Living in a harsh reality like in 1984, written by George Orwell, where the truth is distorted, eccentricity and expression are denied, and history is rewritten can easily prevent growth and discovering the truth.
There are many themes that the novel revolves around, such as totalitarianism, control of information and history, psychological manipulation, and lack of intimate relationships. I will be focusing on the two latter themes and relate them to today’s society and institutions.
Thoughtcrime and Doublethink
The dystopian the novel is set in is a totalitarian society where they are surveillanced and controlled by the government in many aspects of their life. One of the reasons why is to prevent their citizens from committing thoughtcrime and doublethink.
Thoughtcrime is an illegal thought. It is a thought that is their own and goes against Ingsoc’s belief. All thoughts are created and perpetuated through the government, to think anything different is considered a crime.
The other crime, doublethink, is “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them” (Orwell 214). Both of these crimes prevent their citizens from personal thoughts and expression and create a lack of eccentricity in society.
An institution that has been around for a long time and probably perpetuates something similar to these crimes is the church – even raising this argument is probably a form of thoughtcrime.
1984 could be alluding to the problems with the church, as illustrated through Winston Smith’s experience and struggle to survive in a society with many restrictions. The allusion is heightened when he is caught and tortured by O’Brien. He threatens and forces Smith to get rid of his own thoughts and logic – what may be true to Winston and replace it with what rings true to Ingsoc, such as when O’Brien tells him that two plus two equals five or that the paper Winston had that proved the three men innocent of treachery never existed.
To support my argument, I will draw from my own experiences and use Christian evangelist Jefferson Bethke’s video and spoken word, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.”
There are many arguments that religion raises, but personally, as a person who grew up in a religious family, I think religion is ignorant and meaningless.
We go to church. We try not to sin. We try and aim to sculpt ourselves into this ‘perfect’ image. Bethke says religion says ‘do’ and Jesus says ‘done’. By committing ourselves to a ‘religion,’ we go to church and follow all these rules of do’s and don’ts, of right and wrong, and of good and evil. We are taught to mold ourselves into this elusive, mythical, and perfect human being. We follow these structures and rules in order to create the perfect picture of ourselves for God to notice us because God only loves those who are perfect. “Religion says ‘slave’ and Jesus says ‘son’. Religion says ‘bondage’ and Jesus says ‘free’ ” (Bethke). We are to find him without being shackled by religion, by structures and laws, and not true believers if otherwise.
Besides the problems that exist generally around the institution, but also inside the church and its people. Bethke says the church is mostly seen as “museums for good people” and not as “hospitals for the broken.”Some people are automatically shunned or marginalized inside the church when they commit a ‘sin’ or do not portray the image of a true ‘believer’, or their behavior is not ‘godly’.
I feel as if this system and institution is a way to make others feel guilty for not abiding by their “right” ways to live life – as if there is only one universal way to live life, and if not you are automatically and relentlessly condemned. What if there are other ways that people find or connect with divinity?
I took a class called “Transcendentalism” last semester and it was very enlightening and interesting to explore the philosophy surrounding the idea of nature and divinity, that the discovery of divinity is within one’s excursion into nature.
We studied many pieces around this subject written by transcendentalists, such as Henry David Thoreau, William Wordsworth, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Their school of thought revolves around the idea that perhaps nature does not simply exist to adorn the world and give us pleasure from the sight of them, but there as a gateway to the ‘truth’ and divinity. They express their views about the importance of nature to one’s spiritual health and discovery.
In one of Thoreau’s famous essay called, “Walking,” he believes that when one breaks away from civilization and expose themselves to ‘wildness’, it is only then that they will discover true freedom and self-transcendence.
Similar to 1984, when religion hinders one from thinking outside of this system they are forbidden to express individual thought and eccentricity. They cannot discover what makes life meaningful to them but instead function like a human church that is restricted by rules and boundaries, limiting their thoughts and knowledge. We are to be orthodox.
Being an English Literature student, sometimes I feel guilty when I am introduced to other philosophies and stray away from the confinement of my own religion because we are exposed to so many ideas and theories. We dabble in every thought that has ever existed, which causes doublethink to happen. The church or religion impose doublethink.
God is real. If there is a God, why are there so much chaos in the world? Why did my cat die? The church hates those who are homosexuals. I thought God loves everyone? Like 1984, the contradiction that exists within the church and religion makes me wonder if we’re being fed lies and regurgitating them.
Evidence vs. Belief
Another idea I want to touch briefly on that I thought was very interesting in 1984 is the idea of evidence versus belief. This seems to be an underlying theme that resurfaces quite a lot in the novel, such as in the scene when O’Brien tortures Winston. He tells O’Brien that their ways of doing things will be discovered and they will fail. However, O’Brien says, “Do you see any evidence that this is happening? Or any reason why it should” (Orwell 269). Winston replies, “No. I believe it. I know that you will fail” (Orwell 269). This can also allude to the church and religion and its way of delivering the word of God.
The bible is the supposedly the ‘evidence’ and foundation that supports the church’s beliefs, so what is established in the bible is true, but ‘evidence’ could also oppose what someone believes.
Evidence in 1984 and even in society today, such as written laws, is important because it promotes and maintains power. It sets limits and rules out what is right and wrong. In terms of religion, an example of this would be if someone is trying to prove their argument, they use the bible to support them. On the other hand, if someone simply “believes” in something that is not written nor established in the bible then it is wrong.
Dystopian novels like 1984 introduce us to a hyperstylized fictitious world where it makes it hard for the readers to imagine living in a place like that.
However, this ‘hyperstylization’ could also be a tool used in dystopian texts to vividly enhance the problems that already exist but fail to be seen in society and perhaps suggests that we are already living in a dystopian world.
***This post is from a journal entry for a class***