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LiBRI: The Free Choice for Absurd Rebellion in Nineteen Eighty-Four

A novel such as “Nineteen Eighty-Four” has determined critics to never stop analysing in as many angles as possible this masterpiece, so as to reveal the most profound meanings that George Orwell wanted to transmit at that time. Besides the first literary layer that may be observed by readers, namely the political one, the two authors of this article, Nabil A. Jalil and Arbaayah Ali Termizi, discover a hidden side of this great novel: the philosophical one. The actions of Winston, the main character, follow a similar path that Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus developed in their philosophical discourse concerning concepts such as freedom of choice and bad faith (Sartre); absurdity and absurd rebellion (Camus).

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Even though, as the authors state, George Orwell’s novel is mainly appreciated for its criticism against totalitarian regimes, namely the Soviet Union’s under Stalin’s rule, there are many other deeper layers to be discussed.  The absurd situation in which the protagonist is found shows more than politics, it shows the struggling of humankind when fighting against the illogical nature of their own lives. Subsequently, this paper provides readers with a gradual and attentive analysis from the theoretical background of the concepts previously mentioned to their function within the novel.

The first philosophical concept of existentialism, the freedom of choice, reveals the importance of subjective experience and conscious, according to Sartre’s conceptualisation. Together with freedom comes the principle of responsibility and commitment, and when these are denied, then he is living in “bad faith”. The non-existence of God leads to the idea that there is no higher source of values than himself, resulting in man’s absolute freedom of choice. The concept of “bad faith” appears when individuals try to avoid their responsibilities by accepting certain values as objective values, meaning that they let certain external beliefs (religious, political or social) to govern their life.

Camus identifies the absurdity and meaningless of life as deriving from the desire of man to understand the world, followed by failure because of his limited reason. Furthermore, absurdity reaches its higher level when realising that death puts an end to any effort. Also, the philosopher take life and suffering as a package, connecting it to the absurdity of life. The need for revolt is implied and authors offer a suggestive example by explaining the lesson of Sisyphus and how similar it is, afterwards, with the existence of the so called “absurd rebel”, who does not resign to live as an insignificant individual and fights against his own obscurity.

Winston can be easily integrated in the situation presented above as his own memories are controlled by the totalitarian regime, so he has nothing better to compare with the present situation. That being given, he has no reference that his situation is either good or bad. The Party manipulates each and every individual of the society so as to make them ignore their own judgements. Winston identifies this hidden political strategy and starts fighting against it in all ways possible. This becomes a rebellion that aims at maintaining one’s freedom in order  to be true about his own existence.

In the novel, the “bad faith” is represented by Big Brother, whose aim is to narrow sanity by manipulating people through language. Winston rebels when he realises that any person who conforms with the Party’s methods and accepts its limited scope is not a real human being. The absurdity of fighting against the Party is present from the beginning of the novel as Winston cannot bring back the past or eliminate the dictatorship. His revolt starts from uselessly writing a diary to breaking the Party’s law by having sexual relations with Julia without “permission”.

In conclusion, the novel “Nineteen Eighty Four ” brings attention to more than a political framework of this famous work, as it shows the complex existential situation of Winston. He finds the power to treat himself as an existential being and not just as a citizen who obeys the party’s rules. The authors conclude that “Winston can be considered another existential character that can be added to the existential literature”.

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Iuliana-Alexandra Fleșcan-Lovin-Arseni