Major Themes in the Works of George Orwell Research Paper

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George Orwell's most powerful and important works were Animal Farm and 1984, which described the corruption of the socialist ideal in the 20th Century at the hands of Lenin and Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union. Instead of liberating the masses from the oppression of capitalism, they created a new kind of totalitarian tyranny that was more brutal than the old order it replaced, one that enslaved the common people to a new set of masters. Orwell had witnessed this firsthand during the Spanish Civil War, when he fought on the Republican side against Francisco Franco and the Nationalists. Barcelona in 1936 was the "first time I had ever seen the working class in the saddle," and he approved of it (Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, 4). He regarded this "immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for," and the war as part of a common struggle against fascism by all the liberal and leftist parties in the Popular Front (Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, 5). In Spain, however, he was fighting with a non-Communist militia, the POUM, the party of Marxist Unification, which was suppressed on Stalin's orders.

Orwell witnessed the events in Barcelona in which all the socialists and anarchists not under Stalin's control were rounded up and massacred by the Communist military and secret police. He had regarded their militias, cooperatives and collectives as "a sort of microcosm of a classless society" and an early stage of socialism (Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, 105). Their destruction opened his eyes to the true nature of Stalinism, which he wrote about in Homage to Catalonia. He had also seen how the Communists distorted and covered up all these events in their propaganda, which made him wonder whether the concept of objective truth had disappeared from the world Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, 223). This was another important aspect of his theme of the totalitarian nature of Stalinism: its constant suppression of facts and truth in favor of the current Party line, from which no deviation was tolerated.

Animal Farm is an allegory of the Soviet Union from the era of the Russian Revolution through the rise of Joseph Stalin and the German invasion in the Second World War. It reflects Orwell's most important theme that the early ideals and hopes of socialism had been destroyed by the totalitarian rule of the Communist Party, especially under Stalin, and that for the ordinary workers and peasants, the revolution had only ended up substituting one form of slavery for another. It begins with the Old major (Karl Marx) preaching at a revolutionary meeting that all animals are equal and have a right to the products of their labor, which are now being expropriated by the owner of Manor Farm, Mr. Jones -- who symbolizes the capitalists. He tells them to overthrow the humans and take over the farm, but always to treat all humans as the enemy: "all men are enemies. All animals are comrades" (Orwell, Animal Farm, 10). Only later is this constantly repeated slogan changed to "All animals are equal -- but some are more equal than others," symbolized the fact that the Communist Party had now become the new ruling class, at least as tyrannical and repressive as the one it overthrew (Orwell, Animal Farm, 89).

In Animal Farm, the pigs represent the Communist Party; dogs are the secret police, while the sheep are the mindless animals that go along with whatever the Party and Napoleon (Stalin) decree and the work horses like Boxer stupidly and blindly work themselves to death for their new overlords. In fact, Boxer is constantly repeating "I will work harder" until he finally falls over dead (Orwell, Animal Farm, 26). Snowball is the pig who represents Leon Trotsky, exiled from the Soviet Union by Stalin in the power struggle after Lenin's death and later assassinated in Mexico in 1940 by a Soviet agent. In the story, he is perceived as "quicker in speech and more inventive" than Napoleon, "but not considered to have the same depth of character" (Orwell, Animal Farm, 15). Orwell gives credit to the heroic sacrifices that all the animals made to defeat the invaders that attempted to take over the farm. These were the fascist and Nazi invaders in Operation Barbarossa in 1941, who Orwell realized were far more ruthless than the old ruling class. At the end of the story, however, he notes that the pigs who now rule the farm (Russia) are really no different from the men in the capitalist and imperialist powers like Britain, the U.S., Germany and Japan, and that the working animals in the lower caste can no longer distinguish between them. For Orwell, "there was little cause for joy in the result of the Hitler war: a vast increase in Stalin's dictatorial powers" (Baker xii)

In 1984, Orwell carries this theme of totalitarian oppression under the name of socialism even further, by describing the terror of living under Ingsoc (English Socialism) on the island of Airstrip One (Great Britain). In this futuristic nightmare, Ingsoc has taken over the country in the wake of a nuclear war, with the goal of maintaining itself in power permanently and preventing another such war in the future. Big Brother (Stalin) is the living embodiment of the Party, and his face is ubiquitous, along with the slogan "Big Brother Is Watching You" (Orwell, 1984, 2). Indeed, the merciless leaders in the Inner Party, represented by bureaucrats like O'Brien, simply value power for power's sake, and their ideal world is one in which a boot is "stomping on a human face forever" (Orwell, 1984, 273).

None of the wars fought between the three superpowers of Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia are real in 1984, but more like Cold War shadow boxing. All the regimes in these superpowers, lead by Russia, China and the United States, are identical. All of them use war and the constant threat of war to control the masses and keep them in a constant state of fear and privation, using up resources that would otherwise be used to improve the living standards of the masses. As O'Brien points out, the Party fully intends to keep them at subsistence level, constantly hungry and degraded, in order to better control them. It does not even care what the members of the Proles (the working caste) do, since it regards them as "animals" (Orwell, 1984, 279). Far from liberating the masses, the Party's goal is to enslave them.

Winston Smith, the hero of the novel, is party of the middle strata in the Outer Party and works at the Ministry of Truth (the propaganda ministry). He spends all his time altering and destroying the historical record at the whim of the Party, even when it decrees that Oceana is at war with Eastasia instead of Eurasia and has always been at war with Eastasia. Therefore, any record to the contrary is a lie and most be destroyed, for only the Party decides what is true and what is false, depending on the needs of the moment. In 1984, then, the slogans of the Party are meant to be taken quite literally "War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength" (Orwell, 1984, 27)

As Winston learns, not the slightest dissent or deviation from the Party line will be tolerated. There are spies and informers everywhere, constantly on the lookout for "Thought Crime," while agents of the Thought Police spend all their time concealed in the general population, searching for any hint of opposition. In addition, in every room there are telescreens that broadcast propaganda and instructions continually and can also monitor the entire population. Anyone found to be in opposition to the state, like Winston and his lover Julia end up in the dungeons of the Thought Police at the Ministry of Love. There they are tortured and drugged, broken in mind, body and spirit, until they will confess publicly to any crime the Party demands. For O'Brien insisted that the Party defined all reality and that Winston was sincerely come to believe that "two plus two equals five" if they demanded it (Orwell, 1984, 249).

Even this is not enough, however, for as O'Brien insists, they must also learn to love the Party and Big Brother without question or hesitation. He tells Winston that they will destroy everything that makes him a unique human individual and "we shall fill you up with ourselves" (Orwell, 1984, 263). Only when they are satisfied that he belongs to them completely will he be liquidated, disappearing totally from the record of history and human memory as an "un-person." Eventually, the Party will abolish the family, love between persons and sexual relations, then producing all children in laboratories and brainwashing them into totally until the only love they feel will be for Big Brother and the Party, while feeling only hatred for their enemies. Even language will be altered to such an extent in the form of Newspeak that Thought Crime will become not only impossible…

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