In the 1930s some novelists write a new kind of novel: the Anti-Utopian or Dystopian Novel. Among them we can mention Aldous Huxley with his Brave New World, George Orwell with his 1984 and the Russian Zamyantin with his novel We.
Dystopian Novels are usually set in the future; they warn man to change his attitude to society. A Dystopia is the opposite of a Utopia: while a Utopia is a dream of a better future, a dream of a land of peace and brotherhood, in contrast to the corruption and tyranny of the contemporary political situation, a Dystopia is the dream of a future society which turns into the nightmare of a worse world than the present one. Utopia is a term coined by Thomas More; it may have a double meaning according to the Greek derivation: ou-topos, a Nowhere Land, or eu-topos, a better world.The early Utopia expressed the mood of self-confidence and hope of post- medieval men; the society it expressed was not at the end of its cycle as in the Dystopia, but at its beginning and corresponds to the deepest longing of man. The Utopian tradition in the field of fiction is quite old and traces back to Plato’s Republic. After More’s Utopia (1516), a series of novels, which after their model were labelled as Utopian, are written.We may say that every century has got its utopian works. In The New Atlantis (1626) Francis Bacon describes a society which has the full control of nature. There are inventions suggesting the future development of airplanes, submarines, telephones and other fantastic improvements. Gulliver’s Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift describes in the 4th Book a land ruled in peace by intelligent horses. Erewhon (1872), an anagram of nowhere, by Samuel Butler deals with a young traveller who discovers a land which has very different ideals from the ones of English Victorian society.As far as the 20th century Utopia , it can be considered Technological Utopia and it is also called Science Fiction Novel . Among them we can quote The Time Machine (1895) by Herbert George Wells. It introduces a technological means of travel through time and treats the theme of confrontation with the alien, of the last man on the earth after the death of the world.
LIFE: George Orwell was the pen-name (pseudonym) of Eric Arthur Blair. The surname derived from the beautiful river Orwell in East Anglia. George declared that he had adopted it in 1933 because he wanted to symbolize a profound shift in his life-style when he became a literary and political rebel rejecting imperialism and going to live with the poor and the outcast people of Paris and London.
He was born in Bengal in 1903, the son of a minor official in the Indian Colonial Administration. He was brought up in an atmosphere of impoverished snobbery which he described with the words Landless Gentry to refer to people whose pretension was to belong to a higher social status which had little relation to their income.
In 1911 he was sent to a school to Britain. Since his parents couldn’t pay the fees at a public school, he was obliged to study hard to win two scholarships available to intellectually promising boys to two English leading schools. He chose Eton and stayed there from 1917 to 1921. At Eaton he had among his teachers Aldous Huxley, who had an enormous influence on him (Huxley was the author of a famous dystopian novel, Brave New World, a work of futuristic science fiction and an attack against the scientific utopias of a technological and technocratic society which has many points of contacts with Orwell’s 1984).
Orwell was not happy at school both because he was the poorest of the other schoolmates. As a consequence, he isolated from them seeking contact with the poor. Because of the unfair punishments and beatings which he was often subjected to Orwell developed a hatred for brutality, repression and tyranny.
When he left Eaton, Orwell refused to go on studying at the University and decided to return to India and to enrol in the imperial Police. He got soon dissatisfied with his jobs and after five years he resigned and went back to England again. He lived for some time in Paris, doing many jobs and sleeping in public dormitories for the homeless or in slums. By that time he was acquainted with radical political theories and embraced anarchism. In 1937 he went to Spain as a reporter of the civil war but later he joined the Republican Brigade fighting against the Fascists. The anarchist group he belonged to was attacked by the Communists and Orwell was seriously wounded. In fear of his life, he was forced to flee from Spain. This episode gave him a life long dread of communism and totalitarianism.
He died of tuberculosis in a London Hospital in January, 1950.
WORKS: Orwell’s best novels are Animal Farm and 1984.They both deal with politics and aim at demonstrating the uselessness of any revolution.
We have to mention some other works which are important to understand the development of his thought and formation. The most important among them are Down and out in Paris and London and Homage to Catalonia. In the former he reported his experience in Paris and London after leaving the Imperial Police while in the latter he described his Spanish experience, showing that the Spanish Republic fighting against one kind of totalitarianism, fell more and more under the control of another.
FEATURES: To understand Orwell’s works we have to consider his political ideas. Orwell’s political formation was influenced by three main factors: his school years, his decision to resign from the Imperial Police and his experience in Spain.
At school he began to be aware of the differences among the social classes; he was the poorest among his schoolmates and began to identify himself with the working class and to develop hatred towards any form of authoritarianism. He was against imperialism and this led him to leave the Imperial Police; he wrote on the matter: “I gave up my job … mainly because I would any longer be a servant of Imperialism because I know something about it from the inside“. Then he went to live with the poor and the outcast and embraced anarchism. After the already mentioned episode in Spain he developed a life long dread of communism and moved closer to socialism. In Spain his illusion of the unity of the left-wing collapsed because he discovered that, although the left-wing factions were supposed to be united in the war against fascism, there was a rivalry between them. In brief, we may consider Orwell as a social democrat with leftist sympathies. He was against all sorts of dictatorship both coming from the left and from the right even if in his main works he stressed the betrayal of the socialist principles he believed in by Russian Communism.
The role of the Artist : Art is an instrument to achieve democracy and freedom. The artist’s task is to aim at the remaking of the society. He has to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose together(Shelley,Auden).
To make people think about it he chose two literary genres: the negative utopia in 1984 and the political satire in Animal Farm.
Orwell’s message: as Eric Fromm wrote in an issue on 1984 it wanted to be ” an expression of a mood and a warning.The mood is of near despair about the future of man and the warning is that unless the course of history changes, men all over the world will lose their most human qualities and will become soulless automatons“.
IMPORTANCE OF THE LANGUAGE: Orwell gave great importance to the language because he believed that the quality of the language suggests the quality of the society that used it. In one of his essays, Politics and the English Language, he attacked the way in which the writers used the language: they tended to be vague and to avoid what was concrete in favour of abstractions. According to him the language had to be an actual instrument of information and communication. Things had to be described as they really were, without being influenced by traditions or conventions (Joyce) using a simple, clear and direct language. The importance of the language is stressed out in his novels and it becomes in them, in negative, a political instrument of control of the truth; controlling the language, both the Pigs in Animal Farm and The Party in 1984 not only control the citizens’ thought but also destroy them.
THE CONTROL OF THE TRUTH: the description of the nature of truth is an important aspect in Orwell. The basic question which Orwell raises is whether there is such thing as Truth. He thinks that the truth does not exist or better it may exist in the human mind; but the human mind can be controlled and guided: they who control men’s mind decide what is true and what it isn’t according to their needs.In 1984 O’Brian (the torturer) says to Winston(the main character):”I tell you Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the party holds to be truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party“. In Animal Farm and in 1984 the recurrent use of slogans helps the ruling class to control the citizens’ mind. The vocabulary is continually reduced of words because if there are no words to express an idea there is no idea at all.
THE DOUBLETHINK: this new term was introduced by Orwell in 1984; “it is the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both of them as truth” according to the State’s need. It helps the totalitarian State to control the thoughts of its citizens: through the manipulation of the mind the “persona” is no longer saying the opposite of what he thinks, but he really thinks the opposite of what is true; so white is black, slavery is freedom, war is peace, ignorance is strength and two and two is five.As far as Winston Smith,the main character of 1984, he was able to work at the Ministry of Truth rewriting history books, and then believing in the new history which he himself had written.
This dystopian novel is set in Britain 40 years in the future. The original title should have been The Last Man in Europe but Orwell decided to give his novel a futuristic quality and chose to turn inside out the last two numbers of the year he had written it, that is 1948, into 1984.
Orwell imagines that in 1984 the world is divided into three great powers: Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia; they are always at war.Society is divided into three classes:members of the inner party,members of the outer party and the ‘prolets’.Britain is ruled as a totalitarian state which combines elements belonging to both fascism and communism. The ruler is known as Big Brother and huge photographs of him dominate every public space with the warning “Big Brother is watching you” (we can find something like that in every dictatorship, both leftist and rightist: the cult of personality was typical in Nazism, Fascism, Communism and is still typical in nowadays dictatorships. Huge posters of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Saddam Hussein and so on dominated their countries). Big Brother’s eyes seemed to follow the passers-by as they moved. Even if his face had got traits of both Hitler and Stalin, his description fitted more to Stalin than to Hitler: “…the face of a man of about 45, with a heavy moustache.” His name, too, suggests it because English newspapers called Stalin Brother Joe and the Russians referred to him as Little Father.Actually nobody meets him and that makes him more threatening: he is the symbol of both power and authoritarianism.
The citizens are always spied on and there is no privacy at home, too.There are no shutters at the windows and the Patrol Police can spy inside through helicopters . There is a telescreen in every house which can’t be switched off and through which the Thought Police can plug-in at all times of the day. The children are an extension of the Thought Police; they are educated by the Party to control their parents and to denounce them if they do some actions or even speak against the Party. The thought Police is the most feared branch of the police (= the Gestapo) and had the task to punish the adversaries of the System. The most important Ministries are The Ministry of Truth and The Ministry of Love.
THE PROTAGONIST of the novel, Winston Smith, works at the Ministry of Truth and his job is to rewrite history books changing continually the events to fit them with the current policy of the Party:”Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past“. He is 39, divorced and lives alone. He is not satisfied with the Regime and violates some important rules such as to keep a secret diary, which is considered a thought crime, or to make love in secret with Julia, which is considered disobedience to the Party’s laws. When discovered, he is brainwashed and tortured and eventually he denounces Julia. The Party wants to ‘cure’ and redeem him. His crime is not to hate Big Brother,but to love Julia and to meet her in secret without the consent of the Ministry of Love.They make him confess his crimes in a typical Russian show-trial and give him back the previous job. The result of the treatment is that Winston becomes a new man; he becomes one of the Masses who thinks that everything is right, that Big Brother is right and that he has to love him. As far as his name, it probably derives from a combination between the name of Churchill, the winner of the 2nd World war, and Smith, which is the most common surname in Britain.
THE CO-PROTAGONIST is Julia. She works at the Ministry of Love and her job is to write porno books for the ‘prolets’. The Ministry of love controls procreation; love has nothing to do with feelings and passion and it is only allowed to plan the births because the State is always at war and needs more population, more soldiers. Love as a feeling is prohibited and considered dangerous for the Party because it creates a world for the individual outside the Party control. It is allowed to the Prolets as sexual relationship because sexual privation produces hysteria which can be turned into aggressiveness against the State. Julia shares Winston’s same destiny and after being brain-washed she, too, rejects Winston and denounces him.
One of the most important campaign aims at the abolition of orgasm: “We shall abolish the orgasm:Our neurologists are at work upon it now…… There will be no love,except the love of Big Brother….. there will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness ….. no enjoyment of the process of life.All competing pleasures will be destroyed“. Destroying pleasure there is no need to make love and the energy of the individual is direct to loveBig Brother.
O’BRIAN:He is an important character in the novel.He is a member of the INNER PARTY and the torturer. Winston and Julia,arrested by the Thought Police,are tortured both physically and psychologically. The Party is not interested in destroying its enemies because they would become martyrs, but only to cure and change them: “We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us: so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him. […] we make the brain perfect before we blow it out “.O’Brian,then,wants to redeem Winston.To be redeemed, Winston has to reject Julia’s love, to denounce her and to love Big Brother. Winston had written in his diary “freedom is the freedom to say that two and two make four“. O’Brian first submits Winston’s left part of the brain,which is the seat of reason and logic. He starts from the above statement and using the electroshock makes him reject the evidence of maths and learn that if the party say that two and two make five, he has not only to answer that they are five but even see one more finger. After the treatment, because of the great pain he feels in his body, when O’Brian shows him four fingers and asks him how many they are, Winston sees ” a forest of fingers” and shouts ” I don’t know…. four,five,six, in all honesty I don’t know“. But O’Brian knows that the brainwashing is not complete. He knows that the most difficult step is to submit the right side of the brain,which is the seat of feelings and passion.To make Winston reject Julia and love Big Brother,the physical pain isn’t enough. He knows that to win a passion he has to oppose it with a deeper emotion,a nightmare. To this purpose Orwell invents the Room 101.
ROOM 101: It is the place where the torture and the horror are ‘ad persona’, that is individual. In this room every person finds what he fears more. Winston finds his own personal nightmare and to stop the nightmare he is ready to reject and to denounce everything. Winston’s nightmare are the mice.He is frightened by them and when he finds them in room 101, to stop the nightmare, he rejects Julia and denounces her. After room 101 the treatment is complete, the Party has won and the ‘persona’ is annihilated:”Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves”.
THE MAIN THEME of the novel is of course a political one: in a totalitarian dictatorship the individual is destroyed physically, annihilated and degraded into an asserting automaton. Winston can’t avoid it and can’t do anything to oppose the Party. A second important theme is man’s need to communicate and his inability to do it in a State that controls not only his actions but also his rationality, his dreams and his language. A third theme is the monotony of a world in which love is deprived of feelings and pleasure and Art are controlled by the State. In such context life becomes meaningless, grey and hopeless.
Animal Farm is a political fable in the form of an allegory. It may be read at various different levels: a story for children, an attack against Stalinism, a lament for the fate of revolution and the hopes contained in them. It was published in 1945 when Stalin was at the peak of his power. In Animal Farm Orwell describes the transition from a society organized on the capitalistic basis to a communist dictatorship where the abolition of the social classes has taken place and the equality of all men in front of the law and the state is established. The book began to be shaped in Orwell’s mind soon after he came back from Spain, where his beliefs in socialist Russia had been shattered.Even if it implies a general denunciation of any form of totalitarianism (Orwell used this term to refer to any oppressive ideology, be it Nazism or Stalinism, the book was clearly meant as an allegory of the Russia revolution and of its consequences. The allegorical intent on the Russian Revolution is very evident in some events in the novel which are clear allusions to parallel historical events in Soviet Russia as, for instance, the failure of the five -year plan, the flight of Trotsky, the Moscow show-trial,in which the opponents of the regime were forced to denounce themselves after brain washing, the non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany in 1933 which led to partition of Poland and to the Second World War and so on. When Orwell wanted to publish it, he met some difficulties to find a publisher because at that time Great Britain was allied with Russia against Germany.
PLOT: Animal Farm deals with the revolt of the animals in a farm. They win control of the farm and expel their human master. The farm is run by the animals themselves on socialist principles, summoned up in seven commandments which constitutes the principles of their creed: Animalism. The Seven Commandments are written on the barn wall. The original Commandments are:
1. Whatever goes on two legs is an enemy
2. Whatever goes on four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3. No animal shall wear clothes.
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
7. All animals are equal.
Very soon the commandments begin to be altered to fit them according to the Pigs’ needs. When they decide to sleep in the farmhouse beds the fourth commandment is changed with the adding of “with sheets“; when they start to drink the words “to excess” are added to the fifth commandments; when some animals are executed after the “trial show” in which they had confessed their ‘supposed‘ crimes the sixth commandment is changed with the addition of the words “without cause“.Among them, the most important is the last one: All the animals are equal. In spite of the equality, the class of the Pigs gradually takes the power, betrays the revolution and restores a society based on exploitation of the working class and on dictatorship.With the passing of time on the barn wall there is no other commandment but the seventh to which someone had added “ but some are more equal than others ” to assert the supremacy of the class of the pigs.
THEME: The main theme of the novel is the uselessness of any revolution by the Masses. According to Orwell, Every revolution is doomed to fail owing to lack of unifying values, lack of class consciousness and of faith in the revolutionary ideas. Further, as he wrote in Homage to Catalonia, there is always a degeneration of the revolution because the new masters are worse than the previous ones.
There are many sub-themes, too. Among them we can mention the following ones: the struggle against any form of exploitation, animals exploited by men, workers exploited by the ruling class, the proletariat exploited by the rich; comradeship among the exploited; the danger of propaganda and of the cult of personality; the easy manipulation of the masses; the control of the language as a political instrument.
THE FINALE: the scene that concludes the novel is the apotheosis of the novel itself and symbolizes the failure of the revolution. There is a big party in the farm. In the dining room, the Pigs and the hated human enemies are at the same table, eating and drinking and enjoying themselves. The pigs, standing and walking on two legs, try to imitate the humans and wish to set up a cooperative enterprise with them. The animals, who had been the protagonists of the revolution, are outside the house.They had rebelled against their human master and had conquered their freedom. They had worked hard in the hope to better their condition. Now they are only passive spectators who peer in from a window. They are astonished because they can’t distinguish the Pigs from the Humans: ” The creatures outside looked from pig to man and from man to pig, and from pig to man again, but already it was impossible to say which was which.” It’s a bitter conclusion that seems to suggest a negative and pessimistic view of the Masses because they can be easily manipulated. This final scene completes the circular structure of the book.The story had started with the animals enslaved and exploited by their human master,Mr Jones,now they are more and more enslaved and exploited by their new masters,the pigs. Now they realise the failure of Animalism and, above all, they realise that the situation has returned to the starting point with new masters, the Pigs, who are more powerful and even worse than Mr Jones. He could only control their actions while the Pigs, coming from their own social class, knowing their tastes and their language, control their thoughts, too. The seven commandments have disappeared. There is only one, the last, which has been changed to assert the superiority of the class of the Pigs: All the animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
OLD MAJOR: the leader of the animals. He is endowed with a good eloquence and delivers the speech which persuades the animal to rebel against man. He tells them that the animals are exploited and live in misery and slavery because man gets possession of all that animals produce. The solution is to get rid of him. In his long speech he uses powerful slogans such as “All animals are equal”, “All men are enemies”, “All animals are comrades”. In Orwell’s allegory he may represent Lenin, while the animals may represent the masses of workers.
NAPOLEON: takes Old Major’s power after his death. Very cunning pig, he turns into a more cruel tyrant than Mr Jones, the human master. He uses nine ferocious dogs to frighten animals. Those who oppose him are forced to leave the farm. To control the animals, he alters the laws to his needs and controls the education of the young. He likes drinking and suggested to change the 5th commandments adding “to excess”. He stands for Stalin.
SNOWBALL: the leader of the opposition. He stands for Trotsky. He is a very intelligent pig and tries to spread the rebellion on the other farms. He plans a military attack against the Windmill to provide the farm with electricity. He tries to organize the animals into “Animal committees” to challenge Napoleon’s leadership, but he is defeated and forced to leave the farm.
BOXER: very strong horse endowed with a great physical strength but not intelligent. He works very hard in the factory and never takes a day off work. Eventually he has a physical breakdown and is sold by the pigs to the knackers. He stands for the typical representative of the masses who can easily be manipulated.
OLD BENJAMIN: The oldest animal in the farm. He is a donkey. He can read as well as a pig. He does not believe in the positive outcome of the revolution and keeps neutral. He seldom talks and never laughs because there is nothing to laugh at. He may stand for they who were aware of what was happening in Soviet Russia but did nothing to oppose the Regime.
SQUEALER: A very intelligent porker( only Napoleon and Snowball are called pigs) and a brilliant talker who “can turn black into white”. He supports Napoleon and succeeds in convincing the animals that Snowball is Mr Jones secret agent and that the pigs have to be fed with very good food because they are brainworkers. Some critics maintain that he stands for “Pravda”, the Soviet newspaper
MOSES: He is Mr Jones’s raven and is the only animal who does not work in the farm. He is useful to the pigs because he can keep the animals quiet telling them that all animals who work hard,after death, go to Sugarcandy Mountain, a sort of Paradise where Sunday comes seven days a week. In Orwell’s allegory he represents the orthodox church.
MR JONES: The cruel human master of the farm
CLOVER: one of the two cart-horses. She takes Orwell’s voice to express both regret at the failure of revolution and anti-imperialistic feelings.