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I wrote this as my English final, first semester. The prompt was “Discuss the symbolism of 1984.” Enjoy!

George Orwell’s 1984 is truly the class “negative utopia,” a story of the perpetuation of a horrifying, perfectly-run society. Just as Ingsoc is a bastardization of Socialism, the dystopia of 1984 is a symbolic perversion of the ultimate utopia, Eden, and the entire Christian story.

The Eden of 1984 is the epitome of perpetual misery, but in some ways, it is exactly the same as the Biblical Eden. In Eden, Adam had no knowledge of any conditions other than the perfect ones in which God placed him; in 1984, Orwell says “so long as [the masses] are not permitted to have standards of comparison they never even become aware that they are oppressed.” Oppression, “complete helplessness” and “locked loneliness” are the conditions in which the people live. Because they know no others, they are completely unaware of their own misery. At the beginning of the book, Winston is not happy, but neither does he have any ideas of concretely changing his position of misery. In this world, like in Eden, there is no real death: “he was already dead, he reflected.” Life with death is no different than being dead. Because Adam was immortal while living in the Garden, he had no concept of death; likewise, Winston has no concept of death because he has always been dead.

God created Eve to accompany Adam, and so Julia is introduced with the forbidden fruit of love and lust. She slips him a note that says “I love you,” and from that moment, Winston has the knowledge of life and death. The food she gets off the “black market” also represents the fruit of knowledge: she gives him “very unusual chocolate… the taste was delightful.” She shows him over and over again what it is to be alive, pressing herself against him, saying “Don’t you like this?” She represents Eve and the fall of Man in the concrete sense of Man having a point of comparison. He did not realize how miserable he was until Julia came to him with her fruit.

Through all this, the Party has watched them. O’Brien, the Party’s representative in Winston’s case, tells him that they will meet “in the place where there is no darkness.” This refers both to the Ministry of Love and to the Kingdom of Heaven. The Ministry of Love’s name is an instance of doublethink and irony, but it is is also a reference to the biblical emphasis on light and its mission to “conquer the night.” Although Winston and Julia have a short time to enjoy the fruit while in the Garden, the Party, symbolizing God, casts them out: “here comes a chopper to chop off your head.” This references the idea of mortality as the price of knowledge.

When Winston reaches the Ministry of Love, he transforms from Adam, into Christ, “the last man.” O’Brien becomes his father figure, his God: “he was the tormentor, he was the protector, he was the inquisitor, he was the friend.” Just as God, the Good Shepherd, watches his flock, O’Brien tells Winston, “You are in my keeping… I shall save you, I shall make you perfect.” Just as Jesus advocated cutting off the hand that causes one to sin, O’Brien says that “everyone is washed clean.” Washing is a major symbol of salvation in the Bible, and so it is here: washing clean is a representation of salvation through the Party. When O’Brien says “We are the inheritors,” it is a reference to the biblical verse saying that “the meek shall inherit the Earth.” The members of the Party are meek in that they are “not even able to prevent the decay” of their bodies. Because “the individual is only a cell” of the larger Party, however, and the Party will never die, they will inherit the Earth. O’Brien says that “God is power” and references the idea of God’s omnipotence by saying “there is nothing that we could not do.”

Winston’s trials in the Ministry of Love represent the crucifixion. O’Brien orders him to “take off [his] clothes,” and he tells him he has “been kicked and flogged and insulted.” In the Bible, the guards did all these things to Jesus when the led him to be crucified. In the last interrogation scene, when Winston faces the rats and screams, “Do it to Julia! Not me,” his betrayal is equivalent to Jesus’ cry of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” when finally faced with death. Jesus’ death and Winston’s betrayal of Julia both represent the salvation of the rest of mankind. Because Winston wins “the victory over himself,” he makes it clear that anyone can and will be converted to the love of Big Brother.

This is not to say that the principles of 1984 are the principles of Christianity. However, the book is full of Biblical symbolism and does represent the Christian story of Man. Whether or not Orwell consciously followed the Christian story, Winston’s journey to innocence, doublethink and Party loyalty is a story of the return to Eden and the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps the misnomer of “Apocalypse novel” is not really a misnomer, because although the world of 1984 does not end, it represents the Kingdom of Heaven, which comes about at the Apocalypse.

One Comment

  1. Very well written Sally! You have some great insight in this. But it does sort of speed up at the end with more summary and less analysis, but that typically is the case for in-class essays. 🙂


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