George Orwell (English 246: Fall 2011)

Final Essay Questions

Questions for Further Consideration

1. After the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001, Nineteen Eighty-Four acquired a new valence in the face of the government’s suspension of many constitutional rights. Throughout the media, there was no dearth of comparisons between the oppressive elements described in Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” and declaration of war against Iraq. The violation of rights guaranteed by the Constitution, the numerous infractions against international law, and the secret “extraordinary renditions” of “enemy combatants” to other nations that disregarded the UN Convention Against Torture shared, many argued, a general tendency elaborated in Nineteen Eighty-Four. The flouting of the Geneva Conventions in the prison camps of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and Bagram, where the United States held “enemy combatants” without habeas corpus were, as Paul Krugman wrote at the time, ” … all very Orwellian. But when Orwell wrote of ‘a nightmare world’ in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future, but the past,’ he was thinking of totalitarian states. Who would have imagined that history would prove so easy to rewrite in a democratic nation with a free press?” Yet, as Krugman appear to think so, do we require a novel, written in 1948, under a vastly different set of circumstances, to provide a fully critical account of the present? How, in other words, has Nineteen Eighty-Four incapacitated our critical abilities to provide a dissenting critique of the politics of the present? In other words, what does this view of the present occlude? And is there a way to relate what is withheld from what is not in the novel? And if so how? [This isa general question, a prompt. Don’t feel as if you need to address these questions in order. I’m more interested in the question as a theme.]

2. How do we reconcile what is told in Nineteen Eighty-Four with how it is told? Statements the narrator makes like “if such a thing could be said to have happened” raise questions about an inherent tension in the novel that is arguably the result of the way that the novel is narrated from an external standpoint. Discuss how this viewpoint shapes our understanding of the attitude Nineteen Eighty-Four expresses to the world after 1984. How do we apprehend the novel’s aftermath? Its appendix?

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