Around 700 B.C.
, the Greek poet Hesiod offered in his Theogony (Origin of the Gods) the first known account of the origin and genealogy of the Greek gods, wholly developing Greek mythology as we know it from fragmented collections of stories and legends. To the Grecians, their gods represented an idealized version of themselves. Their embodiments of perfection, beauty, and power is what sets the disparity between the mortal human and the divine. This disparity is where the essence of humanity lies.
Humanity is defined through emotions, compassion, flaws, sexuality, loyalty and aspirations; such human attributes are absent in that of Greek gods. The suppression of these human-like qualities would ultimately result in desensitization of society. Best evident in George Orwell’s 1984, Orwell delves into a dystopian world of Oceania, where the disintegration of humanity is the direct result of the Party’s totalitarian doctrine.
The Party’s ultimate manipulation of language and technology work to dehumanize its members through eliminating familial love, sex instinct, and a sense of identity and independence. In Oceanian society, the potential for loving familial relationships is utterly absent as it is considered unorthodox behavior in terms of Party doctrine. Any interfamilial loyalty is eliminated, as loyalty is considered an absolute reservation solely for Big Brother and the Party. Through this, any bonds between a parent and child is broken, with children commonly reporting their parents to the Thought Police for the slightest comproming remark. Familial dynamic in Oceania has come to the point where “it was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children” (Orwell 24).
The Party essentially creates a system where the children have “all their ferocity…
turned outwards, against the enemies of the State, against foreigners, traitors, saboteurs, thought criminals” (Orwell 24). The Party is ultimately able to exert sole influence in raising the children of Oceania, rather than traditional parental authority, by systematically turning the children into the agents of the state. Through the creation of eager spies from the youth, it is the families that are left in terror of their progeny, consequently eradicating any loving familial dynamic. Along with distorting the familial dynamic, the Party also works to dehumanize the members of Oceania through eliminating the sex instinct, degrading sexual intercourse to the point where it is referred to as “duty to the party” (Orwell 67). According to Party doctrine, “the sexual act, successfully performed, was rebellion. Desire was thoughtcrime” (Orwell 68).
By subduing any physical sensations of making love, the Party ties together chastity and political orthodoxy by deeming the sex impulse dangerous to the State. And as such, sex is heavily regulated and was “to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation, like having an enema” (Orwell). Even the most primitive human instinct is repressed under the fear that personal intimacy and eroticism does not lie under the Party’s range of control. The dehumanization of Oceanian society through suppression of the sex instinct is most evident through Orwell’s description of sex between Winston and Katherine. “As soon as he touched her she seemed to winc and stiffen,” Orwell writes.
“To embrace her was like embracing a jointed wooden image. And what was strange was that even when she was clasping him against her he had the feeling that she was simultaneously pushing him away with all her strength” (Orwell 66). This seemingly mechanical and platonic description of sex clearly conveys the dismal state of the sex instinct in society.
By quelling the pleasurable nature of sex, the Party is able to keep the practice of sex under its control, whilst eliminating the human quality of pleasure. Through the extensive control of language and technology, the Party is able to disintegrate any sense of identity and individuality. Dehumanization through language occurs through the Party’s official language, Newspeak. The primary reason for the institution of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought and consciousness through the restriction of language choice. Exemplified during Winston and Syme’s meeting during lunch hour, Syme goes on to declare, ” ‘In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words to express it’ ” (Orwell 52). The Party’s manipulation over language through reduction of words works to restrict the possibilities of converting unorthodoxy into words, and consequently creating a form of “reality-control” through limited language to express any concept needed.
In a language where only Party doctrine is able to expressed, any form of intellectual pursuit and independent thought is abolished, thus eliminating any aura of individual existence and personal regard. Higher intellectual pursuit and thought are qualities of humans that distinguish us from other species. Deprivation of such intellect and thought would further add to the dehumanization of Oceanian society.
Through manipulation of technology such as the telescreen to surveill the members of Oceania, there is no room for independent behavior. Constant audio and video surveillance allows the Thought Police to infer the activities, even the most minute, of the people of Oceania. However, its greatest effect lies in the fact that under surveillance, an individual is not himself, but rather plays a role. Winston exemplifies this as “he had set his features into the expression of quiet optimism which it was advisable to wear when facing the telescreen” (Orwell 5) during his entrance to his apartment in Victory Mansions.
Independent behavior, and essential part of humanity, is restricted in front of a telescreen as Winston is never truly able to be himself. And such, the dehumanization by the Party is conducted at full force due to the prominence of telescreens in Oceania. To conclude, the dehumanization of Oceanian society is a direct result of the Party’s extent of control over its members. Through intertwining the destruction and distortion of integral aspects of humanity such as familial love, sex instinct, and independent thought and identity, Orwell ultimately creates a disintegrating human essence in Oceanian society. In our current state of society, such violations of humanity is subtle in a democracy such as the United States. However, it is best to heed Orwell’s painting of a dystopian society as a warning of potential threats to our democracy.