The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > Cafe Society

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 06-08-2005, 04:04 PM
Lumpy Lumpy is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota US
Posts: 12,672
My take on 1984's Winston Smith

Most reviews that I have read of the novel paint Smith as a tragic hero, "the last man in Europe" who valiantly tried and failed to rebel against Big Brother. But having read the novel this is not the impression I get. What I get is that Smith was a weak contemptable fool whose fall was inevitable. My take on the character is that Smith is the prototypical "liberal idiot", long on idealism and short on cajones, and perhaps even a whipping boy for Orwell's own disillusionment with socialism and the political left.

For starters, it can be argued that Smith was broken not in a Ministry of Love torture cell but decades eariler. When he and his mother and baby sister are struggling to survive in the chaos of the civil war, he lets hunger turn him into a starving animal. He steals their last bar of chocolate and then runs away, leaving his family presumably to die either of starvation or at the hands of the revolutionaries. Smith turned his back on the love of his family then to save himself.

Decades later as an adult, Smith works for the Ministry of Truth. Despite all his ruminating and lamenting the fact that history is no longer reliable and the truth impossible to obtain, Smith actually helps the party continually falsify the records. He even takes personal pride in a tricky job well done. Now it can be argued that Smith had little choice- resigning from the Outer Party would be suicidal-; and perhaps falsifying records that are already garbage isn't much of a sellout. But that Smith hangs onto the pathetic Oceanic equivalent of a middle-class existence despite his supposed hatred for what it stands for is at best hypocritical and at worst collabaration.

Then Smith tries his hand at "fighting the power". Supposedly being recruited into the "Brotherhood" by O'Brien, he vows to do anything to overthrow the Party. Including:

"commit murder"; "commit acts of sabotage which may cause the deaths of hundreds of innocent people"; "betray your country to a foreign power"; "to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming drugs, to encourage prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases"; "to throw sulphuric acid in a chid's face".

What Smith isn't asked is, "would you give up your last chocolate bar to someone else and starve to death?"; "would you stick your face in a cagefull of hungry rats?"; "Would you accept being slowly beaten to death?". One gets the feeling that Smith might not have been able to say yes to those.

And speaking of being beaten: Smith is, at bottom, a coward. He has no physical courage at all. About to be arrested by the Thought Police, he forgoes even a futile attempt at escape because:

"One thing alone mattered: to keep still, to keep still and not give them an excuse to hit you!"

After having previously sworn to commit suicide if necessary to protect the "Brotherhood", Smith reflects that:

"Everything came back to his sick body, which shrank trembling from the smallest pain. He was not certain that he would use the razor blade even if he got the chance. It was more natural to exist from moment to moment, accepting another ten minute's life even with the certainty that there was torture at the end of it".

And when he finally does take a truncheon blow:

"The elbow! He had slumped to his knees, almost paralyzed, clasping the stricken elbow with his other hand. Everything had exploded into yellow light. Inconceivable, inconceivable that one blow could cause such pain! The light cleared and he could see the other two looking down at him. The guard was laughing at his contortions. One question at any rate was answered. Never, for any reason on earth, could you wish for an increase of pain. Of pain you could wish only one thing: that it should stop. Nothing in the world was so bad as physical pain. In the face of pain there were no heroes, no heroes, he thought over and over as he writhed on the floor, clutching uselessly at his disabled left arm".

Even though Smith consoles himself with the thought that everyone gives in, no one holds out, yet it is impossible to avoid the impression that O'Brien, Inner Party member and Smith's torturer, really would do anything that Big Brother demanded of him, including dying by torture without a sound in an Eastasian torture cell. Or for that matter, even the stupid oxlike Proles endure an existence of grueling physical labor that would kill Smith in a month. The distinguishing mark of an Outer Party member, it seems, is an absolute lack of courage.

In summary, whatever else O'Brien might claim, one thing seems true: Winston Smith's rebellion against Big Brother was a shallow and hypocritical one.
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 06-08-2005, 04:49 PM
Ike Witt Ike Witt is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Lost in the mists of time
Posts: 11,518
Why do you hate Eurasia?
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 06-08-2005, 04:52 PM
mrunlucky mrunlucky is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
I give your report a B for effort, but a D- overall.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 06-08-2005, 04:54 PM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is online now
Member
 
Join Date: Oct 1999
Posts: 23,399
Because Oceania is at war with Eurasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.

But, no, Lumpy, I agree with you. Smith isn't particularly heroic, and that's the point of the novel.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 06-08-2005, 05:08 PM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
There's a trivial inconsistancy on the suicide issue, in that Winston reflects on its difficulty in a society where weapons are hard to acquire, yet there is also in the narrative a description of the towers of the four ministries, and how all could be seen from the roof of Victory Flats (Winston's apartment building), which is at least seven stories tall. The suggestion is that if Winston wanted to off himself, he could take a dive.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 06-08-2005, 05:56 PM
Cliffy Cliffy is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2001
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lumpy
Winston Smith's rebellion against Big Brother was a shallow and hypocritical one.
Absolutely true. That's sorta the point. The horror of 1984 is not the totalitarianism or the doublethink themselves. It's the absolute loss of individual human dignity required to survive in the State. We know the State is evil because any minor show of personal volition or choice is met with terrible consequences. It's not that Smith lives in a bad place -- everybody lives in a place that could be better. But there is no way Smith or anyone else is ever going to make things better for himself or for society, because there's no freedom. Your analysis is flawed in that it condemns Smith for being cowardly and self-interested. But humans are cowardly and self-interested. There is nothing wrong with being cowardly and self-interested. But the State uses that to strip everything else away from us as well. This is why 1984 is effective as a cautionary tale (or at least one hopes). Because the reader of the novel is no hero either -- he (you, I, whoever) is just a guy, same as Smith. And what 1984 shows us is that **this** is what will happen to all of us if we don't prevent the State from taking that kind of control now, when we still claim to hold liberty dear.

--Cliffy
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 06-08-2005, 06:04 PM
pinkfreud pinkfreud is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2002
To me, the very ordinariness of Winston Smith is one of the most striking things about the book. He isn't some big, bold hero, nor was he meant to be. He's a weaselly little nebbish like most of us.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 06-08-2005, 07:23 PM
Scumpup Scumpup is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
The point of the book was just as you described it. I think your real beef, if any, is with the critics and blurb writers who tried to cast (sell?) it as a heroic story.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 06-08-2005, 08:19 PM
Eonwe Eonwe is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Burlington VT
Posts: 7,192
I think your analysis of Smith as a 'liberal idiot' is based on your own prejudices/observations and not those of Orwell.

As folks have said, Winston didn't 'lack cajones' because he was liberal, but because he was human. Nor, in the context of Orwell's future does Smith seem bizarrely idealistic. Orwell wants us most definitely to believe that 1984s world is a horrible one, and it definitely is. Faulting Smith for feeling the same way is really not fair.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 06-08-2005, 11:37 PM
foolsguinea foolsguinea is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: Tornado Alley
Posts: 10,473
The first sentence of Anthony Burgess's response to 1984, 1985, is, "1984 is a comic book." (That is, it is a joke, not that it's a graphic novel.)

Smith apparently is meant to be contemptible.
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 06-09-2005, 07:18 AM
Odinoneeye Odinoneeye is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
This is kind of a hijack, but I do have a question about the book.

Did anyone else get the impression that Julia was a member of the Thought Police?

O'Brien says he's been playing a game with Winston for years, so unless he was lying, he had been watching Winston for longer than he had been with Julia. It seems odd that in this society where you can't trust anyone that she would suddenly come from nowhere and start up this relationship with him.

So my hypothesis is that O'Brien knew Winston was guilty of Thought Crime and put the events in motion to crush him by the end of the book.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 06-09-2005, 08:04 AM
kingpengvin kingpengvin is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2001
Naw, I think O'Brien was playing mind games. Rememeber the key to that society is the paranoia that you were always under the scrutiny of someon else. You never knew when you were being monitored by the viewscreen so you had to play it safe and assume you were always watched. O'Brien was just reinforcing that illusion.

Julia's reaction to him when she saw him again after the events gave me the impression that she too had undergone treatment.

What I always found interesting is that the Proles were given as much freedom as they were. True they were cowed by other means, subpar entertainment, alcohol and porn, but they didn't seem to notice how screwed up the rest of Oceana was. I may be mistaken but wouldn't the best place to be in that society is in the Prole quarters.

I can't believe the Inner party members weren't monitoring each other to keep their realatively cushy positions.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 06-09-2005, 08:37 AM
Scumpup Scumpup is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Quote:
Originally Posted by kingpengvin
Naw, I think O'Brien was playing mind games. Rememeber the key to that society is the paranoia that you were always under the scrutiny of someon else. You never knew when you were being monitored by the viewscreen so you had to play it safe and assume you were always watched. O'Brien was just reinforcing that illusion.

Julia's reaction to him when she saw him again after the events gave me the impression that she too had undergone treatment.

What I always found interesting is that the Proles were given as much freedom as they were. True they were cowed by other means, subpar entertainment, alcohol and porn, but they didn't seem to notice how screwed up the rest of Oceana was. I may be mistaken but wouldn't the best place to be in that society is in the Prole quarters.

I can't believe the Inner party members weren't monitoring each other to keep their realatively cushy positions.

It's been a while since I read 1984, but IIRC it's stated that any proles that display traits The Party finds even a tiny bit threatening are culled.
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 06-09-2005, 11:17 AM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by Scumpup
It's been a while since I read 1984, but IIRC it's stated that any proles that display traits The Party finds even a tiny bit threatening are culled.
Nope. One of the slogans was "Proles and animals are free." There were Party agents among the Proles spreading false rumours and occassionally eliminating dangerous individuals, but the impression I had was that these individuals would have to have serious political potential (i.e. a possible trade unionist or a Howark Roark type) for the Party to care enough to take them out.
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 06-09-2005, 11:58 AM
Crafter_Man Crafter_Man is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Another (slight) hijack:

1984 was published in 1948. Was the novel a big hit in the late 1940s/1950s? Or has the book become more popular over time?
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 06-09-2005, 12:45 PM
Scumpup Scumpup is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryan Ekers
Nope. One of the slogans was "Proles and animals are free." There were Party agents among the Proles spreading false rumours and occassionally eliminating dangerous individuals, but the impression I had was that these individuals would have to have serious political potential (i.e. a possible trade unionist or a Howark Roark type) for the Party to care enough to take them out.
I think you are misinterpreting the "proles and animals are free" slogan. That slogan wasn't aimed at the proles, it was for the outer party members. The proles were controlled by different means than the outer party members, but they were controlled.
As time permits, I must re-read.
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 06-09-2005, 01:05 PM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by Scumpup
I think you are misinterpreting the "proles and animals are free" slogan.
Ithink you're misinterpreting my post. The proles were under some controls, but not the relentless surveillance bestowed on individual Party members, nor were they casually "disappeared" for trivial offences. Note Winston's diary entry about the violent newsreel and the prole woman who loudly objected. She was ejected from the theatre, but Winston didn't expect anything would happen to her because "nobody" cared what proles did.
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 06-09-2005, 01:18 PM
Scumpup Scumpup is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Winston is, at best, an unreliable source of information for how the system works. Like everybody else in his society, he knows only what his government wants him to know and that information itself is demonstrably unreliable.
Did something happen to the proletariot woman from the theater? Winston not thinking so in unconvincing; he was wrong about so many other things.
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 06-09-2005, 01:36 PM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is online now
Member
 
Join Date: Oct 1999
Posts: 23,399
Quote:
To keep [the proles] in control was not difficult. A few agents of the Thought Police moved always among them, spreading false rumours and marking down and eliminating the few individuals who were judged capable of becoming dangerous; but no attempt was made to indoctrinate them with the ideology of the Party. It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working-hours or shorter rations. And even when they became discontented, as they sometimes did, their discontent led nowhere, because being without general ideas, they could only focus it on petty specific grievances. The larger evils invariably escaped their notice.
From Chapter 7
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 06-09-2005, 02:33 PM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
Note also the difference between "polits" and common criminals in the cells at the Ministry of Love. The prole prisoners treat it like a drunk tank, while former Party members mostly sit in quiet terror.



As a minor correction, the 1984 euphamism for someone arbitrarily arrested and executed is "vaporized", not "disappeared", as I stated earlier.
Reply With Quote
  #21  
Old 06-09-2005, 04:06 PM
ddgryphon ddgryphon is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Interestingly enough, you can make a case for Winston being a Christ-like figure. He is tortured, dies (metaphorically) and is reborn. He is weak. He is human. He is sad and his existence is pathetic. I think that is mostly the point. I think he really didn't have the courage to truly rebel until the girl pushed him to it. He felt he wanted to do something, but couldn't get it up to do so until he had the "wild" sex thing go on.

Winston isn't so much a heroic figure as he is an everyman portrayal. He is the common man trapped in the hell of a controlling society.

Now, for grins read Brave New World and compare how right, in different ways, Orwell and Huxley were in that long ago time. I feel they understood the nature of people and societies better than any writer ever did.
Reply With Quote
  #22  
Old 06-09-2005, 04:27 PM
davenportavenger davenportavenger is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2004
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lumpy
Winston Smith's rebellion against Big Brother was a shallow and hypocritical one.
You'd have done better?

I reread this a few days ago and I was definitely impressed with just how common Orwell wrote Winston Smith, and how depressing he allowed the ending to be. A lesser writer would have sold out the ending and let Winston rebel a little in his heart, but the way Smith's "brokenness" is depicted is so final and complete. There's no hope here. Maybe that's why the OP doesn't like it, because we're trained to believe that good things happen to fictional characters and a hopeless ending leaves a bad taste in your mouth. And that just means that the book is working.

And, duh, the book wasn't about The Left or communism (or at least, not just communism), it was about authoritarianism. I am always dismayed when people see this as an anti-commie novel. You have to be doing some serious doublethinking not to see the parallels between Oceanic society and current American society (and I don't just mean Bush II, but all authoritarian presidents, which is pretty much all of them).
Reply With Quote
  #23  
Old 06-10-2005, 10:59 AM
Lumpy Lumpy is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota US
Posts: 12,672
Quote:
Originally Posted by continuity eror
You'd have done better?
No, I probably wouldn't have. Which is why Smith's cowardice is so painful to behold.
Reply With Quote
  #24  
Old 06-10-2005, 11:07 AM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: The Middle of Puget Sound
Posts: 16,998
The thing is, totalitarian society turns everyone into cowards and collaborators. If you aren't willing to go along, if you try to stand up for yourself you get squashed. Take Winston's grabbing the chocolate. If he hadn't taken the chocolate he probably would have starved to death. His mother allowed him to take the chocolate, sacrificing herself. She died. Anyone who isn't willing to grab the chocolate, who isn't willing to rat on his neighbor, who isn't willing to shut up and do their job, gets destroyed.

Totalitarian regimes require everyone to commit crimes in order to survive. The force people to realize that they are just as bad as the powerful...the powerful kill, murder and enslave, but the common people must do the same on a petty level. Winston can't fight back with all his strength because the compromises he's had to make in order to survive have destroyed his self-worth. He doesn't really believe he's entitled to freedom, and when the take him off for re-education he's already half convinced he deserves it.
Reply With Quote
  #25  
Old 06-10-2005, 12:10 PM
Walton Firm Walton Firm is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2002
What I always found the most fascination part of 1984 is the enormous amount of effort that is expended on a single, rather small-fry little rebel.

Why would they? It's not to get information out of him, as he doesn't know anything important and they know it. It's not to set an example for others, because while everybody knows that it's a bad idea to get on the Ministry of Love's enemies list, the details of what goes on in there are not made public.

It's not to turn Winston back into a productive member of society either, because it is made quite clear at the end of the book that after he has been tortured into submission, they don't really care much about him anymore. Het gets a busy-work job, but nothing worth going through all that trouble for.

So, why didn't O'Brien just shoot both of them during their first meeting, and be done with it? Simple sadism could be an explanation, but it's a bit weak for the creation of an entire government branch with carefully designed procedures.

Apparently, then, getting Winston back into the fold is an end in itself. Even a single individual rebelling against the Party cannot be tolerated. That individual must be brought back into line before being destroyed, even after you have already made sure that he can never influence anybody else.

For all its evilness, 1948's brand of totalitarianism really is an ideology, and its leaders believe in that ideology just as fanatically, and as sincerely, as any other ideologue. That's the really scary part of the novel, even scarier than the rats.
Reply With Quote
  #26  
Old 06-10-2005, 02:47 PM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lemur866
The thing is, totalitarian society turns everyone into cowards and collaborators.
Relevant quote:

Quote:
Incidentally, I understand from correspondents who have left or escaped from Russia later than I did, that the time I last saw it, which was in 1926, was the best time since the Russian revolution. At that time conditions were a little better than they have become since. In my time we were a bunch of ragged, starved, dirty, miserable people who only had two thoughts in our mind. That was our complete terror - afraid to look at one another, afraid to say anything for fear of who was listening and would reports us - and where to find get the next meal. You have no idea what it means in live in a country where nobody has any concern except food, where all conversation is about food because everybody is so hungry that that is all they can think about and that is all they can afford to do. They have no idea of politics. They have no idea of pleasant romances or love - nothing but food and fear.
Try to guess the source before reveling the answer.

SPOILER:
Ayn Rand, in testimony before the HUAC; Oct. 20, 1947
Reply With Quote
  #27  
Old 11-04-2012, 05:32 PM
Alysa Alysa is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2012
To me Winston Smith isn't a coward at all, he's a nice, friendly, gentle, boy (I think he would have allowed me to call him a boy, cause I am now almost 40 and I still see myself pretty much as a girl), I hate it when people try to portray him as a coward, he really was not, yes is't true he suffered enormously from the truncheon, but one must carry in mind that he also suffered from a bad health (varicose ulcer, easily tired), from the moment he started with the thoughtcrime, he knew he was dead, he carried on, he wanted his society to change for the better, but couldn't achieve that (nobody in that state could have achieved that!), he was honest with his thoughts, . . .
Reply With Quote
  #28  
Old 11-04-2012, 06:01 PM
grude grude is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2011
Smith is not a hero or a villain, Smith is the everyman. Smith is what everyone really is behind internet tough guy bluster, sitting in their Mansion pontificating about how they wouldn't steal the chocolate or turn their back on their family.

Have you seen Brazil? It is an adaptation to film that really nails Smith's character.
Reply With Quote
  #29  
Old 11-04-2012, 06:06 PM
TurboNuke TurboNuke is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
In my opinion, Winston Smith is a hero, the best that that society could produce. Its a cautionary tale that once totalitarianism takes hold there's no way to escape it. It grinds everyone down. So a weak ineffectual hero is all we get.
Reply With Quote
  #30  
Old 11-04-2012, 08:13 PM
kaylasdad99 kaylasdad99 is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Sep 1999
Location: Anaheim, CA
Posts: 21,569
In re the OP: I guess I never read a review of 1984, because it never occurred to me that anyone would characterize Winston Smith as a
Quote:
tragic hero, "the last man in Europe" who valiantly tried and failed to rebel against Big Brother.
Quote:
Originally Posted by TurboNuke View Post
In my opinion, Winston Smith is a hero, the best that that society could produce. Its a cautionary tale that once totalitarianism takes hold there's no way to escape it. It grinds everyone down. So a weak ineffectual hero is all we get.
And in point of fact, 1984 is probably a more likely outcome of western civilization than, say, a zombie apocalypse.
Reply With Quote
  #31  
Old 11-04-2012, 09:23 PM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by TurboNuke View Post
In my opinion, Winston Smith is a hero, the best that that society could produce. Its a cautionary tale that once totalitarianism takes hold there's no way to escape it. It grinds everyone down. So a weak ineffectual hero is all we get.
And, what is more, the governmental control is so extensive that even weak ineffectual heroes are perceived as threats and removed. Living a life of quiet desperation isn't even safe, if someone (possibly your own child) reports you to the Thought Police because they think desperation is thoughtcrime.


Of course, I figure in time Oceania will rot and collapse, because they'll have killed off all the intelligent people needed to maintain the surveillance and weapons, and the infrastructure will crumble away with nobody capable of rebuilding it.
Reply With Quote
  #32  
Old 11-04-2012, 11:22 PM
Shakester Shakester is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2008
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lumpy View Post
My take on the character is that Smith is the prototypical "liberal idiot", long on idealism and short on cajones, and perhaps even a whipping boy for Orwell's own disillusionment with socialism and the political left.
Wishful thinking. Orwell was a committed socialist till his dying day. He was warning against totalitarianism, whether rightist/fascist or leftist/communist.
Reply With Quote
  #33  
Old 11-04-2012, 11:51 PM
Alessan Alessan is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryan Ekers View Post

Of course, I figure in time Oceania will rot and collapse, because they'll have killed off all the intelligent people needed to maintain the surveillance and weapons, and the infrastructure will crumble away with nobody capable of rebuilding it.
That was Orwell's big mistake - he thought that the enemy of totalitarianism was human strength. Subsequent history has taught us that these regimes are brought down by human weakness - corruption, apathy, inefficiency and good old fasioned incompetance.

Of course, he had no way of knowing that at the time.
Reply With Quote
  #34  
Old 11-05-2012, 12:26 AM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: ___\o/___(\___
Posts: 9,274
Quote:
Originally Posted by Walton Firm View Post
What I always found the most fascination part of 1984 is the enormous amount of effort that is expended on a single, rather small-fry little rebel.

Why would they? ...
I know this is a years-old zombie, but answer here:

http://tmh.floonet.net/books/1984/1984Ch3.3.html

Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. ... The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. ... How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?

Winston thought. 'By making him suffer,' he said.

'Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.
Reply With Quote
  #35  
Old 11-05-2012, 02:46 AM
Der Trihs Der Trihs is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryan Ekers View Post
Of course, I figure in time Oceania will rot and collapse, because they'll have killed off all the intelligent people needed to maintain the surveillance and weapons, and the infrastructure will crumble away with nobody capable of rebuilding it.
Or environmental degradation will destroy them, or they'll run out of resources without discovering alternatives and everything will collapse from that. A society like theirs is good at control but bad at problem solving; people don't dare point problems out, much less try to solve them. Nor is it good at science. And a leadership that thinks that they can just declare reality to be what they want is going to refuse to acknowledge all sorts of problems until disaster is upon them.
Reply With Quote
  #36  
Old 11-05-2012, 03:09 AM
Alessan Alessan is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Orwell's problem was that he wasn't cynical enough. He had too much faith in the capabilities of the people he hated.
Reply With Quote
  #37  
Old 11-05-2012, 05:00 AM
Grumman Grumman is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lemur866 View Post
The thing is, totalitarian society turns everyone into cowards and collaborators.
Cowards and collaborators turn society totalitarian. It is only because of the assistance of people like Smith that the Party can survive.
Reply With Quote
  #38  
Old 11-05-2012, 06:38 AM
Busy Scissors Busy Scissors is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
I read 1984 only recently, sort of glad I didn't pick it up when I was 18 - a mesmerising and depressing read. I was wondering what do people make of the sequence where Smith is being tortured by O'Brien and it is clear that O'Brien can read his thoughts? I don't have a copy to hand, but I'm sure there were a few examples where O'Brien explicitly reacts to things Smith is thinking / or has knowledge that cannot be easily explained (like the photo or newspaper cutting Smith destroyed years ago).
I wondered if Orwell meant it as a more metaphorical piece illustrating the party's total and absolute control, or if it was written literally and illustrates Smith being drugged / not lucid and not thinking straight.
Reply With Quote
  #39  
Old 11-05-2012, 07:14 AM
Lumpy Lumpy is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota US
Posts: 12,672
Quote:
Originally Posted by Busy Scissors View Post
I read 1984 only recently, sort of glad I didn't pick it up when I was 18 - a mesmerising and depressing read. I was wondering what do people make of the sequence where Smith is being tortured by O'Brien and it is clear that O'Brien can read his thoughts? I don't have a copy to hand, but I'm sure there were a few examples where O'Brien explicitly reacts to things Smith is thinking / or has knowledge that cannot be easily explained (like the photo or newspaper cutting Smith destroyed years ago).
I wondered if Orwell meant it as a more metaphorical piece illustrating the party's total and absolute control, or if it was written literally and illustrates Smith being drugged / not lucid and not thinking straight.
Possibly it's a combination of having seen countless previous victims go through the same ordeal, and being good at reading tells.

Last edited by Lumpy; 11-05-2012 at 07:15 AM.. Reason: sp
Reply With Quote
  #40  
Old 11-05-2012, 07:54 AM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: ___\o/___(\___
Posts: 9,274
Quote:
Originally Posted by Busy Scissors View Post
I don't have a copy to hand, but I'm sure there were a few examples where O'Brien explicitly reacts to things Smith is thinking / or has knowledge that cannot be easily explained (like the photo or newspaper cutting Smith destroyed years ago).
Example here

http://tmh.floonet.net/books/1984/1984Ch3.4.html
Reply With Quote
  #41  
Old 11-05-2012, 10:10 AM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: The Middle of Puget Sound
Posts: 16,998
Quote:
Originally Posted by Grumman View Post
Cowards and collaborators turn society totalitarian. It is only because of the assistance of people like Smith that the Party can survive.
Yes. Everyone collaborates, and so everyone must collaborate, or the collaborators will tear him to pieces.

That is why there are no heroes in totalitarian societies. Yes, there are heroes such as yourself who refuse to go along with the program. Those people end up in prison or shot in the back of the head. There aren't very many of them. Most people would rather live, and so they cooperate in all the small ways that create the totalitarian society. Even the prison guards and secret police are usually not monsters, just ordinary people doing a job that requires them to do monstrous things.

And so, Winston Smith grabs the food from his mother and sister, and survives. I'm sure there were plenty of children who didn't grab food from other people, and those children starved to death.
Reply With Quote
  #42  
Old 11-05-2012, 10:27 AM
Quercus Quercus is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2000
(since someone else re-animated this..)
Quote:
Originally Posted by Walton Firm View Post
What I always found the most fascination part of 1984 is the enormous amount of effort that is expended on a single, rather small-fry little rebel.
...
Apparently, then, getting Winston back into the fold is an end in itself. Even a single individual rebelling against the Party cannot be tolerated. That individual must be brought back into line before being destroyed, even after you have already made sure that he can never influence anybody else.

For all its evilness, 1948's brand of totalitarianism really is an ideology, and its leaders believe in that ideology just as fanatically, and as sincerely, as any other ideologue. That's the really scary part of the novel, even scarier than the rats.
Or, the Ministry of Love goes after Winston because that's what they do. Nobody with any long-term big-picture vision is deciding whether it's worth spending the resources to break him, or if they are, it's not ideological; their decision is along the lines of "If we don't spend all of our surveillance and enhanced interrogation budget this year, it will be cut next year, and I might even end up supervising less people." So the Ministry goes full break-mode on anyone (well, Party member, anyway) brought in, because that's their job and that's how they justify their existence.

I personally find evil-by-beaurocracy much scarier than evil-by-ideology. I mean, that's the point of the book, right? Nobody is an idealogue, but everyone (including Winston, when he's airbrushing) goes along and does evil anyway.
Reply With Quote
  #43  
Old 11-05-2012, 10:50 AM
Grumman Grumman is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lemur866 View Post
That is why there are no heroes in totalitarian societies.
And yet there are people like Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg who did not merely refuse to assist in performing these crimes but actively hindered them.
Reply With Quote
  #44  
Old 11-05-2012, 11:08 AM
Alysa Alysa is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2012
Society was already turned into a totalitarian one, at the start of the novel (it started to form itself in that way when Smith was just a boy, or maybe a teenager, so one couldn't blame him for that!) when Smith worked in the Ministry of Truth, at least, that wasn't his fault, alright he collaborated with that state he lived in, but later on he started to think more and more on how that system worked and that he didn't like it, so he started with the thoughtcrime and he went on with it almost till the end of the novel, alright he gave in with the rats, but that to my opinion that isn't proof enough that he was a coward! (that's my answer to Grumman) What I dislike is yet indeed what almost everyone else in general should from out of their 'comfort positions' in their 'comfort mansions' should do or shouldn't do in Smith's place, none of us ever was in his place. Grude wrote: "Smith is the everyman", yes I gather most readers could see him as 'an' 'everyman', though I never see him as 'an everyman', but I gues that comes because I really cannot figure good out what 'an everyman' is (please don't try to explain that to me, I learn't that in hight school!). So I neglect the thought of seeing ever someone an as everyman (or everwoman, for that part), I always ever see a person, as an individual, and to me Smith is a very good, nice gentle, friendly individual, Smith never wanted to become a hero, I gather, nor wanted he ever become a coward, I gather that too, certainly. I haven't seen "Brazil" but I take it in my mind of ever seeing it! I haven't really gave it much thought in what possible manner a state like Oceania should ever go rotten or collapse, maybe I shall there have to take my thoughts to. Kaylasdadd99 wrote: "And in point of fact "1984" is probably a more likely outcome of western civilization than say , a zombie apocalypse", I pretty much agree with that! Best wishes to all of you!
Reply With Quote
  #45  
Old 11-05-2012, 01:21 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: The Middle of Puget Sound
Posts: 16,998
Quote:
Originally Posted by Grumman View Post
And yet there are people like Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg who did not merely refuse to assist in performing these crimes but actively hindered them.
Yes, except Oskar Schindler saved a lot of jews, but he was also a Nazi collaborator. You don't get in the position of being a Nazi industrialist unless you're a collaborator with the Nazi regime. Of course that didn't stop him from also helping people. But the point about Oskar Schindler is that there weren't that many Oskar Schindlers. If not collaborating with the Nazi regime was something that every person of average moral integrity would do, then there wouldn't have been a Nazi regime in the first place.
Reply With Quote
  #46  
Old 11-05-2012, 01:40 PM
kaylasdad99 kaylasdad99 is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Sep 1999
Location: Anaheim, CA
Posts: 21,569
Quote:
Originally Posted by Alysa View Post
Society was already turned into a totalitarian one, at the start of the novel (it started to form itself in that way when Smith was just a boy, or maybe a teenager, so one couldn't blame him for that!) when Smith worked in the Ministry of Truth, at least, that wasn't his fault, alright he collaborated with that state he lived in, but later on he started to think more and more on how that system worked and that he didn't like it, so he started with the thoughtcrime and he went on with it almost till the end of the novel, alright he gave in with the rats, but that to my opinion that isn't proof enough that he was a coward! (that's my answer to Grumman) What I dislike is yet indeed what almost everyone else in general should from out of their 'comfort positions' in their 'comfort mansions' should do or shouldn't do in Smith's place, none of us ever was in his place. Grude wrote: "Smith is the everyman", yes I gather most readers could see him as 'an' 'everyman', though I never see him as 'an everyman', but I gues that comes because I really cannot figure good out what 'an everyman' is (please don't try to explain that to me, I learn't that in hight school!). So I neglect the thought of seeing ever someone an as everyman (or everwoman, for that part), I always ever see a person, as an individual, and to me Smith is a very good, nice gentle, friendly individual, Smith never wanted to become a hero, I gather, nor wanted he ever become a coward, I gather that too, certainly. I haven't seen "Brazil" but I take it in my mind of ever seeing it! I haven't really gave it much thought in what possible manner a state like Oceania should ever go rotten or collapse, maybe I shall there have to take my thoughts to. Kaylasdadd99 wrote: "And in point of fact "1984" is probably a more likely outcome of western civilization than say , a zombie apocalypse", I pretty much agree with that! Best wishes to all of you!
Welcome to the SDMB, Alysa! I hope you enjoy the time you spend here.

If I may, I'd like to make a few suggestions that, were you to follow them, could very well enhance the enjoyment you derive from that time. At the very least, following them would enhance everyone else's enjoyment of what you post.

First, learn to break your posts into paragraphs. This is not primarily a texting forum, and even if the only platform you have for participating is a cellphone, paragraphing is worthwhile, because it makes your posts easier to read (which in turn makes it more likely that people will be willing to read them).

Learn to use the quote function (and eventually, even the multi-quote), and place your individual responses after each segment that you quote. Your post that I have quoted immediately above is what we call a "brick" of text, and it's very difficult to distinguish your contributions from the snippets to which you are responding.

Learn to use the BB code. It can enhance a post by allowing you to more concisely convey tone and emphasis.

Again, welcome! We're actually quite friendly, and the goat doesn't really exist (even if it did, it's already used up thirteen years of a goat's expected fifteen-to-eighteen year lifespan. Anything the Initiators try to get the goat to do to you is largely a formality).
Reply With Quote
  #47  
Old 11-05-2012, 04:08 PM
JRDelirious JRDelirious is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: San Juan, PR
Posts: 10,498
By the time we read the story, this society has gone into full totalitarian mode for totalitarianism's own sake(*) as pointed out by O'Brien. The goal of the ongoing war is not victory but creating hardship; the goal of persistent hardship is to keep the population operating at basic survival-needs level, just at the threshold of bearable suffering, so the regime can control them by increasing the suffering. Even the apparent resistance is really a regime-baited trap to draw out those who remain alert enough to do crimethinking. Winston may not realize it but the whole environment that was created and sustained since his childhood has debased and weakened him so that he couldn't make a real stand if he wanted to.

In this environment heroism becomes impossible or at least pointless. Act craven or act bravely, individually or collectivelly, the result is the same boot to the face, for everyone, forever. The most you can hope for is to delay it, to stretch out the time in between stompings. O'Brien can be cynical enough to let Winston read the treatise on IngSoc itself because he knows Smith has no way of ever using that knowlege. The level of oppression in Oceania has progressed beyond the point where you can have a Schindler, he'd be unable to "save" anyone, he'd just get broken and be forced to betray them, or they'd all eventually get caught and broken themselves...
...or, at least that's what O'Brien wants Winston to "know" before he's completely broken. Ministry of Love wants their victims to be truly defeated: before they die, to live yet a little while having become wholly convinced there Is. No. Hope.


(*Which is one of Orwell's points here and in other writings: regardless of the originating social ideology, if you use the methods of totalitarianism to impose it, sooner or later it will be the sustainment of the totalitarian machinery itself that becomes the goal)

Last edited by JRDelirious; 11-05-2012 at 04:10 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #48  
Old 11-05-2012, 07:40 PM
The Other Waldo Pepper The Other Waldo Pepper is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
Quote:
Originally Posted by Quercus View Post
I personally find evil-by-beaurocracy much scarier than evil-by-ideology. I mean, that's the point of the book, right? Nobody is an idealogue, but everyone (including Winston, when he's airbrushing) goes along and does evil anyway.
I'm not sure I'd say O'Brien isn't an ideologue. (I'm more likely to figure he isn't just going along with the bureaucracy la Winston-When-Airbrushing.)
Reply With Quote
  #49  
Old 11-06-2012, 06:10 PM
Alysa Alysa is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2012
Kaylasdad99, thank you for the warm welcome, yes you're right, sooner or later I shall have to learn to paragraphe, to use the quote function, and to use the BBCode, anyway thank you again for the welcome!
Reply With Quote
  #50  
Old 11-07-2012, 04:33 AM
Seanette Seanette is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2012
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lemur866 View Post
The thing is, totalitarian society turns everyone into cowards and collaborators. If you aren't willing to go along, if you try to stand up for yourself you get squashed. Take Winston's grabbing the chocolate. If he hadn't taken the chocolate he probably would have starved to death. His mother allowed him to take the chocolate, sacrificing herself. She died. Anyone who isn't willing to grab the chocolate, who isn't willing to rat on his neighbor, who isn't willing to shut up and do their job, gets destroyed.
Add to that that he was still a kid at the time (voice just starting to change). One can't expect an adolescent to have the mental strength of the adult reading his story.
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 12:55 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.