No authoritative edition of the novel has been available to the public. Having taught Nineteen Eighty-Four to hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as having lectured about it in high school classes to hundreds more, I have witnessed how young people struggle to grasp its crucial elements of parody and numerous satiric referents.
So let me speak quite personally about this prospect. But first, a practical obstacle: publishing rights. As the Clarendon edition exemplifies, such a volume undertaken by an outside publisher paying for permission rights must inevitably be priced beyond the means of most readers.
One strategy might be to publish a new critical edition in those countries where the novel is already in the public domain. The problem is that those literary markets are small: Canada, South Africa, and Australia are the only English-language markets available. Yet a ray of hope does exist.
The secrets of Nineteen Eighty-Four – International Socialism
According to U. The novel does not enter the public domain in the U. Yet this introduction, too, possesses limited value, given its narrow focus. So let us assume that a public domain edition excluding the American market might prove enticing to an enterprising publisher. How could that edition best serve student and general readers today? Here is a modest proposal. Ever since the inauguration of President Trump, Nineteen Eighty-Four has stood high on the fiction bestseller lists—a truly extraordinary achievement for a book originally published seven decades ago.
Essentially I propose approaching Nineteen Eighty-Four with a full appreciation of its rich historical backdrop.
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I have discovered over the years, as I have taught the book to college students and discussed it in high school classes, that young people harbor, at best, only a vague idea of what transpired in the s and s, the periods from which Orwell chiefly drew in imagining the world of his novel. This is not a small point. It is, however, such a simple one that downplaying it is an easy error. Like Animal Farm , Nineteen Eighty-Four is a satire, and even modest comprehension of its imaginative world demands knowledge of what the work is satirizing.
A worthwhile new edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four should also address biographical, psychological, and other pertinent contexts, both in the introduction and perhaps also in a series of appendices. What are a few examples of the kinds of satirical allusions and cultural references that are invariably lost to present-day readers, even literate ones?
Consider, for instance:. I am well aware of the gaps in cultural literacy not only of freshmen and sophomore college students but even of PhD students, who are often sophisticated readers of good literature, yet lack basic historical knowledge of the recent past. My teaching experience gives me a very clear sense of what kinds of help are needed today by both students and mature, ostensibly well-informed adult readers of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is exemplified by Winston and Julia when they are together. Thus, to be an individual oneself is to ultimately be able to fully acknowledge the individuality of an other while recognizing a shared humanity that would be antithetical to the false collectivity propounded by the Party.
The Party can only recognize and therefore tolerate itself, which explains why it can inflict pain so readily and remorselessly. It cannot recognize the actual otherness that constitutes the humanity of the specific individual. Only a lunatic believes he is God.
Attainment would be a form of hypostasy. However, it is in Winston and Julia and through their relationship that we see the consciousness of that which is beyond which is expressed and grasped analogically through mythologizing language. For example, the rhymes that Winston is so fond of are a case of a kind of mythologizing language. Their importance lies in their ability to connect Winston to an important aspect of his past experience; thus they function as a kind of portal to anamnesis: they bring the past alive and allow Winston a sense of its meaning and reality.
For example, when we hear a tune or melody that meant something to us in an earlier time. Any sense can be stimulated so as to cause this effect. Nothing really exists in a meaninful way. Even Goldstein and Big Brother probably do not, and never have, existed. That is to say, I collaborated in writing it. Curiously, perhaps, does Orwell himself seem to recognize a need for something like the concept of God, the Good, the beautiful or a summum bonum. Man must reach beyond himself.
But why should the beautiful and the good be more real than its opposite? For philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Augustine and Aquinas and, more recently, Voegelin, Whitehead and Lonergan, this resolves itself into a question of order. Order here equates with goodness: the harmonious, the intelligible, the God-like, and the summum bonum.
For them, to put it simply, history or the meaning of human life are synonymous, a kind of process through which and in which meaning reveals itself as unfolding: a dialogue in which human beings reach Zetesis for and are drawn Helkein by that which is Beyond. It is a situation in which any and every human individual must acknowledge his or her essential limits, and the limits of the phenomenal universe of sense-perception.
Human individuals should also be aware, even feel drawn by, that which transcends those limits. Oceania is not harmonious, or beautiful, or good, as Orwell makes clear; but it is certainly dedicated to the depths of disorder, and ultimately death, the final descent into the inorganic, and the rejection of life itself.
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A bag of filth. Orwell has presented Winston and Julia as moving through three distinct phases. Initially they are both searching for something.
Essentially they each have a need for contact and communication. Winston tries to believe, while writing in his notebook, that he is communicating in a way that can transcend his present. As soon as I saw you I knew you were against them What they find in each other is the freedom to be for each other and for themselves. If there was hope, it lay with the proles!
Winston thus describes a sameness in difference, which is also a difference in sameness: a world made up of people who, like Winston and Julia at this moment, are both individuals and yet meaningfully connected, however unobjectively aware of this they may be. All they are left with is the sense of their betrayal — of each other and themselves.
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The body that Winston knew, and all the shared experience of openness gone as well for both of them, is gone. Theirs has become perhaps the worst kind of existence: an entropy that will not run down.
Orwell has shown us how the use and abuse of language can have potentially tragic consequences. He has also demonstrated how language, power and concepts of truth and reality are complexly interrelated. If language is thus reduced to a sort of jockeying for position among points of view, then it is also reduced to a power struggle, and the truth becomes merely the dominant viewpoint.
George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four 1984 Essay
Except in Nineteen Eighty-Four they are unable to, and this is what should fill us with horror and foreboding: they cannot; we can. It depends on you. Luckily for us Nineteen Eighty-Four is still in the future. At least for the time being. Voegelin considers the summum bonum to be, in the words, in an unpublished essay, of Elizabeth C.
Unless experience is something, it is, logically enough, nothing. It is from the resolution of this ur-binary that the dynamic complexities and tensions of human experience evolves. If this ur-binary is resolved negatively, then everything that follows can only be the random groupings of chance or the immanently-curtailed and limited patterns of discrete entities brought together by human design. Their only meaning would certainly not extend any further than what could be deduced by propositional logic.
By tackling such questions, learners are engaged in uncovering the depth and richness of a topic that might otherwise be obscured by simply covering it. We welcome your additions to this list. Invite your students to choose one or more and discuss, debate or write about them as they apply to the novel and to their own lives. What is power, and how is it gained and used?
What constitutes an abuse of power? Can individuals change a society? What are the dangers of government-controlled media? What can citizens do if power is abused by a ruling group or government? How is technology changing our understanding of privacy? What Is more important: our privacy or national security?
Can changing language change thought? How do governments balance the rights of individuals with the common good? Why do some individuals take a stand against oppression while others choose to participate in it? Challenge your students to choose one or more of the lines below and apply them to life in in as many ways as they can — starting, of course, by finding Times articles with which they resonate.
Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad. In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — for ever. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed — if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth.
Until they became conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious. The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable — what then?
Power is not a means; it is an end.