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Barron's Booknotes-1984 by George Orwell-Free Book Notes
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Chapter 1 - IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

Orwell repeats the paragraph dividing society into High, Middle and Low orders, adding: "The aims of these three groups are entirely irreconcilable. The aim of the High is to remain where they are. The aim of the Middle is to change places with the High. The aim of the Low, when they have an aim... is to abolish all distinctions and create a society in which all men shall be equal."

Goldstein believes the Low order is too crushed by drudgery to have time for such thought. He sees history as a cyclical process-continuing struggle in which the High is overthrown by the Middle, aided by the Low. The Middle takes over, becomes the High, and then suppresses the Low. A new Middle group splits off from the Low or Middle group to challenge the High and the cycle begins again.

As you follow Goldstein's argument, try to decide whether this essentially pessimistic view is a true picture of the world as it is today. It's possible to argue both ways-to say that yes, this is the way of the world, or no, we are progressing toward a better society. An essential question asked by Goldstein's book is whether humanity is better off now than, say, a hundred years ago, or than it will be in the future.

Goldstein writes that the average human is physically better off, but "no advance in wealth, no softening of manners, no reform or revolution has ever brought human equality a millimeter nearer." For the Low, there is only the occasional change in masters.


By the late 19th century, Goldstein says, many thinkers pointed to this cyclical process as evidence that inequality was built into the nature of life. In the past the High had claimed the need for a hierarchical society to support its position of power. The Middle, which had used concepts of freedom, justice and fraternity to justify its bid for power, were going to have to adjust their rhetoric to allow for the cyclical theory. How could they promise equality to a Low order if history proclaimed that there would always be a Low order? They had to adjust their thinking, too. If technology made true equality possible, they would lose all their power.

Although Socialism was established to create liberty and equality (the Utopian, or perfect society), the new Middle groups would make changes in it. Their aim? To keep power once they got it. The new movements, Goldstein writes, aimed to perpetuate unfreedom and inequality, to freeze history. Once the cycle was complete and the Middle became High, they intended to stay High. The new, powerful parties Goldstein names are Ingsoc (English Socialism) in Oceania, Neo- Bolshevism in Eurasia, and Death-worship in Eastasia.

NOTE: ON SOCIALISM

In a letter written at the time, Orwell made it plain that he was not attacking English Socialism or the British Labor party. He was angered by Fascism (strong national government under a dictator) in Germany and Spain, and by the perversion of socialist ideals in Stalinist Russia. He wanted through exaggeration to point out the dangers of totalitarian ideas because, he said, "I believe that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere."

Socialism is a political and economic theory of organization based on collective or governmental ownership of the means of producing and distributing goods and services. Today the government in England operates health care services, transportation, mining and some radio and TV programming, among other things. Orwell feared government control pushed too far would endanger human freedom. Warning people about totalitarianism in other countries, Orwell wanted people in democratic countries to be aware of the grim possibilities raised when they delegated too much authority to their own governments.

For groups who had recently seized power, Goldstein continues, the possibility raised by the machine age of real equality presented a danger. In order to solidify their control, the new governments, beginning around 1930, became harshly authoritarian. They resorted to imprisonment without trial, the use of war prisoners as slaves, public executions, torture, the deportation (Hitler's treatment of the Jews, for example) of entire populations.

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