Marxist literary criticism interprets a text by looking at the role of social classes and social order within the text. In 1984, there are three main social classes. The inner party or the higher class constitutes “less than two percent of the population” (Orwell,217). “Below the Inner Party comes the Outer Party” (Orwell,217), which can be referred to as the middle class. “Below that comes the dumb masses who we habitually refer to as ‘the proles’, numberingâ€¦eighty-five percent of the population” (Orwell,217). This social pyramid is clearly reflective of that of a capitalistic society. In the novel, Orwell portrays the unfairness of this social system, and it is evident it is the root cause of this dystopian society. It is clear that the proles lack the basic necessities of life and live in a nightmare struggle to survive, while the inner party members live a life of luxury. For example, the poverty of the proles was shown when “[t]wo bloated womenâ€¦ had gotten hold of the same saucepan and were trying to tear it out of one another’s hands”(Orwell,73). The proles needed the material good so desperately that they abandon their human civility and turned to fighting like barbarians. In addition, a party slogan states “proles and animals are free”(Orwell,75), equating the poor living conditions of a prole with that of an animal. However, the inner party live a life of opulence. This is shown when Julia says “there is nothing those swine don’t have, nothing”(Orwell, 147). In addition, the inner party achieve full control of society by taking away citizens’ freedoms using the thought police and telescreens, where citizens could be “seen as well as heard”(Orwell,4). From the novel, a Marxist critic would receive the message that a capitalistic totalitarian society is not acceptable, and that a social fair, democratic system is superior.
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Feminist literary criticism interprets a text by looking at the way that women are portrayed. In 1984, women play key roles to develop Winston’s character and lead him to his eventual fight for freedom. First, Winston’s mother influenced Winston’s decisions greatly. In Winston’s youth, he was a “beastly little swine”(Orwell,171) to his mother, often stealing food and perpetrating violent acts towards her. After his mother’s mysterious disappearance, he often feels remorseful that he was not able to reconcile their relationship. In addition, Winston feels that “in some way the lives of his mother and his sister had been sacrificed to his own”(Orwell,32). Winston feels guilty and thinks that he was the reason that his mother and sister had disappeared, and that “they must die in order that he might remain alive”(Orwell,32). Because of Winston’s remorse, he often dreams of the past and longs for his mother. In his recollections of his youth, Winston is also reminiscing of a world where fundamental freedoms and individualism are still existent. “Tragedy, he perceived, belonged to the ancient time, to a time when there was still privacy, love and friendship”(Orwell,32). However, in Winston’s present society, those virtues are unfamiliar to Winston. This causes Winston to resent the present society and gives him the motivation to be dissident in order to seek the freedoms of the past. Secondly, Julia also plays an important role in the eventual outcome of the novel. At first, Winston thinks that Julia is a “good party member, pure in word and deed”(Orwell,127). However, soon later, he discovers that Julia is unorthodox and has the same intentions and interests as him. Julia had said to Winston that “[she] ought to suit [him, because she is] corrupt to the bones”(Orwell,132), despite her previously deceitful appearance. This gives Winston the encouragement that other seemingly normal party members exist hidden with similar intentions, which eventually pushes Winston towards his acts of heresy. In addition, Winston and Julia secretly develop a relationship and have an affair, which is forbidden in their society. Their act of sexual intercourse was driven by “the animal instinct, the simple undifferentiated desire”(Orwell,132), instead of simply being “[their] duty to the party”(Orwell,70) as in the case with Winston’s previous wife, Katherine. With this, Julia allows Winston to take his first steps in defying the party, eventually leading to much more serious acts. “It was a blow struck against the party. It was a political act”(Orwell,133), Winston explains. Furthermore, with the presence of Julia, being a free-spirited and rebellious recalcitrant, Winston begins to become more idiosyncratic and defiant in his actions and openly expresses his resentful thoughts towards Big Brother, ultimately escalating to his enrolment in the supposed Brotherhood and his downfall. Julia is the catalyst that moves Winston along in his intentions, and it is quite possible that without her, Winston would have never digressed from the norms and taken physical action against the party. This emphasizes Julia’s importance in the plot. Because of Winston’s mother and Julia’s role in inciting Winston’s struggle for freedom and pursuance of a more liberal society, a feminist critic would believe the meaning of the novel to be that women have a large effect on men’s actions and society.
In conclusion, 1984 by George Orwell can be interpreted very differently by two different individuals, namely when analyzed through the Marxist and feminist literary lens. Depending on which literary criticism is being used, the messages acquired by the readers can be substantially different.
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