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05-07-2022 | ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Nineteen Eighty-Four and ‘The Possibility of Tragedy’

Author: James Brown

Published in: Society

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Abstract

In Nineteen Eighty-Four Orwell imagines a world in which tragedy and the kinds of human value on which (in Orwell’s view) it depends have ceased to be possible. The novel’s principal character, Winston Smith, sees them as belonging to an earlier era of private and unquestioning loyalties. However, fully to register the impossibility of tragedy involves seeing the novel as representing not merely an attempt on Winston’s part to disrupt an oppressive system that happens to fail (for tragic value might still attach to the attempt), but as showing a world in which failure has ceased to be meaningful. This situation is ensured in the world of the novel by the operation of an official doctrine that can be described as idealism on a materialist base. The Party insists that perception constitutes reality, and can be remoulded by the Party’s command of psychologically expert forms of mind-reading and mind-control. This psychological expertise relates to several features of the novel (such as the salience of dreams), and points to the possibility that the novel does not show a serious attempt to challenge the Party’s regime, but only its normal functioning.
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Metadata
Title
Nineteen Eighty-Four and ‘The Possibility of Tragedy’
Author
James Brown
Publication date
05-07-2022
Publisher
Springer US
Published in
Society
Print ISSN: 0147-2011
Electronic ISSN: 1936-4725
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s12115-022-00738-4