Essay, Research Paper
Sexuality and the Search For Truth in Orwell?s Nineteen Eighty-Four
The question of the existence of human nature has been a popular topic in modern literary works. Authors such as Shelly and Freud seem to agree that there is such a thing, however, they disagree on its attributes. Orwell also believes that human nature does exist but he takes it a step further than simply acknowledging its existence. Rather, in 1984 he uses such themes as truth and sexuality to enhance the attributes of human nature. There characteristics, Orwell believes, are insuppressible. Orwell believes that it is innate for humankind to be sexual beings, and to be in pursuit of truth. In the course of 1984, these themes continually appear. It is Orwell?s intention, I believe, to show that in a ?utopian? society such as depicted in 1984, it is the undeniable existence of human nature that will cause the downfall of the state.
The reoccurring theme of the search for truth is best depicted as Winston?s unwillingness to accept the Ingsoc tenet of doublethink. Doublethink is the acknowledgment that two contradictory prepositions can both be true simultaneously. Quite obviously the color black can not be both black and white, however, in Oceania under the ruling of Big Brother, truth is mind-dependent and whatever a person believes to be true is then in fact true. This concept is better known to us as general relativism. O?Brien?s character is the embodiment of the Party in 1984. At one point O?Brien tortures Winston in the Ministry of Love until he believes that two plus two equals five. Winston, who is the embodiment of cognitive rationality, refuses to accept that truth can be bent and the Party?s will. O?Brien continues to torture Winston until he finally admits that two plus two will equal whatever the Party wants it to (pp 165-167). Not only is this relativistic, but it also contradicts the correspondence theory of truth. This states that a preposition is true if it corresponds with a fact. In the instance of the Party, they adhere to the pragmatic theory of truth, which states that a preposition is true if it accomplishes your own purposes. In the Party?s case, it accomplishes their goal of brainwashing all of the citizens of the State to its liking. For example, the Party is in control of all records in Oceania. It also controls the minds of the citizens. These records are altered to be whatever the Party wants them to say. Even more so, when these records are altered, one is to forget that the previous record ever existed. The new version is the past, and no different past ever existed. This technique of altering the memory can be learned, and is an avid technique used by the Party for reality control.
Philip Rahv acknowledges in his criticism, ?The Unfuture of Utopia,? that O?Brien is the revealer of the Party?s quest for total power. He states that O?Brien does, in fact, embody the Party?s objective truth, but his psychological truth is not revealed. Rahv claims that the ?motivation in the psychological economy of the novel remains unclear? (p 315). I, however, believe that Orwell did this intentionally to show that in 1984, there is no such thing as an individual. Only the Party exists. When Winston asks O?Brien in the Ministry of Love if Big Brother exists in the way that he exists, O?Brien replies ?You do not exist? (p 172), thus showing that in the utopian society of this novel, there is no individual, entailing no individual psychology. O?Brien is very much stripped of his humanness and completely assimilated into the Party. He has no psychology. He only knows to be true what the party tells him.
Winston writes in his journal that ?freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.” This phrase embodies a great theme found in the humanities; that truth is freedom. It is in humankind?s nature to seek truth and no Party can eliminate that innate search. If a force attempts to suppress this inherent desire, it is bound to fail.
The theme of sexuality is also prevalent in 1984. Winston and Julia eventually submit to their natural desires which is not permitted by the Party. It only condones sexual relations for the sole purpose of procreating for the Party. In the view of the Party, sexual relationships would create loyalties that they could not control. Any loyalty outside of the Party was strictly forbidden. However, the fact that Winston and Julia did have sexual relations show that they are human. Sexuality is in human nature and cannot be controlled.
Irving Howe comments on the unlikeliness of all the Outer Party members discarding erotic pleasure so completely in his criticism ?1984: History as Nightmare.? He says that ?in a society so pervaded by boredom and grayness as Oceania is, there would be a pressing hunger for erotic adventure, to say nothing of experiments in perversion? (p 328). Howe claims that if Winston and Julia feel this way, it is unlikely that they are the only ones. This, Howe believes, was a cheap attempt made by Orwell to make them seem more heroic. ??If their needs as human beings force these two quite ordinary people to rebellion, may not the same thing happen to others?? he states. Once again, I believe that Orwell did this intentionally to prove a point. In the time of 1984, there is no individual. Only the Party exists. The other members were completely assimilated into its tenets that sexuality was not an issue. Orwell separates Winston and Julia from the Party because they represent hope. Whether or not it is likely that they are the only two that have sexual desire is not an important issue at all. Their sexuality is metaphoric for freedom. The qualities of human nature are once again touched upon in the novel, and Orwell shows us that as long as human nature does exist, any external force attempting to regulate it is bound to fail.
The apparent authenticity of 1984 can be attributed to Orwell?s capture of the human spirit. Winston?s character embodies human nature, and we as readers can relate to him and his emotions. As stated by Howe:
To capture the totalitarian spirit, Orwell had merely to allow certain tendencies in modern society to spin forward without the brake of sentiment or humanness. He could thus make clear the relationship between his model of totalitarianism and the societies we know in our experience, and he could do this without resorting to the clap-trap of science fiction or the crude assumption that we already live in 1984 (p 325).
The importance of human nature in government was anticipated by Orwell, which is why so many of his themes have to do with it. Without human nature, a totalitarian society would exist. Fortunately, we are governed by human nature and a society such as the one in 1984 seems very unlikely from our perspective. As long as we acknowledge our human nature, we have nothing to fear.
Perhaps it seems as if I?ve overlooked the ending of 1984 when Winston professes his love for Big Brother. Although our hero succumbs to the Party, all is not lost. The themes that Orwell touches on in his novel acknowledge the absolute existence of the qualities of human nature. These qualities cannot be overcome successfully in the long run. When Winston completely assimilates into the Party, Orwell is not suggesting that we are hopeless against totalitarianism. Rather, the fact that Winston loses his individuality creates hope in all of Orwell?s readers. We, as members of humankind, can relate to Winston and Julia because we share their innate desires. This novel was written to convince reader to become more politically aware so that the events in 1984 do not occur. Orwell?s work is not a prediction, rather, it is a warning. He suggests that the disciplines of history and philosophy should be preserved. Ethics and literature also play an important role on society and should not be subjected to general relativism. Orwell believes that people are inherently good, whether they are in search of truth or fulfilling their natural sexual desires. This normative ethic would exist even if there were no minds to comprehend it, which is what makes it independent. This natural goodness cannot be suppressed because it is innate in all of us. Even when Winston gives in to the Party, there is still hope for the future. The Party could continually try to suppress any trace of humanness but it is bound to resurface and a revolt will occur.
As long as there are disciplines such as Philosophy, our human nature can not be suppressed. Our ability to be rational is too great, and concepts such as doublethink would simply be refuted. I believe that modern society has headed Orwell?s warning, and that a society like that in 1984 would not surface itself after such horrible visions of Oceania. An important lesson that Orwell wants us to learn is this: the qualities that make us human are also what set us free.
Orwell, George. 1984, in Irving Howe (ed., Orwell?s Nineteen Eighty-Four: Text, Sources, Criticism. New York: Hartcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, Publishers. 1982)