Monday, May 16, 2011

The Orweillian-Bradburian Society

I am an avid reader, that much can be ascertained by the blogs themselves. However books that grab my attention are either non-fiction, current events, political and social in nature. Rarely do I find so much excitement in fiction as I have found in two novels I read recently George Orwell's epic 1984 and Ray Bradbury's classic Fahrenheit 451. Although two different authors, two different books with two different sets of characters and premises, they have a point of synthesis and that is they are about an inept and corrupted societies. The difference is whether it comes from the state or the people.

In 1984, Winston Smith is a citizen of a totalitarian society based off of war, communism, and authorianism. The principle villain in the novel is the Government with its thought police, youth leagues, telescreens spying on you at all times, the Two Minutes Hate, the backwards thinking and the dumbing down of society with the use of Newspeak. The government controls everything from economics down to reproduction. The Party (as its called) has its hands in every pot, it decides marriages and terms for divorce, it regulates that sex is only for the purpose of reproduction ("our duty to the party"), it even regulates facial expressions (facecrime: improper expression on the face). But the most important thing the Party does is it changes history, it modifies human behavior, it manipulates through nationalism and emotional appeals.
The Party manipulates thought. First by controlling the language with Newspeak (the official language). Newspeak is nonsense to say the least but the purpose of it is to eliminate thought. By limiting words or by changing their meaning they can control what people believe and what they say. The more famous sayings in the book are "WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH". Notice that things are the opposite of what they really mean? This is common throughout the novel The Party even does the mind fucking when it comes to the branches of government: Ministry of Truth (which distorts the truth and blatantly changes history to fit The Party's agenda), Ministry of Peace (whose job it is to make war)< Ministry of Love (that concerns itself with law & order) and the Ministry of Plenty (economic concerns).
In the book The Party is an all powerful hero saving the people from its enemies in a perpetual state of war and fear. Fear of Eastasia, fear of Eurasia, fear of the thought police, fear of Goldstein (traitor to The Party, he dares to want freedom of speech) and The Party does thing using The Two Minutes Hate.
The Two Minutes Hate is sort of a nationwide shutdown, where all the citizens get together and watch a screen that shows their enemies attacking them. It instills fear and then shows that The Party will come to rescue them.
The worst infraction of The Party is that it changes history (Winston's actual job). The Party's motto is "WHO CONTROLS THE PAST...CONTROLS THE FUTURE". Winston's job is to edit each and every book and magazine to change words and history according to The Party's agenda at the time. The central problem is when Winston can no longer blissfully ignore that he is changing history and he seeks to find out what happened before The Party came along, before Big Brother (the head of state) and how he can escape or overthrow The Party altogether.
But BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU...and this is such a haunting statement and it is plastered all over the country but the people are supposed to believe that Big Brother is watching to PROTECT and not to oppress. But Winston says: "Always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or outdoors, in the bath or in the bed-no escape. Nothing was your own except a few cubic centimeters inside your skull" (26). Your thoughts and if your thoughts were made public and were against The Party...needless to say things did not end well.

Now it is time to transfer to Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury's society is much, much different than Orwell's. In Bradbury's society it is the populace that is the oppressor. In F.451 the principle figure is Guy Montag a fireman, whose job is not to put out fires but to start them. In Bradbury's society the firemen burn books, arrest readers and the burn down the homes of people that read. The purpose of this is to keep people in a constant state of happiness and the belief that reading or people that read make others around them unhappy.
Captain Beatty, the firemen chief goes on a long speech about why books are banned:
"You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can't have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself. What do we want in this country above all? People want to be happy. Isn't that it?" (59). Bradbury is white but is not talking about blacks here in fact before that statement he writes: "Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don't step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants..." (57). What Bradbury is saying is that censorship and mass media lead society to break down and in order to not offend anyone they stopped reading. It is a war on intellectualism that is being waged. The people are only interested in sports and television things that make people happy. Bradbury continues: "With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers and swimmers instead of knowers and imaginative creators, the word 'intellectual' became the swear word it deserved to be" (58). He goes on: "Colored people don't like Little Black Sambo. Burn It. White people don't feel good about Uncle Tom's Cabin. Burn It. Someone's written a book about tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book." (60).The society is crumbling because pleasure has taken over. People like feeling good and readers muddy the waters. Guy decides to read, which is the conflict of the story, and puts everything in jeopardy. He learns that the society even polices itself, when people turn each other in for reading. The ignorance of the masses has forced itself on every individual in this book. The concept is sweeping, books must be burned because intellectuals upset people asking questions and forcing people to think, society must be dumbed down for mass media understanding, schools are ineffective anyway and the government doesn't care because a non-thinking, pleasure-oriented society is great for them.

The reason I chose these two novels are because I see alot of America today in them. Of course they are hyperbolic in some ways but there are glimpses of both in today's world. I believe it is important to read both of these novels to get a full understanding of what Bradbury & Orwell were thinking when they structured both of these societies but it is hard not to notice that these books are very, very relevant.

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