In the 1961 edition of George Orwell’s 1984, German philosopher Eric Fromm penned an afterword that speaks to one of the more dire warnings ingrained in the dystopian, which is the ultimate fear of being divested of what makes us human. Orwell’s Big Brother is a Dominant force that through repression, surveillance, torture and misinformation, aims to move Winston Smith, and the citizenry of Oceania, from personhood to thing or commodity. This is the goal of totalitarian systems in reality and on the page. Eric Fromm addresses this dystopian precept, and fear, in this moment of the afterword:
“George Orwell’s 1984 is the expression of a mood, and it is a warning. The mood it expresses is that 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, will become soulless automatons, and will not even be aware of it.” (Erich Fromm, Afterword to George Orwell’s 1984, 313)
As you complete the reading of Part III which ends the novel, p. 186-245, consider the definition of person and thing/commodity/property:
A person is the kind of entity that has the moral right to make its own life-choices, to live its life without (unprovoked) interference from others.
Property is the kind of thing that can be bought and sold, something I can “use” for my own interests.
Go on to consider Fromm’s assessment of Orwell’s dire warning that “men all over the world will lose their most human qualities, will become soulless automatons.” Then respond to the following:
I. How close, or how far is Winston to “thingness,” as the novel opens? What three conditions illustrate his identity as a thing—and what three actions on his part bring him closer to personhood, and is his love for Julia one of those actions:
II. Briefly describe the feeling Winston has for his torturer, O’Brien. Is there love there and does Winston become more human within the scope of their interaction:
III. How does the equation 2=2+5 connect or distance Winton further from an actualized, human existence—his personhood—and as the novel ends do you find that O’Brien is defeated and Winston is victorious in reclaiming his humanity. Ultimately, does Orwell mean to give us hope in the story of Winston Smith?
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