretations.
Orwell is quoted that 1984’s purpose was to show “…that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere…” and “…to draw these ideas out to their logical consequences.” (Orwell 29) Contemporaries of the time criticized 1984 as an inaccurate attack on the movement of the British Labour Party and Socialism in general, and Orwell had responded. Orwell shows in his novel the totalitarian state of Oceania and its effect on a single man representing all men. His response helps open the door for many other interpretations once those details of the author’s intent were laid out.
The novel has been viewed historically in two contexts: its criticism of Stalinism, and its prophecies of current sociological trends. Orwell has been noted as wanting his novel read with a Leftist’s interests in mind as an attack on Totalitarianism or more specifically Stalinism. The imagery is quite strong: Big Brother’s image is modeled on Stalin and Emmanuel Goldstein’s on Trotsky. However, this is also a trend to view the novel as a prophecy of current sociological trends such as television, censorship, and consumerism of the proletarians. (Kellner 2000)
Politically the novel has been used for various ends. One major end is the use of the book as a tool in the attack of socialism by the Right. They are often led to believe that the Totalitarianism in the book is equal to socialism as a whole, even though the book more accurately depicts Stalinism and not necessarily Democratic Socialism. (Kellner 2000) Another major end is the idea that the book is a criticism of the democratic system of government using the theory that the flaws inherent in democracy may be the origin or roots of the societies that reigned in the novel. Flaws in the democratic system include the use of government to advance personal interests, etc. (Larson 2000)
A moral criticism combined with a structuralist perspective is, perhaps, one of the best ways to view Orwell’s 1984. A moral criticism would examine the ideas of “good” and “evil” and how they apply to the book. It would explore various facets of morality such as where does it show morality to exist in the novel, or what is considered moral in the story. Through the structuralist approach one can appreciate Orwell’s construction of symbols and occurrences which lead to reversals of roles between good and evil. Also structuralism addresses, or more accurately, uses handed down or “a priori” assumptions about the possible meaning or symbolism of various parts of a story. This enables the structuralist to have a starting place in the exploration of the construction of the novel’s meaning through its various parts. The structuralist approach is often concerned with binary aspects of subjects present in literature such as realism versus romanticism, light versus dark, and good versus evil. In 1984 there are looming examples of black versus white, and the idea of good versus evil.
These constructions inevitably lead to the consideration of good and evil. We enter into the idea of morality as being either true or relativistic, and if it is relativistic then perhaps there is truly no morality at all in some situations. Using 1984 as a reference, one may be lead to believe a relativistic view of good and evil, and that embracing the good stated by everyone else is to be virtuous, but that would be to go with the teachings contained in the book for the book. If you remove yourself or take one step back from that, and through inference perhaps see that the book was written to show that the “moral” sides of good and evil in debate, especially debate about policy and truth do not necessarily exist or have meaning. Winston never actually calls the changing of the past or the swallowing of the lies evil, but his memory and his mind still want to endure. One of the largest elements of the nightmare future presented in Orwell’s 1984 is the representation of good and evil, or in essence, the nonrepresentation of good and evil. How does the morality of a man reflect his actions, purpose, and goal that he is striving for? It could be possible that amorality may be a more accurate description to two sides of a movement. A moral criticism would examine how crime is defined and handled in the novel. There is no written crime in the novel, crime is simply what goes against the party’s will. Furthermore proletariates seem to be able to commit no crimes. Clearly this is a sign of amorality readily present in the novel. Winston makes a couple mentions to it himself, such as when he ponders about the diary and sexual relations.
The biggest structural example of this stance of amorality is in the ideological combat between O’Brien and Winston when he asks Winston in torture and rehabilitation if he thought he was superior to him. Winston said he was, but then O’Brien played back the tape of him saying all the nasty things he’d do for The Brotherhood, and it was of the same despicable nature as that supposed of the party. This refutation on O’Briens was extremely successful and logical because The Brotherhood is supposed to be the “good” and morally upright side, both to the reader and to Winston. Both sides, the counter-revolutionary and the revolutionary seemed to have the same morals, or in a better word, amorality. This created a society where there were no said rules, but the rules that were to be followed were the rules of those in power.
Another interesting structural example is the play Orwell makes of the use of black and white. Emmanuel Goldstein, from our point of view is good in this strange society, and likewise he is associated with white, religion, sacredness (the aureole of white hair around his head), judaism, and even a sheep. I thought this was a particularly strong case of symbolism, where Goldstein obviously symbolizes some form of godly purity and good. The motif of the party seems to be black: the black mustache on the posters of Big Brother, the black suits, eyes, hair, eyebrows, instruments that the party members throughout the book use or bear (except for the instruments of the torture assistant, his are white). This seeming reversal of the good and evil roles in relation to color, where black is usually evil and white is usually good, seems to be a purposeful motif that what seems good or IS good is only so because of decision or because of force.
This leads one to then morally question the book itself, or perhaps let the book question you. Orwell very well may have meant 1984 to be a prophecy, and indeed has been quoted on saying that 1984 is a book about the consequences of current ideas of his fellow “intellectual” carried out without interruption. (Orwell 30) The title of the book was set in the far future, in 1984, so as to symbolize what could come. So then the book presents to us a question: what to choose as our future?
If amorality is present in both sides of a supposed argument, then the moral choice cannot be made, for there would be no morality. Are we really moral to suppose that the way things are now, with individuality and democracy, is the moral choice? More likely the constant is not a question of morality but rather a question of tradition or history. Using history as a tool, Orwell has plotted out the logical consequences of totalitarian thinking that was seemingly common among his intellectual peers at the time. The question of morality was left behind, and is often interpreted as being left up to the reader. However, with these arguments about good and evil present in the book as a larger meaning, in terms of details devoted to it, how can a reader make a “moral choice”?
When we talk about morality we are also implying the discussion of the alleged existence of the spirit of man. Historically through religion the spirit of man has been defined and redefined as the core of a man: his mind, his body, and his soul. All morality, immorality, and amorality stem from human interactions and the human mind, essentially the human spirit. However, if we assume there is an inherently good spirit of man than all men should be inherently good, a vice versa for an evil spirit. Again the black and white versions of good and evil seem to fade with the realization that the human spirit is capable of both. Winston seems to be searching throughout the book for some kind of identity by using the past as a guide to his present self. He has recurring flashbacks of various situations: his mother, his sister, and the raid shelter. Winston’s search for the self, and in essence for his mind and individuality, is his search for the human ‘spirit’. The party has allegedly disposed of his spirit, so without spirit perhaps ‘black and white’ cannot even be committed?
In effect, good and evil aren’t necessarily absolute nor “a priori” assumptions when two different ideologies clash, both ideologies in effect may be righteous in the moral sense, but are they right? The tradition of capitalism and individuality, where each individual supposedly gets what his work is worth, and where an educated populous can supposedly bring about righteousness in business by demanding quality of product by force of capital, is what the American populous is used to. One could argue that because they are used to this, and that this way of life has prevailed, that they believe it morally right because they have been taught it so. Likewise in the state of Oceania the party rewrites history to its own means, vaporizes people to its own desires, and is believed to be morally righteous because it has been taught so and because it is tradition by force. But which is morally “right”? With the idea that there is amorality on both sides of a movement comes also the idea that there is no proper moral “right” and “wrong” that applies to both.
We have come to the idea of the self versus the society. Some beliefs seem to be inherent in just the existence of a being, such that if they are murdered it would be bad, so if any others are murdered that would also be bad. Are these moral? Perhaps the invention of Newspeak in the novel is present to illustrate what we may be traveling towards: perhaps the word “moral” really is so broad it has very little meaning at all but eliminates other more precise definitions of morality. This is exactly one of the ways Newspeak is used in the book to eliminate words and thus to eliminate the capability of clear thought. In order to make a moral choice one has to already have a moral base, or in effect moral assumptions. If these are established then one can make decisions based on that system of morality, and in definition those choices would be moral.
1984 seems to have been written to address the question of a making a “moral choice” about the future as it readily scares the reader into trying to take a stance on morality, or even question what the truth of morality is! Such as when O’Brien tortures Winston and tells him that all reality is relative, that he could float off the ground if the party willed it, but it’s because Winston is insane that he cannot understand that. O’Brien eventually gets Winston to believe that two plus two equals five if the party would wish it so. When affronted with this relativistic view as we form a reaction to the statements of the novel, and O’Brien, we are force to examine what are moral truth is. Is it objective reality or is reality formed by us alone? This is a fundamental question that must be answered by the individual alone, that is what is used as a basis for the impact of the story. When the question of relativistic reality and objective reality comes into play between O’Brien and Winston, Orwell is basically showing us the logical conclusions of each train of thought.
In the novel totalitarian relativism wins in the end, as Winston either chooses the party or death by rat burrowing. However, as the novel ends with the new Winston playing with the chess pieces in the café we must ask ourselves who do we want to win? That is when the moral choice must be made. If we look around us today, post-1984, what do we see as our future, and what do we want to choose as our future? Neither socialism, capitalism, nor totalitarianism may be our ideological futures as they only represent factions of ideology. These factions may not be right nor wrong, neither “good” nor “bad”, so it is up to you to decide what you believe the moral choice is and make it.
Reilly, Patrick. “Ninteteen-Eighty Four and Moral Choice.” Bloom’s Reviews: Comprehensive Research & Study Guides – George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Ed. Harold Bloom. Broomall: Chelsea House Publishers. 1986. 63 – 65.
Orwell, George. “On the Thrust of His Novel.” Bloom’s Reviews: Comprehensive Research & Study Guides – George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Ed. Harold Bloom. Broomall: Chelsea House Publishers. 1998. 29 – 30.
Kellner, Douglas. “From 1984 to One-Dimensional Man: Critical Reflections on Orwell and Marcuse.” Unknown revision.
http://www.uta.edu/huma/illuminations/kell13.htm (12 Dec. 2000)
Larson, Ronald. “Orwell’s 1984 – and Where We Stand.” 1984.
http://www.libertyhaven.com/noneoftheabove/fictionmusicorentertainment/orwellsstand.html (12 Dec. 2000)
I am studying 1984 from a structuralist perspective because I want to find out how the morality of man reflects the actions, purpose and goal that he is striving for in order to show the possibility of immorality on both sides of a movement so that one can justly infer that there aren’t necessarily sides of good and evil as constants.
The biggest example of this stance of no concern of morality in issues of ideology combat is when O’Brien asks Winston in torture and rehabilitation if he thought he was superior to him. Winston said he though he was, but then O’Brien played back the tape of him saying all the nasty things he’d do for the brotherhood, and they were the same that he would or was supposed to do for the party. This refutation on O’Briens was extremely successfull and logical on that detail. Both sides, the counter-revolutionary and the revolutionary seemed to have the same morals, or in better words lack of concern about morals at all. This created a society where there were no said rules, but the rules that were to be followed were the rules of those in power.
Another interesting example is the play Orwell makes of the use of black and white. Emmanuel Goldstein, form our point of view is good in this strange society, and likewise he is associated with white, religion, sacredness (the aureole), judaism, and even a sheep. I thought this was a particularly strong case of symbolism. Everything that seems to have to do with the party, which is in effect good, while Emmanuel is bad, is black: the black moustache on the posters of Big Brother, the black suits, eyes, hair, eyebrows, instruments that the party members throughout the book use or bear. This seeming reversal of the good and evil roles in relation to color seems to a purposeful expression that what seems good or IS good is only so because of decision or because of force. I could also go on about how the number three is used repeatedly throughout, and the number four which could represent the cross or goodness but I’m still debating whether that is in the scope of this paper.
Using 1984 as a reference, one may be lead to believe a relativistic view of good and evil, and that embracing the good stated by everyone else is to be virtuous, but that would be to go with the teachings contained in the book for the book. If you remove yourself or step one step back from that, I infer that the book was written to show that the “moral” sides of good and evil in debate, especially debate about policy and truth do not necessarily exist or have meaning. Winston never actually calls the changing of the past or the swallowing of the lies evil, but his memory and his mind still want to endure. I’m also debating that somehow the assumption of the existence of the spirit of man plays into this whole thing, but I can’t figure that one out yet.
In effect, good and evil aren’t necessarily premade assumptions when two different ideologies clash, both idologies in effect may be righteous in the moral sense, but are they right?