Nineteen Eighty-Four is a unique literary expression and work of art that was published in 1949. George Orwell, the author of the novel, was an intellectual who was very successful at anticipating the future towards the end of his life. Orwell has riddled his final novel with ambiguous sublimations, which have given his work an eternal and timeless quality. Robert Plank comments on the timelessness of Nineteen Eighty-Four in George Orwell’s Guide Through Hell as follows:
984 is in any event not an ordinary thriller. It owes much of its effectiveness to the fact that it speaks a powerful truth. However, the unvarnished truth does not always attract. So perhaps the very fact that the truth is here to some degree distorted has actually helped increase the books impact.
In the second half of the twentieth century, some of us have the feeling that we are living in a world over which we have no control, and which we cannot even hope to understand. This situation predisposes many to paranoid thinking. It may be that 1984 has just enough of a paranoid tinge to accommodate this tendency, to strike a chord that many readers have half heard and have half longed to hear. In any case, 1984 has been able to catch the readers’ imagination, and to lead it into channels it had prepared. (124)
Furthermore, Nineteen Eighty-Four is far from a heart warming and uplifting story. In fact the novel is quite the opposite: it is a terrifying tragedy. When reading this novel one is likely to feel a sense of hopelessness, paranoia, and despair. Certain readers may avoid this novel all together for that very reason. Psychologist Robert Plank describes the premise of Nineteen Eighty-Four as follows:
984, while on one level a novel of the destruction of man, is on another level a statement of political convictions, a warning against a danger that the writer believed threatened mankind at its very heart. Like Dante centuries earlier, he guides us through hell, but the inferno he shows us is a man-made one, the product of human vices and follies. (George Orwell’s Guide Through Hell 11)
Some claim that Nineteen Eighty-Four is a prophetic vision concerning the future of totalitarianism in the world. Whether or not the novel is actually prophetic is debatable; however, many of Orwell’s presages in Nineteen Eighty-Four have seem to come to pass over the 65 years since the author’s death. For example, the telescreens and constant surveillance in Oceania are unnervingly similar to many of the domestic surveillance programs in practice in contemporary America. The notion of Thoughtcrime in Nineteen Eighty-Four is eerily comparable to modern censorship practices. Additionally at present, the United States seems to be more a reflection of a socialist society than a capitalist one. Robert Plank elaborates more on the timelessness of the novel in George Orwell’s Guide Through Hell as follows:
[M]yth stakes out the boundaries of behavior of which mankind may be capable. Just as the hyperbola keeps ever approaching its asymptote, but only reaches it in infinity, so the facts of the world approach myth without ever quite reaching it, but may be defined and understood by it. The truths of myths are primordial rocks-craggy, uncouth, naked. Their awesome shapes are not clothed in vegetation. They are anything but perfect works of art. Animal Farm is a fable. It is the one work of Orwell’s that by universal consensus can be called perfect-i.e. , as nearly flawless as any product of the human mind can be. 1984 is a myth: it is flawed. But the scope is greater; it is the more important work. (99)
Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm managed to stir up a considerable amount of controversy amongst the censors in the West during the 1960s and 1970s, even though Orwell wasn’t alive to witness any of it. Animal Farm has a more cohesive underlying political theme than Nineteen Eighty-Four does. According to Robert Plank:”[A]nimal Farm is clearly a satirical retelling of the Russian revolution”(George Orwell’s Guide Through Hell 100). Shortly after Orwell passed in 1950, public fears and anxieties in the West were concentrated upon the ever-present threat of thermonuclear proliferation and communism. Author Paul S. Boyer writes about the censorship policies of America during this particular time-frame in Purity in Print as follows:
[I]n the early postwar period, as the courts adopted an increasingly permissive stance in the sexual arena repressive efforts rooted in Cold War fears of radicalism and subversion characterized the nation’s public life. Even in the realm of sexual expression, the Supreme Court’s permissive rulings, coupled with mass- culture products offering more and more explicit descriptions and representations, triggered a sharp reaction in conservative and religious circles. This, in turn, stimulated renewed demands for censorship. This cultural turnaround, well underway by the later 1960s, gained momentum in the 1970s. (281-282)
During the era of the first Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were indirectly at war with each other. Citizens of the West were preoccupied with the red scare. Communists were the public enemy of the United States at this time. Any work of literature thought to be associated with communism became a prime target for Western censors. Furthermore, Orwell was deemed a communist in the 1960s and 1970s due to Animal Farm‘s political message, ergo Nineteen Eighty-Four was condemned thereafter. Though it is important to note that the vast majority of the challenges concerning both of Orwell’s novels stated prior occurred only on a state and community level in the West. In other words, the federal authorities did not try to suppress any of Orwell’s works on a large-scale basis. Jane Graves states the following in 120 Banned Books, Censorship Histories of World Literature:
[M]any attempts have been made to rid school libraries of 1984 in the nearly 50 years since its publication. In his introduction to Celebrating Censored Books, Lee Burress identified the 30 most frequently challenged books from a compilation of data from six national surveys of censorship pressures on American schools (1965-82); 1984 ranked fifth. This was especially true in the 1960s and 1970s when the nation was gripped by fear over the possibility of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, whose mere existence as a successful communist country threatened the United States and its democratic ideals. As such, the novel was frequently called into question. (129)
The novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, has been challenged multiple times for various different reasons. First, many of the challengers of Nineteen Eighty-Four claim that the novel is pro-communist. For example, “[i]n the Lee Burress study of censorship in Wisconsin schools conducted in 1963, the John Birch Society is cited as objecting to the book for its ‘study of communism'”(Graves 129). These kinds of accusations of are hardly coherent; here’s why, Ingsoc is the oppressive socialist regime in control of Oceania. Ingsoc is not a communist party! Although the notions of communism and socialism may seem vaguely similar to each other, the two notions are not identical. Furthermore, there are no blatant communist references made in Nineteen Eighty-Four: so, why has this particular allegation plagued the novel more than any other? Unfortunately, this slanderous accusation has been attributed to Nineteen Eighty-Four because Orwell was labeled as a communist during the red scare for his production of Animal Farm.
Second, Winston and Julia share several love scenes in Nineteen Eighty-Four. One of these particular loves scenes just so happens to take place in the basement of abandoned church. In addition, Winston also seems to occasionally exhibit misogynistic behavior throughout the novel. For example, Winston’s first impression of Julia in Nineteen Eighty-Four is described as follows:
[V]ivid, beautiful hallucinations flashed through his mind. He would flog her to death with a rubber truncheon. He would tie her naked to a stake…he would ravish her and cut her throat at the moment of climax…He hated her because she was young and pretty and sexless, because he wanted to go to bed with her and would never do it…. (Orwell 16)
Furthermore, Nineteen Eighty-Four may not be appropriate for adolescents to read in school due to the sexually explicit, violent, and misogynistic material found in the novel. The primary aim of most challenges was to get the novel removed from a particular high school curricula or library. Finally, one notably surprising observation I came across throughout my research was that challenges concerning Nineteen Eighty-Four in the West were rarely pursued for the elements of violence, betrayal, or torture found within the novel.
Boyer, Paul S. Purity in Print: Book Censorship in America from the Gilded Age to the Computer Age. 2nd ed. Madison, WI: U of Wisconsin, 2002. Print.
Graves, Jane. “1984.” 120 Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature. By Nicholas J. Karolides, Margaret Bald, and Dawn B. Sova. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Facts On File, 2011. 126-31. Print.
Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty Four. St Ives: Penguin, 2003. Print.
Plank, Robert, and R. Reginald. George Orwell’s Guide through Hell: A Psychological Study of 1984. Revised ed. Vol. 41. San Bernardino, CA: Borgo, 1994. Print.