The Historical Context of 1984
History has been, and always will be, a matter of perspective. Wars, for example, will be viewed and taught differently by each respective country involved. Some things will be written off and forgotten, while somewhere else they are made sure to be remembered. In George Orwell’s 1984, history is often falsified to benefit the government. However, while the past may not be accurate in the minds of the utopia’s citizens, the true past occasionally lingers in other forms. In this novel, the past is preserved in objects rather than in words, such as in a picture and a field.
Knowingly, the protagonist, Winston, alters newspapers and other various documents to rewrite the past in a way that protects the government and allows them to persist and continue running in their totalitarian ways. However, as he explores his world, he unknowingly stumbles across relics of the past that are unchangeable and keep alive a time before the world he knows. One thing Winston discovers is an old photo of a church called St. Clement’s Dane, to which, “It seemed vaguely familiar [to him]” (97). Even just the slightest recognition of an old building is vital because this is what triggers Winston’s mind to begin to ponder every small artifact he uncovers. This one in particular is a preservation not only of, physically, a building that once existed, but also one of an old culture. This past culture included a more sophisticated literature and language, evident in merely a simple rhyme the shop owner tells that goes with St. Clement’s Dane, “‘Orange and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s!’” (98). Though the rhyme seems uncomplex, its mere existence implies a world that was once embellished with silly rhymes, important or not. This implication also implies creativity, and with creativity comes freedom, both things that have been, or are attempting to be, abolished from Oceania. Though a more obvious and tangible relic of the past, it is a clear reminder of the world before the Revolution with the poetry that it comes with, enough to create “…the illusion of actually hearing the bells, the bells of a lost London that still existed somewhere or other, disguised and forgotten” (99). Not only is creativity an element that the photo of the church preserves, but the religious aspect of such bells as well. The photo keeps alive a time where religion was more a part of daily routine. In Winston’s time, religion seems scarce and almost extinct, evident in one church he remembers as now being “…a museum used for propaganda displays of various kinds” (99). For this, the photo also preserves a lost element of life by capturing the image of a church, a symbol of religion that hardly exists in Winston’s time. The photo keeps the past alive with a far more complex language existed and where there was more freedom. A “lost London” lives on in the picture of the church, and it reminds Winston that what he knows has not always been.
Though a “lost London” lives within a picture, a lost connection survives in the first place Winston and Julia meet. Julia brings Winston to natural clearing in the woods, that Winston refers to as “‘…the Golden Country…a landscape [he’s] seen sometimes in a dream’” (123). The field preserves nature and natural drives and instincts, such as sex drives, in a world where such connections and urges are actively advocated against. Here, Julia and Winston give in to these urges for the first time and allow themselves to temporarily live in another time. Not only does the field keep a past alive where a connection with the physical nature as well as a connection with natural impulses, but it also keeps alive one, again, of freedom. When they stumble across a singing bird, Winston thinks, “For whom, for what, was that bird singing? No mate, no rival was watching it. What made it sit at the edge of the lonely wood and pour its music into nothingness?” (124). This bird singing of its own free will fascinates and confuses Winston. Any sense of freedom is strange to Winston, given that he is not allowed to experience it for himself, making the smallest freedoms embodiments of the past in this novel. In the field, nature and free will are the most prevalent, especially when even the flowers that grow in the field “…seemed to have fallen of their own accord” (119). This solidifies that the field is a preserved object of the past where freedom thrives as well as nature, two things that are suppressed in Oceania
However many various attempts are made to keep the unwanted parts of the past alive and thriving in this new utopian world, as Winston says, “…If it survives anywhere, it’s in a few solid objects with no words attached to them’” (155). In the picture and in the field, a world where free will, natural instincts, as well literature and language survives despite the government’s efforts to eradicate any trace of such a world. While the government attempts to erase and rewrite history, the truth lives on in these objects and can never be fully destroyed. Freedom survives in the creativity of the rhyme inspired by a picture of a church. Freedom survives in the bird in the field, singing of its own accord. Freedom survives in the flowers in the field that seemed to have fallen on the ground of their own free will. History is a matter of perspective, and though it can be distorted, as it is attempted to be in 1984, history can be seen by some through unusual relics, while others accept the perspective they are encouraged to accept.
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