NCEA 3.4 Writing Portfolio. Feature Article: 1984: Critical review

The world  inside the novel of Nineteen-eighty-four was created in the late 1950’s by it’s author George Orwell. It’s bleak view of the future of humanity was used as a launch pad during its popularity, into discussions of the dark themes that were explored in the text. Themes such as control through fear and intimidation, how surveillance effects a society, and what happens when there are no real truths, only acceptable lies. These are all ideas and themes explored through the text of Nineteen-eighty-four, however a major fault may lie in how these are presented to a wider and a more modern audience. An overbearingly noticeable trend appears within the novels’ characters; all minor and major characters noteworthy of a name are male, expect a single women.

A theme explored in depth by Nineteen-eighty-four is control through fear. An important aspect, which most of the fictitious society of Nineteen-eighty-four is based upon.  Although while doing so one key trait seems to be ignored, or purposefully left out; the perspective of women in the story. The way for an audience to empathise and to understand a text is to find a relatable feature. This novel leaves out this option for a lot of women, as when there is a mention of women it is usually in a sexual and or violent context. Such as in the quote by our lead male protagonist Winston, “He would ravish her and cut her throat at the moment of climax. This quote is said only moments after the recipient female character is presented to the audience, she is also one of Winston’s first interactions with women in the novel, setting up female treatment in the novel from the very start. George Orwell’s idea of control through fear was meant to be a warning to the future of our whole society,  but his portrayal of women in this future is one that many women would find more far more dangerous than their male counterparts. In the 1950’s and carrying into the present day of 2018 a way in which women are often controlled is  through a sexual context. Whether its women’s rights for sexual health, the laws which govern women’s attire, or even how women choose to give birth. These regulations towards women are largely based on control,  they put women in lower position of society by creating fear in making and limiting women’s choices. These fears for women exist in places that they do not for men. This can be seen clearly in the text in the quote,”With those children, he thought, that wretched woman must lead a life of terror.”  The woman in question here is in fear of her own children, due to the society in which the novel inhabits. The same fear does not appear to exist for the women’s husband who has no responsibility for his children, and no fear of them. An example of a real life situation in which women are controlled through fear, is in abortion rights. Through scare tactics and  hordes of people protesting outside clinics, women are pushed into an uncomfortable situation with their own pregnancy. Some countries such as Ireland and the U.S.A have such strict laws surrounding abortion that they do not allow for any form of a safe abortion. Leading women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to full term, even if they cannot support the child, it would be detrimental to their own health, or even if the baby itself would not live after the birth. Much like the woman from the quote above, women experiencing this tend to become terrified of and even resentful to  their own pregnancy. Situations like this occur due to lack of sexual education, which in some countries, much like in the novel Nineteen-eighty-four, only preach abstinence rather than providing safe means of protection. These steps taken towards women’s rights, by governments mainly run by men can control women in their day to day lives. It allows societies to place blame and the sole future responsibility back onto women, controlling their futures before they have even begun. In Nineteen-eighty-four the government has created an anti-sex league as well as imposing an unspoken ban for real loving relationships, in order to create a division between men and women in their further understanding  of one another and each others issues. The addition of female perspective in this novel would have created a better telling, and would have been able to relate to a wider audience allowing for larger discussion to progress and further understanding of all that George Orwell wanted to convey. When relaying the message of how control through fear can effect a  populous, it is an aspect of our societies history that women have faced repeatedly, and showing this through a women’s perspective in the novel would have communicated the idea to a future audience much clearer.  

In the text there seems to be mention of less than ten women in total, with only two of them having any dialogue, and one having a semblance of character; this character being a young woman named Julia. Julia does not help to further the plot or the theme of control though fear within the novel, but rather in a real world context. To provide some background to this idea we need to look into the ‘Manic pixie dream girl’ trope that often appears in modern texts. This trope was first coined in 2007 by film critic Nathan Rabin, and is described as “A female character that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” The characters that take on these ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ roles are ones that have no substance to build a real character from, and if left out of the text would not change the plot all that much. These character exists only for the benefit of a male character, and often the protagonist. Nineteen-eighty-four’s Julia takes on these tropes multiple times in the text. An example of this is when she confesses her love for the protagonist Winston, even though they had had no previous encounters and only talked at the time of this sudden confession. This incident occurs when Winston needs one final push to begin his personal rebellion. Julia’s own irrelevance to this rebellion is shown when she at one point disappears entirely from the text, only to reappear to play housewife in a ‘meaningful’ relationship with Winston. This relationship is based solely off of encounters with Winston sporadically over a couple of months, to show ‘rebellion’ by engaging in sexual intercourse. For Winston this is seen as a form  of rebellion, while for Julia the act has no deeper meaning. “I hate purity, I hate goodness! I don’t want any virtue to exist anywhere…you like doing this? I don’t simply mean me: I mean the thing itself? [Winston]…’ I adore it [Julia].” This quote from both Winston and Julia illustrates how Julia’s character is simply there to fulfil a selfish wish in the protagonist’s journey.  To take from the previous quote about the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ Julia teaches the brooding Winston to embrace life and all its infinite mysteries in order to begin his rebellion. As well as this, a relationship of this type would only exist in the fevered imagination of a lonely author, George Orwell wrote this novel at much the same age as our protagonist WinstonJulia’s want for sex is seen as personal and flippant, with the author even going as far to mention her many other sexual partners, “Hundreds of times-well, scores of times, anyway.” Julia’s character is shown as charming, pretty, she rebells for those who need her to, her sexuality and apparent want for classic house wife tropes of the 1950’s, seen in the quote, “Yes, dear, scent too. And you know what I’m going to do next? I’m going to get hold of a real woman’s frock…I’ll wear silk stockings and high-heeled shoes!” are used as tools to further Winston’s plot, ideals, and journey. Julia however, fades into obscurity once her role is filled; she ceases to be relevant and therefore ceases from the plot. The tragedy of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope is that their characters could be so much more, but that they cannot exist without a man. Once a man has no need for the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ whether its the protagonist or the author, they are tossed aside, killed off or just never mentioned again. This trope and Julia’s character all relate to a broader real world context, showing how this trope has bled into modern day society. Sayings such as “Behind every great man is a great woman” are the example of how women are not becoming the front runners of our societies, but the ones guiding men to take the lead. This itself is control through fear. A warning, unintentional no doubt, that when the women of our real life societies step back in roles, and allow major officials to control certain rights; it will cause women to be left out of the narrative. Much like our fictional Julia’s and Manic Pixie Dream Girls, when women are no longer considered needed in our societies, whether its through control and through the fear women have given over, women will cease to be apart of the  narrative.

George Orwell wrote from what he knew, and also catered to the prominent audience of his time. For George Orwell this was the middle aged, white, middle class male. This perspective however, limits its readers, and it demonstrates one of the very themes he wrote about; even if not necessarily in the context it was originally intend for. Part of this is effected by the leaving out of an entire genders perspective in the novel. This act says more about the author and the times in which the novel was written, than it does about the novel. It also allows the modern readers to see what was the focus of society in the 1950’s. However, the novels continued reverence in our modern society without mentioning the mishandling of female characters such as Julia, and the effects that tropes perpetuated by her in this revered novel have, is a fault in the relaying of one of the most important messages of Nineteen-eighty-four. The message being control through fear. This should be an accessible warning, but Nineteen-eighty-four’s lack of varied perspective leaves it a warning left unheeded. Modern readers of the novel in 2018 see the appearance of control through fear, especially towards women in real life, and not the push back of this control that the novel could have preached. Ultimately the very idea that George Orwell sought to change has become a reality, in some form or another, for the people he chose to leave out of the plot, and for the people he unwittingly choose to not warn.



3 Replies to “NCEA 3.4 Writing Portfolio. Feature Article: 1984: Critical review”

  1. This starts with confidence and clarity (On one level, I like the convention of using placeholders to indicate where the detail will come, however I’d like to issue a warning that this perhaps detaches your ideas from the evidence. I’d encourage you to investigate the actual quotations you select – including the language they use, as this will reinforce your arguments even more)

    Another challenge you may encounter is in relation to length. Speak to me if you would like to extend the word limit.


  2. Achievement Achievement with Merit Achievement with Excellence
    Produce a selection of fluent and coherent writing which develops, sustains, and structures ideas. Produce a selection of fluent and coherent writing which develops, sustains, and structures ideas and is convincing. Produce a selection of fluent and coherent writing which develops, sustains, and structures ideas and commands attention.

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