The Dystopian roots of 1984
The word 'dystopia' was first coined at around the same time as the publication of Nineteen Eighty- Four, and indeed it was the Twentieth Century's imagination of such nightmarish visions of imaginary societies that helped to distinguish a definite 'dystopia' from the conventional 'utopia' as envisaged by Thomas More. Of course, though he invented the word, More's was not the first 'Utopia'. Indeed, his book belongs to an ancient form of political writing that can be traced back to Plato's Republic. In a modern political context, some of the utopian ideas outlined in the likes of Republic and Utopia can seem distinctly Dystopian, particular those concerned with the restriction of individual freedom. Indeed, it is the idea of the lack of freedom that is central to Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Orwell subverts More's and Plato's idea of social control as a social good. In More's Utopia travel is restricted, movements are watched and controlled and leisure time is managed: 'Because they live in full view of all, they are bound to be either working at their usual trades or enjoying their leisure in a respectable way.' For More this is a positive state of affairs, but in Orwell's world, Outer Party members are constantly monitored through 'telescreens', their work is regulated and always in the service of the Party, and their leisure time is confined to Party-sanctioned activities. Mr Parsons, a neighbour of Winston's is 'a leading figure on the Sports Committee and all the other committees engaged in organising community hikes, spontaneous demonstrations, savings campaigns and voluntary activities generally. He would inform you with quiet pride... that he had put in an appearance at he Community Centre every evening for the past four years.'
Unlike in More's Utopia, but like Plato's Republic, the Oceana's Party sees the institution of the family as a barrier to their vision of society. Plato would have children raised communally to prevent family bonds from forming, which is what the Party envisages, except it goes one step further:
'The only recognised purpose of marriage was to beget children for the service of the Party. Sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation, like having an enema... There were even organisations such as the Junior Anti-Sex League which advocated complete celibacy for both sexes. All children were to be begotten by artificial insemination (artsem, it was called in Newspeak) and brought up in public institutions.'
These are Winston's observations, and like so many of them throughout the novel they are confirmed in his final interrogation with O'Brien: '... in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated... We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now.' In Orwell's vision, human love is to be discouraged because it diverts from the love of the Party, just as familiar bonds were discouraged by Plato because they diverted from the 'good' of the Republic.
It has been pointed out that there is also something deeply Freudian about the place of sex within the society of Oceana. Ben Pimlott writes that, 'The furnace of Oceanian society, in which everything is done collectively and yet everything remains alone, is the denial of the erotic. It is this that fires the prevailing moods of "fear, hatred, adulation and orgiastic triumph". Sexual hysteria is used deliberately to ferment a sadistic loathing of imagined enemies and to stimulate a masochistic depersonalised love of Big Brother.' During the Two Minutes Hate, when Winston has yet to recognise Julia as an ally, he fantasises that he 'would flog her to death with a rubber truncheon... He would ravish her and cut her throat at the moment of climax.... [Because] she was young and pretty and sexless, because he wanted to go to bed with her and would never do so.' When they do begin their affair, sex becomes a necessity, an act of rebellion in itself. Moreover, Winston is plagued by memories of his wife with whom sex - their 'duty to the Party' - disgusted him. And as he remembers an encounter with an old, toothless prostitute (he "went ahead and did it just the same") he also recounts how a man's subconscious could betray him through sleep-talking or an involuntary twitch of the face. His memories of his mother feed into his imagined Golden Country, and elements in his torture by O'Brien become almost sadomasochistic - he loves O'Brien when he takes away the pain, even though it is he who is in charge of administering it.
The idea of control of sex and procreation is also one of the many facets that link Nineteen Eighty-Four to Huxley's Brave New World, and there is no doubt that Orwell was inspired by the man who had taught