Avoiding Dictatorship – Ali, Grade 10

This literary essay is written by one of my grade 10 students. He has presented a very enlightening thesis statement, stating the steps that people can take in order to avoid falling prey to dictators. He has critically analyzed George Orwell’s 1984, providing support for his arguments.  He has included very clear quotes from the novel and provided accurate explanations and conclusions. 

Avoiding Dictatorship

Democracy is the most desired political system as it is inclusive; however, the system forgoes efficiency for inclusivity since it usually requires the agreement of the general populous before an action can be executed. The polar opposite of a democracy is a dictatorship. While the system is often efficient, as actions only require the authorization of the person in power, efficiency amounts to nothing when the power is used to benefit the individual rather than the people. The book 1984 by George Orwell describes the setting of a totalitarian London from the perspective of Winston Smith, a person who is conscious of the oppression of the regime. As evident it is in the book, once a dictatorship has been fully established within a nation, the chances of rebellion are very slim, as the people who can overthrow the government will have been eradicated. In order for a nation to not fall prey to a dictatorship, its citizens must be knowledgeable about their history, become competent in their language, and have a sense of consciousness.

For a nation to determine if their regime has improved the country or is deceiving them, they should have a sound recollection of their history, which dictators always try to rewrite to facilitate indoctrination. “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past” (Orwell 44) is a phrase that describes how dictators use censorship to cover up any evidence or truth from the past. For instance, the party in 1984 claims to have improved life since the revolution, stating that London was a place where “hardly anybody had enough to eat and where hundreds and thousands of poor people had no boots on their feet and not even a roof to sleep under” (Orwell 93). However, as history is all written by the party to match their narratives, “[n]ot a word of it could ever be proved or disproved” (Orwell 95). The party can rewrite the past living conditions as harsher than the current ones to convey that they have improved the situation when the opposite is actually true. This causes ignorant citizens to be woefully unaware of the past, making it harder for them to justify a rebellion as they think the current regime has improved the lives of people. If a nation’s compatriots do not want to fall prey to dictatorship, they should be knowledgeable about their country’s history so they are able to determine if their leader has benefitted the people or is a dishonest and corrupt person; hence, history is a vital subject in our contemporary society.

Furthermore, while people consider their native language to be essential as it helps them to communicate with one another, dictators realize that communication can potentially cause rebellion and so try to demonize literacy and cripple the language. In 1984, a language called “Newspeak” is to replace what they consider “Oldspeak,” which is contemporary English. Newspeak seeks to destroy Oldspeak and limit what one can say with Newspeak. Its intent is to “make thoughtcrime literally impossible because there will be no words in which to express it,” (Orwell 67) meaning that individualism or liberty cannot be expressed using Newspeak. Once the citizens are indoctrinated with Newspeak, rebellion against the regime will indeed be impossible.  People cannot communicate concepts such as freedom and individualism even if they did understand what they meant inside their heads. If Newspeak is their only available language and source of communication, the party can easily brainwash the citizens. In order for people to not fall prey to dictatorship, they must learn their language competently, as the citizens who are literate will be able to communicate with others and express important concepts, such as freedom and individual rights.

Consciousness poses a threat to any kind of totalitarian society as it is a realization of the oppression. Many dictators seek to destroy consciousness to make sure that no individuals are capable of opposing authority. The concept of “doublethink,” from Newspeak, describes how a person can have two conflicting ideologies and not be aware that what they believe in is logically incongruous. The party’s slogan of “WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH” (Orwell, 6) is the epitome of how political indoctrination and propaganda can eventually lead people to believe in something that is completely illogical. Another example of the concept of doublethink is how the party describes the past as a time when “hardly anybody had enough to eat and … [t]he capitalists owned everything in the world, and everyone else was their slave,”(Orwell 93) yet people in the party still say that “[t]he proles are not human beings” (Orwell 68). The portrayal of the capitalists enslaving the poor while the regime creates a dichotomy between the impoverished working class and upper class is never admitted as hypocritical, as the upper class never realizes the logical inconsistencies of what they believe in. Both the proles and upper class are guilty of not having autonomy, and when an individual has no consciousness, they are merely puppets for the party to control. The reason Winston is regarded as a potential threat is the fact that he has the ability to think consciously and realize the oppression he is experiencing from the regime. Totalitarian regimes exploit docile individuals, who cannot think critically about the information being fed to them; thus, having a sense of consciousness can prevent an individual from falling prey to dictators.

“Until [the proles] become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious” is how Orwell (90) describes the unlikelihood of rebellion once a dictatorial regime has been established. Nevertheless, compatriots can stop themselves from falling prey to dictatorship by gaining knowledge about their nation’s history, acquiring linguistic competence, and developing a sense of consciousness.