1984 by George Orwell, Part 1: Crash Course Literature 401


Hi I’m John Green and welcome to season
4 of CrashCourse literature. Today, we’re transporting you to one of
my favorite (slash least favorite) dystopias, George Orwell’s 1984. I feel like that eye is looking at me. The book starts like this:
It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast
in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory
Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along
with him. (1)
Of course it’s not just a swirl of gritty dust traveling with Winston; like everyone
in 1984, he’s never really alone. In Orwell’s dystopian future 1984, which
was published in 1949, the world is vile and gritty and the clock strikes 13 and citizens
are under near constant government surveillance. But you know what? Orwell did not correctly predict the future;
our clocks still stop at 12. Also, in the novel 1984, people routinely
disappear and evidence of their existence is erased from public records, and that doesn’t
happen much. Yet. 1984 is an indictment of specific governments. But it’s also a warning about the importance
of free thought and speech, and in today’s episode, we’re gonna discuss the historical
context in which 1984 was written and also its use of oppressive language. I want to think about whether Orwell suggests,
within the logic of this novel, that the written word can significantly alter the society in
which it is produced. And I mean that on at least two levels: Can
the novel 1984 change the actual world in which we live, and are characters in the novel
ultimately controlled by the language they, and their government, use? Spoiler alert: We’re all doomed. I’m just kidding. I mean, I hope I’m kidding. The truth is, as usual, it’s complicated. INTRO
George Orwell’s protagonist, the wind-blown Winston Smith, shares a first name with Winston
Churchill, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940-1945 and again from 1951-1955. And by replacing a lofty, aristocratic surname
(that evokes Churches. And Hills) with a common one (a Smith is a
metal worker), Orwell puts the fate of England in the hands of a working man, although this
one bends words, not metal, since he is a writer. As for whether Orwell’s Winston will prevail
as Winston Churchill did in World War II …of course not! Now, some dystopias end with the overthrow
of the horrible government, but Orwell’s tend to end with the bad guys and/or pigs
winning. And 1984 is very much a dystopia — a dehumanizing
society in which “there seemed to be no color in anything” and posters of a “black-mustachio’d
face gazing down from every commanding corner” bearing the now-famous caption, “BIG BROTHER
IS WATCHING YOU” (2). In this world, the government endorses something
called “doublethink,” which links contradictory beliefs. So you see slogans like: “WAR IS PEACE,”
“FREEDOM IS SLAVERY,” and “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH” are commonplace. The problem isn’t that citizens are told
the opposite of what is true. The real issue is that their experiences have
become so limited that they lack the perspective and the language to differentiate between
major concepts. But, let’s back up for a second and talk
about George Orwell. Here’s some “doublespeak” for you: George
Orwell is not George Orwell. He was born Eric Arthur Blair in 1903 to English
parents in Bengal, near the border with Nepal. His father worked in “quality control”
for opium, which is used to make morphine, codeine, and heroin, and the British held
a monopoly on the trade of opium for years and exported it to China, both for financial
gain and to subdue Chinese citizens. Although the Chinese government tried to get
the British to dismantle the India-China opium trade for 150 years, and there were wars fought
about it, they weren’t successful until 1910. Basically, this was one of the largest (legal)
international drug cartels in history. Ah, Colonialism: The Original Dystopia. I guess the original dystopia was actually
hunting and gathering. I mean, at least for those of us who hate
the paleo diet. God, I love processed carbohydrates. What were we talking about? Oh, right! Eric Arthur Blair, soon to be George Orwell! So as a kid, Blair moved to England and was
eventually sent to Eton, a prestigious boarding school. In 1922, he joined the imperial police in
Burma. In “Why I Write,” he explains that he
rejected imperialism after spending five years in the “unsuitable profession” of working
in the imperial police force and experienced poverty himself when he returned to England. Sensitized to the evils of colonialism, and
now “fully aware of the existence of the working classes,” Blair was on his way to
forming what he called a “political orientation.” He changed his name to George Orwell when
he published Down and Out in Paris and London in 1933. But he still hadn’t identified where he
“stood” politically. Then in 1936, he declared that he was
“against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.” Democratic socialism basically uses democratic
means to create a political and economic structure that supports socialist goals. You might think of it as being a rejection
of unfettered capitalism. Orwell found the “real nature of capitalist
society” abhorrent because: “I have seen British imperialism at work
in Burma, and I have seen something of the effects of poverty and unemployment in Britain…. One has got to be actively a Socialist, not
merely sympathetic to Socialism, or one plays into the hands of our always-active enemies.” Orwell was against Stalin and totalitarian
strains of Communism as well. For instance, in 1936, when he went to Spain
to fight the Fascist leader, Francisco Franco, he joined the Marxist group, POUM (Partido
Obrero de Unificación Marxista). He didn’t join the main communist party. In Homage to Catalonia, he explains:
“the Communists stood not upon the extreme Left, but upon the extreme right. In reality this should come as no surprise,
because of the tactics of the Communist parties elsewhere.” These tactics, as seen in the USSR, include
the conscious use of propaganda, the repression of individual freedoms, and also state-sponsored
murder. But the point I want to make here is that
it’s not quite accurate for either the contemporary left or right to “claim” Orwell–his most
famous novels are anti-communist; but they’re also anti-capitalist. Mostly, they seek to show the ways that many
government structures are prone to totalitarianism, and they chart the slow, almost unnoticeable
descent into that totalitarianism. But in 1984 specifically, Orwell explores
the difficulty of retaining individual freedom within the confines of an oppressive society. In the book, the earth is divided into three
zones–Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia–which are constantly at war with one another. And Winston lives in London, the main city
of Airstrip One, which is a province of Oceania. He’s legally married to the stiff, brainwashed,
and desireless Katherine. Unable to produce children, they live separately
and are forbidden from remarrying. Winson’s primary pleasures include itching
a varicose ulcer above his right ankle, drinking shots of a “sickly, oily” Victory Gin
(which provides “the sensation of being hit on the back of the head with a rubber
club”) and writing in a “thick, quarto-sized blank book with a red back and a marbled cover”
(1, 5, 5). So you know, his pleasures are scant. Any life where one of the chief pleasures
is scratching an actual, literal itch, is not, like, a great life. I mean, it’s a good life for a dog, but
not a great life for a person. Then Winston’s pleasures, and anxieties,
experience a significant uptick when he begins an affair with the young, vital and beautiful
Julia. Despite being “ten or fifteen years younger,”
Julia boldly declares her love for Winston. Winston is incredulous: “I’m thirty-nine
years old. I’ve got a wife that I can’t get rid of. I’ve got varicose veins. I’ve got five false teeth.” And the reader may have doubts as well. I mean, when Julia replies, “I couldn’t
care less,” Orwell seems to acknowledge (but not apologize for) this particular breed
of middle-aged male fantasy. (122). But you know, it’s also a romance that serves
a plot. So, Winston and Julia meet secretly for months. They rent rooms from an antiques dealer named
Mr. Charrington in the plebian quarter of London. They confess their affair and anti-party beliefs
to O’Brien, a member of the Inner Party who seems to be sympathetic to their cause. And they begin reading a book that is allegedly
written by the underground resistance leader, Emmanuel Goldstein. They know that they’ll be discovered, tortured,
and (very probably) executed. Their victories–and yes they have some–come
from small moments of consciousness, human connection, and personal freedom. And these moments are tiny. For Winston, some of these moments include:
procuring a pen with a real nib “simply because of a feeling that the beautiful creamy
paper deserved to be written on” (7); succumbing to the ”balminess of the April air” to
stroll through the “labyrinth of London” (84);
Winston also purchases a glass paperweight containing coral, and all of this leads to
a cool point: despite the authoritarian nature of Ingsoc
(the perversion of socialism that dominates Oceania), moments of personal freedom like
these are commonplace. There’s even a word for them in Newspeak,
the new language that the government is developing: “ownlife, it was called, meaning individualism
and eccentricity” (84). But of course, the line between experiencing
an “ownlife” and engaging in political subversion is really thin. I mean, when Winston gives in to his “animal
instinct, the simple undifferentiated desire” to have sex with Julia: “Their embrace had
been a battle, the climax a victory. It was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act” (128-9). There’s no ambiguity there. Making your life yours, making your choices
yours, is political. And also, having your own thoughts is political. I mean, The Party doesn’t just suppress
subversion through surveillance, and arrest, and torture, and execution, those oldies but
goodies from Totalitarianism for Dummies. In 1984, the government also suppresses individualism
by limiting language. Just four pages into the book, an asterisk
appears after the first mention of “Newspeak”: This asterisk interrupts the narrative flow,
breaking any bond that the reader may be (or, let’s be honest, may not be) forming with
Winston. And it entices the reader towards an appendix,
narrated by a scholar living long after Winston. The appendix explains that Newspeak had been
“devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc” (309) and that its vocabulary has
been designed: “to make speech, and especially speech on any subject not ideologically neutral,
as nearly as possible independent of consciousness” (319). In other words, it’s meant newspeak seeks
to make it nearly impossible to express, and maybe in turn maybe even to THINK, revolutionary
thoughts. Let’s go to the Thought-bubble:
Newspeak has three main categories of vocabulary: The A vocabulary contains blunt words for
daily functions, like eating, working, and sleeping. These words don’t have multiple meanings. (The examples listed include “hit, run,
dog, tree, sugar, house, field”) The B vocabulary contains compound words that
blend a noun and verb to express a limited number of political or ideological concepts. Like, “Goodthink” means orthodoxy to party
policy. “Crimethink” is its opposite. And the C vocabulary is scientific and technical. It contains jargon accessible only to workers
in a particular field. The idea is that no individual will be able
to synthesize knowledge from multiple fields. So people will be able to do their work, but
not be able to understand the context in which that work is happening. And that’s one example of how, by trying
to limit what people can say, the government is hoping to constrain what they can think. And an interesting feature of the Appendix
is that it explains th contained many superfluous words and archaic formulations which were
due to be suppressed later” (309). This foreshadows that language will become
increasingly oppressive… Which, of course, is bad news for Winston
and his peers. But there is some good news for the rest of
humanity. Because you will notice that the appendix
is written in Standard English. As many readers (including Thomas Pynchon
and Margaret Atwood) have pointed out, this suggests that free thought and its expression
will ultimately prevail, and that language will once again be rich and complex and free. Thanks Thought Bubble. So how do we get back to free language? Well I’m a writer, and as such I’m almost
professionally obligated to believe in the power of language–and next week we’ll go
into more detail about the complicated relationship between thoughts and language, but I think
it’s worth mentioning now that while we don’t think entirely in words, language
does help give form and expression to complex ideas within us. I mean, that’s part of what books attempt
to do, but it’s also something we’re all doing all day, because we think in language. It’s one of the primary ways we communicate
our feelings and experiences to other people, but it’s also one of the primary ways we
communicate that stuff within us. And I think in 1984 Orwell argues that the
restriction of language is ultimately a form of restricting thought itself. It’s encouraging that Newspeak may ultimately
fail, but it does make me wonder: what thoughts can’t I think because of the language that
I’ve inherited? Next time we’ll also address a question
that should be on your mind (since you’re watching this video on something very like
a telescreen, possibly while in a government-funded school where the government is deciding at
least in part what you learn about): What can 1984 teach us about our current political
context and our relationship to what many have called “surveillance” society? And in a world where so many of us volunteer
so much of ourselves to the public sphere, is there value in private life? Spoiler alert: I think so. But we’ll talk more about that next week. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you then.

100 Comments

  1. at 0:50 this comedian tries to make a joke, but comes across like a dope, "striking 'thirteen" would mean 1 in the afternoon, never heard of military time?

  2. As we sit in ease in the year 2019, we look at everyone's hands. Those mindless people walking down the streets and driving in their cars or merely roaming about the house, all of them with a telescreen in the palms.
    Google silently listening to their words in the guise of offering them advertisements. It reads their emails, and listens to their thoughts as they write it in their Twitter or Facebook pages.
    Yes 1984 is alive and well in 2019. Do you notice it?
    Even the TV or refrigerator is watching and listening. Alexa, Alexa they cry…. order me some food please, lock the door, shut off the lights. Yes we have become comfortable with big brother watching and listening.

  3. Fighting the Communists is a wonderful idea. But you have to watch out for their fickle allies. Loyalty is an important consideration for some.

  4. "the perversion of socialism" – was an interesting statement. I've always found socialism as the perverter of everything it touches – which is the contradiction in Orwell (my opinion). Totalitarianism is the end result of socialism – no matter what kind it is. Maybe in his "understanding" of democratic socialism – totalitarianism isn't the end state, but in reality it's exactly where it ends up.

  5. Oceania used military time like everyone else in the world does now. Silly Americans, and their twelve hour clocks

  6. Who controls the past controls the future…who controls the present controls the past. We're living in an age of Doublespeak and Doublethink

  7. You guys, the whole value of literacy is so you can read for yourself and not have it interpreted for you. You may as well watch the movie if youre gonna watch this. Orwell wrote 1984 about Russia at the time, it was already happening. Please don’t let them sell you nonsense, find out for yourself. For everyone’s sake.

  8. You've just read the first sentence of the book and I already have to pause the video, 'cause I'm getting angry on account on Winston (or LBR, John). This course is gonna go great.

  9. WHO IS BIG BROTHER? What, you thought it was just the Government, Military, and big business with their surveillance satellites and street-lamp cameras? Hell no! It's YOU AND ME with our camera phones watching every move. It's your neighbors, your children, their teachers, the social workers, even celbrities. Who is Big Brother???? YOU ARE. WE ARE. BE AFRAID. THE MONSTER IN THE CLOSET IS US.

  10. Oh the simple joy of scratching an itch as much as taking a breath. Dogs know this we are remembering. Mason ERIC BLAIR 😉

  11. Words are given to new complex cognitive constructions. For example "Psychoanalysis". Which themselves are used to expand the human understanding of the world we live in. How could you think the following thought without the word "Psychoanalysis"? "I believe behavioural Psychology has rendered Psychoanalysis next to useless"

  12. "The problem isn't that citizens are told the opposite of what is true. The real issue is that their experiences have become so limited that they lack the perspective and the language to differentiate between major concepts."

  13. Welcome to United Kingdom in 2019.
    What other Country would have a vote by 17.2 million to leave a Dictatorship, and three years still being ignored by all major British Political Parties.
    Double Think in the U.K. is a reality.
    DO NOT ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN TO YOUR COUNTRY !
    READ 1984.

  14. I just finished reading section one and I'm watching this to review myself until I'm halfway I realized I have gotten spoiled RIP UGHHHHHH LIKE ARE YOU SERIOUS? :(((

    Also me: Keeps watching

  15. I find something quite chilling about the what he says at 0:57 . From when I am writing this in late 2019, I can’t help myself from seeing the precursors of this prediction already. More and more our lives in “western culture” exist in the internet. That being said “cancel culture”, shadow banning”, “deplatforming”, and other forms of censorship are happening on all levels of society, quite fervently I might add. The internet is our greatest hope in the spread of new ideas since the printing press. And as the production of books Increased, so did censorship of those books…. any thoughts on this realization of mine, speak up while you can…

  16. "Democratic Socialism"
    George Orwell likes Hugo Chávez, Venezuela has socialism but, democratically, lol.

    How wrong he was.

  17. Socialism is totalitarian , Mugabe in Zimbabue was also elected for president and the country is a dictatorship .

  18. Ironically this Democratic Socialism BS maybe proves that now we have elements of an Orwellian distopia, or this wasn't anything new.

  19. I believe 1984 was the only book I finished reading in high school. The thing I remember most 2+2=5. Talk about thought control.

  20. Actually.. crypto has crippled the monopoly of central banking and even though tough you spent a video protecting defending inflationary currencies, you missed the entire point which is not being a slave which Bitcoin totally fixes

  21. Hmm… Orwell didn't even explain WHY communists were on the extreme right rather than the left? In other words, What are you NOT telling me?
    You, my friend, present a heavily biased argument from start to finish.

  22. Make your comments care-wise. Be double-plus sure-full that old-think and English don't corrupt your orthodoxy. Such a thing can only lead to thought-crime, and un-service to the party. Think in Newspeak.

  23. Reading the Authorized 1611 King James Holy Bible (Pure Cambridge Edition), aligns with what is going on in the world today. Read the newspaper, and it agrees with what God said in his holy word. History is "His Story" from Genesis to Revelation. Fear is often times said to be: False Evidence Appearing Real. For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7 (KJB). Only those that are born again bible believing Christians have HOPE for where their soul will spend eternity. Most false religions like Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses, 7th Day Adventist, Freemasonry, Hinduism, Muslims, etc., … sends people to hell because it falsely teaches that YOU have to DO certain things to earn your way into heaven. How would you ever know if you've done enough good deeds to EARN your way into heaven? True biblical Christianity is all about what Christ did (DONE) upon the cross of Calvary to atone (pay) for the sin of the world. NO sin can stand in the presence of a holy and just God. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23. BELIEVE on the LORD Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved;…. Acts 16:31. The only sin that sends a person to hell is UNBELIEF in what Christ has done for sinful mankind. Ephesians 2:8-9, John 1:12, John 3:16-18, 36, John 14:6. People act on what they believe. Many believe Satan's lies. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father (GOD) but by me (Jesus). John 14:6. Jesus is not "a" way to God. He is "the" only way to God. Only JESUS was without sin. He alone is the only one that has ever lived that was without sin. God accepted his sacrifice upon the cross of Calvary as a pure and sinless "Lamb of God" that taketh away the sin of the world. JESUS paid my sin debt that I owed. He paid a debt he did not owe because he was without sin. God accepted his sacrificial blood that was shed for mankind to make a way for sinful mankind to be reconciled to a holy and just God. Adam sinned against God. We have all inherited a sin nature. We deserve God's justice and wrath. Hell is a very real place. I'm thankful I was saved from going to hell the moment I BELIEVED that Jesus died in my place to pay for my sin debt. I'm guilty of breaking all of the 10 Commandments. NO sin can be in the presence of a holy and just God. Thankfully, Jesus was willing to lay down his life and pay my sin debt. I am saved from spending eternity in the Lake of Fire because I understood my need to be saved from going to hell. People can have HOPE in this world that is oppressed by Satan and his demons. Jesus died, was buried, and rose again the 3rd day to have victory over the grave. JESUS is LORD. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is LORD.

  24. I'm 22, just coming out of college. 1984 was one of the first books I read in high school (not required reading, did it for a summer report) I found that living in a post-9/11 era, we took a big step towards this dystopia with the patriot act. In the book, the government is able to take such liberties because there where major riots/ terrorist attacks. I worry that a government could take a massive riot and the evil path is lined with good intentions so to speak

  25. I want my 15 minutes back.
    I took a course in high school called ,"Utopia and Disutopia". 1984 was one of books examined. This guy should take that course.

  26. Here learning about this dystopia after guessing that Wonder Woman 1984 was probably based on events from this era: the birth of neoliberalism, consumerism explosion, debt entrapment, etc … and viola !!!! I found a video that talked about the hidden messages in the movie and it led me to this wonderful piece of literature.

  27. "People don't disappear… yet" I guess youve never been shadowbanned. In the world of media people "disappear" all the time. Therefore, their "voice".

  28. I would like to tell you something,
    SPOILER ALERT: LEFTISTS AREN'T JUST COMMUNISTS.

    Left-wing ideology is quite wide. It consists of everyone from social democrats to anarchists and everyone here succumbs to the mix and match of things with which they are comfortable. He is what many political critics claim themselves to be, "left centrist"- not sure if it is a real term.

  29. Utopia is dis-utopia
    beauty is ugly
    and etc
    for this sense you will know why a science common seen definition is very important.

  30. laissez-faire capitalism AKA capitalism with no restrictions. Alot of you miss that part i bet and just heard capitalism and i bet this guy dont know what a fascist or fascism is

  31. it does happen in China with their social rating. Plus the people that disappear who don't agree with the government. It's happening in America is people Rd platform buy Twitter by YouTube come on now!

    when people don't turn from their sins to Jesus Christ it's because they are about to be ruled by a tyrant and that will be evidence against them of why they are going to hell

  32. This is my favorite YouTube channel I swear this guy needs his own collage and teach people cause he makes it so understandable. If only more teachers acted like him more kids would probably stay in school 🧐

  33. So basically, China and North Korea are living in "Nineteen Eighty-Four" while the rest of the world is living in "Brave New World"

  34. Wow another propaganda of the extreme left brought to you by PBS ….way to go ! 7:27 see the little post at the button of the screen over the laptop …..” directly taken out of the ANTIFA book on how to cause violence to anyone who I disagree with “ Hey bud , played drums with bike lock on the head of people lately ? Dude you can at least try to hide your actual agenda here .confirm 12:00 in your own word .

  35. Historically speaking, if it weren’t for “evil colonialism” and “evil capitalism” there would be no George Orwell writing 1984. Also historically speaking the further right a society leans the more free they are. So the idea that fascism is a far right ideology is a deliberate lie.

  36. You forgot to mention the quote where he says he would've been with the anarchist if he understood what was going on better.

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