wingedbeast ([personal profile] wingedbeast) wrote2017-05-01 12:01 am
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1984 Deconstruction: Part 17 Party of One

Before I go on to spew more venom upon Winston, I do have some praise for George Orwell.

Firstly, it's briefly noted that a walk by himself, instead of going to the Community Center for communal recreation is a risk. The fact that Winston's doing this for the second time in three weeks is, according to the book, a rash act. (If there isn't a carefully checked attendance, you can bet that the members are encouraged to take note of conspicuous absences... and all absences are conspicuous.)

... to do anything that suggested a taste for solitude, even to go for a walk by yourself, was always slightly dangerous. There was a word for it in Newspeak: ownlife, it was called, meaning individualism and eccentricity.

This part really scares me. I am, very much, an ownlife kind of guy.

I prefer to take walks by myself. I prefer to interact with set topics in small groups. Free-style socialization is... scary to me. The choices are to talk about banal things or to desperately wonder if this is a person with whom a conversation on social, political, or complex fictional matter can be broached. Even when in contentious disagreement, I prefer the set to pic on the social, political, or fictional matter.

This, by the way, is part of why I have my Evangelizing Advice from an Atheist series. If that could actually be a conversation, I would greatly prefer that conversation to "sports team X sure is sportsing at relative skill."

But, otherwise, I like my time to myself. I need it. It is how I breathe and gain space to think. To have that declared dangerous is to set me on a countdown to self-destruction.

On one April morning, the fresh air does, for Winston, what it might do for me (with the aid of Pokemon Go on my phone). It tempted him to take a walk rather than the bus. Now, Winston does a bit more wandering than I would, but still, a walk, by himself, in good weather and with his own thoughts. Winston, you get me... from far away... we don't need to walk together. We share the long-distance brotherhood of the introvert.

Second, it's the general tenor of what happens when Winston finds himself wandering through a Prole neighborhood.

Most people don't pay him much mind. A few eye him with guarded curiosity. Conversations halt when he is noticeably near. In one case, a general conversation of the "Mabel I says" variety, between two women, halts.

The strident voices stopped immediately. The women studied him in hostile silence as he went past. But it was not hostility, exactly; merely a kind of wariness, a momentary stiffening, as at the passing of some unfamiliar animal. The blue overalls of the Party could not be a common sight in a street like this. Indeed, it was unwise to be seen in such places, unless you had definite business there. The patrols might stop you if you happened to run into them. 'May I see your papers, comarade? What are you doing here? What time did you leave work? Is this your usual way home?'-and so on and so forth. Not that there was any rule against walking home by an unusual route: but it was enough to draw attention to you if the Thought Police heard about it.

One of the best criticisms I know of Communist regimes is their failure even to attempt, you know, communism. They attempted to replace an autocratic nobility class by establishing an autocratic class to do the leading, you know that noble endeavor.

I don't know how much George Orwell thought of this and I'm certain Winston has no clue. But, if Winston draws suspicious attention upon himself by being in this Prole neighborhood, he draws even more suspicious attention on the neighborhood.

In the High School analogy of Oceana, Winston Smith might be a burnout, but he's undoubtedly middle class. If he goes to a "rough" neighborhood (read: a poorer neighborhood, perhaps with an ethnic makeup that is unfairly associated with crime), that neighborhood gets some attention. Somebody wants to know what's going on there. Nobody wants to tell him things that will get back to someone else. And, if he gets hurt, there, nobody in that neighborhood comes out the better.

Yet, Winston remains not unaware of the danger he brings, because that's all obvious for anybody to see, but uninterested enough to notice.

Now, there are a couple things I'm going to skip over, really fast. The dropping of a bomb and, as Winston gets to a pub, a couple Proles in a heated debate over a potential pattern to the lottery. No fan of either bomb-dropping or the lottery am I, but neither of these things say what hasn't already been said in the book.

Instead of going into detail on those (if you want to go into detail, please do in the comments), I will talk about Winston's interaction with an old Prole. Here's where I get to the venom.

The old man is looking for a Pint. It's London. The man is in his 80s and was, therefore, approximately in his 40s for the Revolution, and therefore remembers the world before the Revolution. He, however, isn't that good at recalling today. So, he argues to get a Pint, even though Oceana, being fully Metric, deals in Litres.

Winston buys the man a beer (getting him a Litre of beer, rather than the preferred Pint) and tries to get the old man to talk about the changes since he was a young man. The old man complains about the price and quality of beer now-a-days, which isn't what Winston's looking for.

Winston goes on a long paragraph explaining what information he's trying get and he winds up mentioning, but not quite on the topic of, top hats. Here is the old man's response.

'Top 'ats!' he said. 'Funny you should mention 'em. The same thing come into my 'ead only yesterday, I dono why. I was jest thinking, I ain't seen a top 'at in years. Gorn right out, they 'ave. The last time I wore one was at my sister-in-law's funeral. And that was-well, I couldn't give you the date, but it must'a been fifty year ago. Of course it was only 'ired out for the occasion, you understand.

There are a few reiterations of the same basic idea. Winston's trying for something and, rather than get that something, he gets a few anecdotes. And, if Winston were really curious, that would be useful information.

Really, in this example we have that useful information. According to the Ministry of Truth, the organization that, among other things, decides the content of the history text-books for students in Oceana, top hats only for the capitalist class, a means of identifying the social betters from the social lessers.

In this anecdote, this little story that goes nowhere save in the circle's of an old man's rumination, Winston actually does have the answer. Class was not so rigid as to deny a peasant the right to wear a top hat, but it was still a signifyier of finery, such that one might wear it in respect for a solemn or significant occasion.

Congratulations, Winston, you have verification of the lies in those textbooks. You have verification that the past might, very well, have been better than the present. The Thought Police might leave the Proles, more or less, to their own, but what would they do about Proles pretending to be Party Members? What would happen if the Proles were to assault Winston?

Remember, Winston is a stranger in this neighborhood. The neighborhoods are kept purposely provincial to limit communication. Winston, despite not having a whole lot of excess wealth, has the disposable income to buy a diary. We'll find out, later on in this chapter, he has yet more disposable income than that. And, for all the claims that the proles are rife with crime and organized crime, the most aggressive move made by a prole on Winston was to warn him of that bomb.

The old man's recollections include drunkenly starting a fight with a rich capitalist. The consequences were nothing more than getting shoved into a gutter. Compare that to a diary entry from the first Chapter, in which Winston recalls a woman getting pulled out of a movie theater by the Thought Police. The reason was that she was vocally complaining that the movie theater, open to children, had shown Oceana soldiers killing refugee children with waves of gunfire.

Winston, if he actually cared to learn, has everything he needs, right here.

Winston does not care to learn. The truth does not matter to Winston.

What he wants is validation. "Yes, Winston Smith, you are right, the world was a worse place and we all know it. You are wise and stalwart individual, that you are able to see through and resist the manipulations of The Party."

Instead, since he doesn't get that kind of validation, he laments that the final record of what the world was before the Revolution is in the rambling memories of men like this.

Winston Smith: Party of One is engaged in doublethink. He believes in the mutually exclusive, that the Party is truly all irresistible and that he, Winston Smith, is the lone man resisting. For every fact that could counter that reality, he is always there to remind himself otherwise.

Orwell seems to intend a conflict, in his novel, of Truth versus Party Doctrine. We don't have that. What we have is Winston's Personal Doctrine versus Party Doctrine. It does so happen that Winston's personal doctrine seems to hold up in some places. But, Winston isn't interested enough to notice even that.

(Anonymous) 2017-05-01 06:26 pm (UTC)(link)
"I don't know how much George Orwell thought of this"

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which"

He was very concerned about the creation of that dictatorship of the proletariat, and it's one of the things he comments about as different between the POUM and the Communists when he was in Spain.

He also objected to anarchism on the grounds that it didn't allow the freedom to be eccentric- to be the guy that decides to do something odd purely because you want to and which doesn't hurt anyone- because of the need for total democracy in an anarchist system which, he thought, meant you'd have to have a sort of collective mindset.
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)

[personal profile] stardreamer 2017-05-02 01:28 am (UTC)(link)
It's sort of like a college fratboy from a well-to-do family going down to the ghetto to score some drugs. If the cops notice, nothing much will happen to him for buying -- but the sellers will be arrested or perhaps even beaten and killed. "Shot while fleeing" seems to cover a lot these days.