This header image is my original work. They are my actual eyes, digitally altered of course 😛
In my experience whenever anyone discuss George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, it’s always in the context of discussing how our modern society is similar to Oceania. Or, if not that, then analyzing whether the Party’s reign is really the most totalitarian possible or if Brave New World is worse/more accurate. I just want to talk about my favorite character, and compare Big Brother’s autocracy to the distant past of Sulla. In fact, you can consider this post a companion piece to my earlier review of “Heads in the Forum.”
A Modern Eve
Julia is my favorite character in 1984 because I think she represents the most realistic way people would live in a society like Oceania–and the way most of us cope with government overreach or corruption in real life. Instead of a dedicated freedom fighter, searching for info and bemoaning the “big picture” as Winston does, she’s content to rebel in her own small way. The world is shit, she realizes she can’t fix that, so she focuses on her own happiness by smuggling makeup and good food to enjoy. (For everyone who likes to dump on 1984 these days in favor of Brave New World‘s more “realistic” dystopia, I say Julia and the Proles represent the same BNW politics of apathy and escapism just fine.)
I’ve seen this aspect of the novel debated online, some proposing she must be a member of the Thought Police since there’s no way the Party couldn’t have known of her infractions all that time and done nothing. However, the fact that she’s beaten savagely during the arrest before being left scarred and broken at the end of the novel seems to disprove this theory. I mean, why would the Party destroy a valuable asset for no reason? I think the truth is that Julia was a useful idiot. Someone the Party was aware of but allowed to run her course luring men off the straight and narrow. She was an unwitting litmus test of who harbored enough dissent or curiosity to stray from the approved lifestyle. The corrupting temptress unknowingly leading men to their doom with forbidden food and feminine seductiveness. A modern Eve.
Maybe I’m reading too much into things, but I saw the beating she (and not Winston) receives in the hotel room during their arrest as very significant. It’s the policemen’s inner sexual frustration lashing out at the image of a naked and doled up woman they lust after in secret but cannot obtain due to the party’s anti-sex policies. It’s the same principle that makes the incel (involuntary celibate) communities online stew in hatred as well as paradoxical fantasies of violence against the women they want desperately but can’t have. Lack of sex can drive men crazy, and it’s one of the party’s least discussed modes of psychologically unbalancing its subjects. Imagine keeping men brooding in resentment against women; that would make it a lot harder for them to focus on the Party’s atrocities wouldn’t it? It’s a way to rile up an undercurrent of hostility among individuals, so there’s no one left to truly love except Big Brother. The two-minutes hate is a temporary relief valve for this angry feelings.
The scar described on Julia’s forehead has been interpreted as evidence of a lobotomy. If that were true, it’s still absolutely horrifying. But while unfortunate for Julia as a person, I see it as strengthening her character. It means she couldn’t be broken by “normal” means–it took physical alteration of her mind to crush her rebelliousness. This implies they weren’t able to crush her spirit through normal means as was the case with Winston. If that’s accurate it means that, while Julia may not have been as intellectually curious as Winston, she certainly surpassed him in strength of will.
1984 is the classic dystopian novel, in many ways a perfect counterpoint to that of Sulla in “Heads in the Forum.” I reread this story after writing that earlier analysis on the plight of Pinarius, so I mentally compared them in the process.
Is it worse to be conscripted, know you did nothing wrong (just owned a big enough house) and watch as former friends or neighbors hunt you down for a few pieces of silver? Or is it worse to be so brainwashed by dogma you sincerely believe someone deserves to be punished for muttering subversive thoughts in their sleep?
Is it worse to owe all your endless suffering to a singular, defined human being of crass sensibilities, ugly complexion and rampant egotism? Or a shadowy entity whose only physical representation exists as a sort of God, devoid of any features or peculiarities at all?
Is it worse to see a previously revered general (Gaius Marius) and his allies killed, dug up and their bodies thrown to the Tiber river? Or constantly bombarded with the face and bleating voice of an unknown figure (Emmanuel Goldstein) you’re merely told to hate with no justification?
Would you rather have known love and lost it, lived with the woman of your dreams for years, given her a son…only to watch it all be ripped away at a psychopath’s impulse? Or would you rather be so removed from any kind of human contact your entire life that you’ve never known love at all? Would you rather live in pain everyday knowing you’d been replaced with another man, or so broken down psychologically that you’re no longer capable of feeling love again even if you wanted to?
Would you prefer your child grow up never knowing or appreciating you, singing another man’s praises? Or see your sweet innocent children corrupted day by day in service of a totalitarian dogma, with yourself unable to guide them or even rebel in your own small way at home? Is it better to live in fear of losing the ones you love, or in fear that they’ll monitor your actions and report you to the thought police?
I thought about these questions a lot, and I still couldn’t even begin to answer them. But that said, I thought it was interesting in the way both authors sought to express how tyrannical a government had become by its encroachment against man’s ability to love. (Coincidentally, they also both love a woman named “Julia.”) Both stories force the reader to confront some uncomfortable realities:
At the end of the day, self-preservation comes first. No matter how much you may love someone, if pushed far enough, everyone would throw their lover under the bus to save themselves.
That, and our relationships are largely built on convenience and distance. No matter how close and special your hometown friends seem, once separated those ties inevitably break in the vast majority of cases. No matter how much someone loved you, if you’re removed from their day to day life (or even if a good enough new person comes into the picture) they can and often will grow distant from you. It could even reach the point where you no longer have chemistry or mutual respect.
Very depressing thoughts indeed.