Humans, as sentient beings, naturally want to take responsibility for themselves. In 1984, George Orwell explores what happens when that responsibility is forcefully taken away and given to an omniscient master. The world within 1984 covers all aspects of human life and development from world dynamics as a whole, to government dynamics in a city, and the effects on a solitary person. George Orwell’s world truly epitomizes the idiom “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Without responsibility to guide them, people and what is known as civil society can no longer exist in a recognizable form.
The three powers, Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia are the ‘countries’ that rule the world in 1984. Each holding onto vast tracts of land and roughly even in technology, ideology, and munitions, govern their people in roughly the same way. Not is it only unclear whether the countries are at war, but if they were ever at war. The rocket bombs that fall on London within the book are just to ‘keep the people scared’ to keep them docile and in line. The very top portion of the government in Oceania controls this systematic destruction that allows the government to take away further freedoms and responsibilities from the citizens. From this thorough brainwashing they do so willingly with little to no resistance. Orwell creates a sense of helplessness in the people in response to the destruction, as their fear from the enemy turns to love and reverence towards their ‘master’ Big Brother whom incites them to give up all choice in their lives. All responsibility is then forfeit from the people, no choices means no thinking, and no thinking means no resilience. Big Brother holds sole responsibility for any and all actions.
Within the government and the guiding rules of Ingsoc, it is not clear who is really ‘running the show’ the members of the Inner Party may know more of what is happening but they are also more brainwashed than even the average member albeit in a different way. They no longer care about their fellow humans, not whether they live or die, or the fact that they have the power to stop many horrors that happen. Without a sense of morality or conscience they are unable to take responsibility for themselves or anyone else. They live without the feeling of guilt, may not even know what such a feeling is. They control the people only for the sense of power; ‘power for the sake of power’ is what the Inner Party doctrine boils down to. Orwell highlights this relationship within the first few pages of the book with his juxtaposition of the Ministry of Truth as it ‘towered vast and white above the grimy landscape.’ The Party members, especially the Inner Party hold the most power, and therefore the most responsible for their and Big Brothers actions, however they abuse this responsibility and allow everyone but themselves to live a dystopian existence.
“War is Peace
Ignorance is Strength
Freedom is Slavery”
– Dogma of the Party
When a person leads the kind of life that is depicted in 1984 they tend to lose touch with reality and what it means to be truly human. In a society where there is no such thing as the individual some try to fight the orthodoxy of the society. Julia, while appearing unwaveringly devoted to the Party and their ideals, secretly tries to assert her independence. However while she does rebel she still lacks the empathy and ability to account for her own actions. The system that is in place makes her unable to realize the consequences of her actions, the worst they can do is kill her and there is nothing left in her life that would hurt her to lose, as she is ‘not dead yet’ she does what she wants to do. In the world of Big Brother everyone knows they are going to die, whether they do something wrong or stay perfectly within the lines their entire life. It is up to them, however, if they acknowledge that reality or apply the technique of ‘doublethink’ to save what they believe to be their sanity, effectively indoctrinating themselves further into the ideology of the party and abandoning all responsibility of their actions.
When people give up their responsibility and accountability for their own actions they cease be truly alive. What was once called life is now an endless existence where one does not truly matter, the government sucks emotion out of existing as people only exist for their purposes, and society as a whole acts like a bumbling coral reef over-lorded by an invisible shark. George Orwell clearly depicts this detestable version of reality in his novel 1984. Not only was it an enterprising novel at the time it was written but it still holds relevance as a warning to the public of what happens when they give all culpability and power to the government. Personal responsibility should stay personal, without it humans lose their place and can no longer function in an ethical contemporary fashion.