Dystopian Genre and 1984

(This post was inspired by the July 2012 Blog Chain prompt at Absolute Write.  This month’s prompt is slavery and independence. )

First, what exactly is a dystopia?

A dystopia is a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. Dystopian societies feature different kinds of repressive social control systems, various forms of active and passive coercion. Works about dystopian societies often explore the concept of humans abusing technology and humans individually and collectively coping, or not being able to properly cope with technology that has progressed far more rapidly than humanity’s spiritual evolution. Dystopian societies are often imagined as police states, with unlimited power over the citizens.  – Wikipedia

I read George Orwell’s 1984 recently, which is often suggested to be the ultimate dystopian novel.  After reading, I can understand why.  It dives further into breaking apart every single freedom we hold dear than any other one I’ve read in its genre.  It’s one thing to enslave the body and force people to perform actions against their will.  Its another to completely reform the brain to eliminate all thoughts that are contrary to what Big Brother wants.

 “The two aims of the party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought.”  – excerpt from 1984.

This book goes further than to censor speech.  Big Brother doesn’t merely ban controversial books.  It destroys every single copy and then all evidence that these books even existed.  People that speak out are not only executed, they are forced to confess, and then they are written out of existence.  The past is re-written constantly to conform with today’s beliefs.  All evidence to the contrary is destroyed.  All that is left is memories and even they are questioned.

Parents are not allowed to discipline or correct children and children are encouraged to spy on parents.  Sex is performed to produce children and any hints of romance or personal enjoyment are forbidden – when Big Brother figures out how to eliminate the need for sex to procreate, it will be banned also.

Its scary to think that there are cultures in existence where this is not fiction.  It’s reality.  And call me crazy, but I’d rather be put against 11 other teenagers in a fight to the death than lose such fundamental freedoms.

In honor of Independence Day, let’s remember how lucky we are that we have the freedoms we do.

Check out the other bloggers participating in this challenge throughout the month:

Ralph Pines


26 comments on “Dystopian Genre and 1984

  1. The Dystopian Genre is easily my favorite genre. You are right about 1984. Although I’ve read plenty of novels in the genre, none do come close to Orwell. All of them have very different approaches…but they all point to the same thing: People strive to be free.

    Do you have any suggestions on books in the genre? I love The Giver, the Ugly Seires, Hunger Games, the Handmaiden’s Tale, and Feed….but I’m not sure where to find many more.

    • I think you’ve read more in this genre than me, so no. Most of the books I read are either in horror or fantasy genre, though I’m trying to catch up with dystopian books. I find that for many of them, I’m thinking about the context of the book way after I finish reading the last pages. One dystopian book that I’ve heard great reviews about is Divergent by Veronica Roth. I finally got a copy on sale, so I’ll let you know how it is within the next couple weeks.

      • Sounds good. It seems like many of the dystopian novels are in the Young Adult category. I don’t mind that…I just want to find one on the same level as 1984. I doubt that’ll happen any time soon. I hope Divergent is good. Thank you for the good post!

  2. Orwell was an extremely thoughtful man. I enjoy his essays, but I’m afraid my own lazy modern language skills exhibit all of the flaws he hated. To some extent, elements of his dystopian work exist in the present culture, and also, in Orwell’s experience. I’m not sure what is worse: the harsh boot in the face of humanity for all eternity or the dystopia (where the enemy is known) or the softer dystopia, where the enemy pretends to be your friend and entices you right out of your own mind and existence? Sometimes I think coyotes are more honest than farmers. At least the livestock understands the coyote’s intentions. The farmer, on the other hand, changes the very nature of the animal in his care until it is ready to be slaughtered and eaten. What do you think is worse, coercion that forces you to adopt Doublespeak–where your enemy is known? Or gentle manipulation that slowly erodes your will to fight Double Speak–where your enemy appears to be an ally?

    Not to insult Orwell, but I think the second is harder to write well. Animal Farm is my favorite of his works, mainly because the animals do all the evil to themselves.

    • Although Orwell’s books are well-written and thought provoking, he has flaws himself. His books are so focused on the message that the pacing of the books are painfully slow and the entertainment value is lost. I honestly consider other writers “better” because they can weave morals and messages into the story without distracting. I skipped 3-4 pages near the end of 1984 during one of the torture scenes because O’Brien went off on a philosophical tangent. I don’t remember Animal Farm well, but I distinctly remember how impersonal all the characters felt to me while I was reading.

      Call me a heretic, but I think there’s room for improvement in every piece of writing, even the classics. I’m a big fan of re-tellings for that reason. They bring the essence of what made the original so great and transformed it to something personal and relate-able to the modern era.

      • No, you’re correct. Animal Farm, from my way of reading it, didn’t contain (that I could tell) a single sympathetic character or emotional draw. I liked it, because I enjoyed the kind of detached examination of socialism–the way it works in practice rather than theory. Maybe Boxer was sympathetic to someone? Not me, though, it’s kind of hard to root for a dolt. Impersonal characters don’t really bother me, but I know this is something most successful writers advise against and actively avoid.

        Orwell isn’t really an entertainer. Some social critics and would-be philosophers are also entertainers, but Orwell is not. I did enjoy some of his essays about the purpose and use of language. It’s admirable that he seems to have put some effort into saying what he meant to say by the most honest means possible.

        “I’m a big fan of re-tellings for that reason.”

        Ageed. Retelling or “stealing like an artist” 😉 keeps important ideas from growing mold. Also, it takes a talent to bring out emotion and make a story emotionally true. Readers need that.

  3. Orwell is the man. Nobody writes against the totalitarian left quite like a disappointed socialist 🙂

    One thing that I note, while reading 1984, is that most commentators completely overlook the Proles, who don’t have any of the draconian surveillance imposed on the Outer Party and are instead kept satiated with prolefeed, low-quality entertainment (and of course Pornosec). I wonder what Orwell would think of a few hours of US/UK “reality TV” in that context…

    • I think in that context, Orwell would “think” whatever the party would want him to think. As to the Proles, it’s interesting how poverty granted them more freedom than those in the working class.

    • ….or their lovely CCTV systems and drones 😉

      “Orwell is the man. Nobody writes against the totalitarian left quite like a disappointed socialist” –> nailed it!

      • More like it applies to all authoritarian/totalitarian states, regardless of ideological basis. Once the goal becomes the control of the population instead of service to the nation, this, in a variety of forms is the inevitable result.

    • Yes, absolutely! That’s the thing – turning America (or other Western country of your choice) into Oceania can only happen if citizens are first entertained into forgetting about history and frightened into giving up liberty. You’re right on about the pervasiveness of reality TV on the entertainment front, but I’d also couple that with the rise of ratings-driven news networks – “if it bleeds, it leads”. It is AMAZING how much of that stuff plays straight to the amygdala.

      • I’m still thinking it’s a Huxley/Orwell mashup. Keeping in mind that both of the authors in question had enough experience/exposure to point out the flaws in emergent trends in science, politics, and society. From what I understand of the two.

        But then, don’t you wonder how much of any real or imagined dystopia is the direct result of the unintended consequences of self-serving behavior on a massive scale?

        YA fiction is getting dark because the kids aren’t stupid. 😉

  4. Orwell was, of course, speaking of and against Stalinist Russia, where they did attempt to erase people from history. Today the opposite may be true, there are so many versions of “history” that are constantly changing that those not equipped with critical thinking skills will simply accept whatever version fits their preconceptions.

    Then again, all Utopias are Dystopias.

  5. I think we’re losing those freedoms as a society. Lots of double speak in the news, adds, and so on.

    1984 is probably my favorite novel, and I’m a conspiracy theorist!

    Good article 🙂

  6. Great post. I wouldn’t really consider myself a pessimist, but I could easily see our freedoms disappear if we are not diligent about keeping them. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. I don’t like being a human, haha. 1984 is a great novel, and it scared me when I read it. Now that I think back on it…maybe that’s where my suspicion of the government started. Who know.

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