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Conflict between the individual and their society in both texts Paper

Words: 2939, Paragraphs: 21, Pages: 10

Paper type: Essay , Subject: A Doll's House

Conflict between the individual and their society in both texts stems from the oppression of individuality; the protagonist’s individuality is hindered through constrictive laws and by psychological manipulation. Orwell depicts a dystopian, totalitarian society that draws inspiration from the geopolitical forces of the post-war period as a demonstration of his criticisms ; he illustrates a story driven by Winston’s rebellion against the government, as he struggles against a corrupt power structure. Ibsen, on the other hand, presents an illustration of how patriarchal society during the fin de si?cle oppressed women whose liberation threatened the established bourgeois order. Both writers are aware that control, dominance and indoctrination only becomes harsher when faced with insubordination, and they consequently use the protagonists as symbols of this societal conflict; others in society blindly conform to the imposed social norm. Subsequently, the protagonists are isolated by their rebellion; their individuality sets them apart from everyone else and consequently both protagonists are alone at the end of their stories, but hold a false sense of freedom as a result of psychological manipulation exacted from their societies. Ultimately, Orwell presents the conflict in a nihilistic and bleak light that may have reflected the traumatised post-war attitudes held in London at the time , whereas Ibsen shines a light of hope that challenges, and offers a counterweight to, the fear of liberal, progressive attitudes to gender.

Individuality in both texts is repressed by constricting social pressures that promote blindly conforming to societal norms. Individuality is a societal construct that essentially defines one’s self through their way of thinking – In “1984” it’s presented as a threat to society that the government desperately attempts to eradicate through constrictive laws that prohibit individual freedoms within society. These repressive laws consist of the illegality of having a diary; the very concept of an individual’s unmonitored thought constitutes a crime to the totalitarian government – the concept of thought crime is employed as it criminalises individual thinking and makes it punishable by death. This repression of individual thoughts aids the government in indoctrinating citizens into blindly conforming to the dystopian regime. Orwell uses Big Brother’s controlling regimen to draw parallels to Hitler’s dictatorship and to Stalinism – He sympathised with communism as a concept, however he was critical of how Stalin employed it, through the exploitation of power and corruption of state: Stalinism eradicated freedoms of individuals to express themselves. Orwell’s dystopian state of Oceania reflects this. Critics argue, because of this, that “Orwell in fact seems to have wanted socialism on condition that it would not be run by socialists”- Robert Conquest . Orwell highlights the social problems with the very ideologies he agrees with. After the war there was a rise in the public sympathising with a false, idealised sense of communism in response to the previous rise in right-wing fascism. Orwell consequently wanted to show the dangers of totalitarianism and the terrifying power that those societies can have over the individual by demonstrating the impact that it would have on individuality. Paradoxically, there is an irony with totalitarian communism as the society that deems itself to be made to improve life for society as a collective is subsequently thwarting individuality; the society made to suit everyone is in fact controlling them in a dictatorial manner. Winston has internalized the Party’s ideology; to disobey the Party is to gain a death sentence, or to commit social suicide – Winston acknowledged this when he decided to purchase the diary.

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“He was already dead, he reflected. It seemed to him that it was only now, when he had begun to be able to formulate his thoughts, that he had taken the decisive step. The consequences of every act are included in the act itself. He wrote: Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death.”

This image of a metaphorical emotional death is prevalent trough both texts as Winston has already come to terms with the consequences of his actions and has subsequently accepted living in a liminal blurred space between life and death; he immediately begins to defy all other laws once he gets the diary – it almost serves as a motif that opens a gateway, allowing for him to further rebel. This derives from his sense of fatalism as he believes he will inevitably be caught by the though police for rebelling against the government . In the diary itself, his use of language “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” conveys an almost cathartic release of repressed hatred towards the government. The diary may symbolise a beacon of hope for Winston as he is able to express his hatred for the government, as well as serving as a symbol of truth, because he’s able to write about things from his own perspective, not just as the Party portrays them. In allowing the existence of his private self, he becomes optimistic towards a future without Big Brother.

“To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone-to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone: From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of doublethink-greetings!”

Nora, in contrast, differs from Winston in a sense where she is physically unable to come to terms with the consequences of her illegal actions – directly as a result of her individuality and personal conviction being so strongly opposed to the societal expectations that have been internalised by other characters such as Torvald; she refuses to let herself internalise social expectation. This conflict caused by internalisation of societal norms is similarly demonstrated in “A Doll’s House” through Nora’s inability to confide within others; they’ve been essentially brainwashed by the norm’s society imposes; they’re products of society. This is shown through the character of Mrs. Linde, who is the epitome of the typical bourgeois woman as she happily celebrates her return to domesticity in Act Three: (Tidies the room a little and gets her hat and coat ready.) “How things change! How things change! Somebody to work for… to live for. A home to bring happiness into. Just let me get down to it.” Here her personal self is directly in sync with public expectation as she’s cleaning up while also daydreaming about her new life as a housewife. She is therefore fitting the archetype of women at the time and they “must be enduringly, incorruptly good; instinctively, infallibly wise – wise, not for self-development, but for self-renunciation” – John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies, 1865, Part II . Her middle-class mediocrity is also in practise when she contemplates whether to expose Nora’s secrets about her illegally borrowing money as the very concept of secrecy bares too much for her; women couldn’t legally borrow money without their husband’s consent, and therefore, Nora takes out a loan illegally to pay for the treatment of his illness and doesn’t tell him for the sake of preserving his pride. This also highlights the fa?ade for both societies to appear perfect from an outwards perspective. However, the protagonist’s seemingly genuine intentions threaten this – Nora’s rebellion opposes the nuclear family and this terrifies Torvald to a point of desperation; Torvald embodies the traditional 19th century upper class man – terrified of change and attempting to uphold the image of his “perfect family” so desperately that he even asks Nora “But can’t we live here like brother and sister?” This shows the true extent of people’s internalisation of social expectations – how they blindly conform to the constricting laws that repress their individualities on a subconscious level; Torvald’s willing to forgo his intimate relationship with Nora for the sake of preserving the bourgeoise respectability. The personal conflicts with the public as individuality is being substituted for the appearance of conforming to society – thus forming the basis of the protagonist’s rebellion. Nora’s rebellion may be viewed as the obliteration of the ideal bourgeoise family, making the play an anti-capitalist allegory. This may however be the antithesis of the messages portrayed by Orwell whose is intellectually supportive but wary of communist social economic reform.


The protagonist’s personal convictions are conflicting with society in both texts; rebellion becomes the only way to maintain their sense of private self. The dichotomy between Winston and the public lies in his private self-opposing social expectation and being victimised as a result. His rebellion seems predestined to fail as the contemporaneous reader can immediately identify that Winston doesn’t conform to societal gender norms; traditionally, men are expected to be strong, fearless, and heroic – this is especially the case post-WWII where men were brave, selfless warriors. Winston diametrically opposes this as he is a fearful, cowardly character by nature; he is demonstrated this way to the reader when he is reluctant and afraid to defend himself against a female attacker. “He abandoned the idea immediately, because even the thought of making any physical effort was unbearable. He could not run, he could not strike a blow. Besides, she was young and lusty and would defend herself”. This character defining moment conveys to the reader that, from the beginning, Winston isn’t adequate to rebel the fashion that he intends. Critics have acknowledged this deliberate flaw in Winston as “He was a weak creature who was born to be victimised” – John Atkins, 1954 . Therefore, it’s to no surprise to the reader that he ultimately fails; his rebellion is ultimately his hamartia as his character simply isn’t apt to rebel against the totalitarian society that he’s in conflict with.

As opposed to being held back by it, Nora’s rebellion contrastingly stems from defying gender roles and arguably provides her with a sense of empowerment; Nora goes against gender roles by being emotionally stronger than the men. This is shown when Torvald, despite being the quintessential masculine archetype, can’t bare the sight of Rank being ill – as he’s described as having “an unconquerable disgust at everything that is ugly”: The men appear to be shielding themselves from reality; Torvald is also under the false impression that it was Nora’s dad that gave them money. Nora’s manipulation clearly defies the uneducated and unintelligent stereotype that women at the time were associated with. This is further cemented through Torvald’s childish treatment of her, calling her “My Squirrel” and constantly monitoring and controlling her, even by restricting her eating of macaroons.

Nora is paradoxically empowered by her conflict with societal expectations, as she deliberately eats them and lies to others about eating them; her deceptive and cunning nature serve as part of her identity and therefore juxtapose the way she is treated and the submissive expectations of her.

-analyse Torvald and Nora’s relationship closely through their dialogue exchanges and the use of subtext

Ibsen highlights societal expectation and gender inequality liberally throughout different texts, showing even the lack of women in power. “This society of yours is a bachelor’s club. You don’t see women” – Ibsen, Pillars of society, 1877 . Here Ibsen is further commenting on how women were invisible under patriarchy – as transcended through how Torvald only sees the side of Nora he wants to see: the part he deems needs his constant lecturing and scrutiny. The power struggle proved difficult to accept by some audiences as the play was regarded as “still painful to watch” Review of a dolls house, reviewed in Faedrelandet (The Country),1879 . This typical response to controversy forced an alternative ending to be made, as German audiences couldn’t bare the rebellion of the woman as the middle class feared it would cause other women to rebel. In both texts, the individual conflicts with society as a result of their rebellion, however the outcome differs as Winston’s rebellion falls apart under society, whereas Nora’s rebellion propels her forward into a more progressive and gender role-reversed position, arguably encapsulating Ibsen’s proto-feminist ideologies.


The writers in both texts show how the individual is forced to comply with social orthodoxy through manipulating their perspective; Society in both texts has subconsciously influenced the protagonist’s perception of what freedom constitutes. “1984” depicts a brainwashed society whose perception of freedom has been orchestrated by the government to consist entirely of blind conformity. This power derives from toying with the minds of its citizens through propaganda as the party’s slogan reads: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”- Big Brother. For the reader, the irony in this twisted joke is ridiculous and it helps them understand just how far the citizens own willpower and common sense has been undermined in order to believe in these things so thoroughly and absolutely; the deliberate use of a series of oxymoronic statements serves to toy with, and confuse, the individual – their blurred line of confusion allows the party to build its foundation upon the vulnerable minds of its citizens. More so, at the end of the novel, Winston is further brainwashed to completely rid his mind of his previous individuality through torturing him to a point where he abandons his beliefs and betrays Julia through psychological torture.

“The protagonist’s trial as an emblem of injustice is a thematically and symbolically central device of dystopian fiction” – Erika Gottlieb, Dystopian fiction east and west, 2001

This critical view perfectly encapsulates Orwell’s intentions of using the novel as a mouthpiece for his political fears of governments having excessive power as the dystopia is designed to directly simulate the society that he fears me may end up with if the reader doesn’t follow his own political views; Winston genuinely believes that he has freedom, despite the reader knowing that he is still trapped in the system – the dramatic irony used holds tragic elements as he’s been internally moulded by society and therefore he can never be truly free. This highlights the inescapability of oppression once you’ve internalised it – thus portraying a depressing nihilistic message. This nihilism may reflect Orwell’s mind state at the time of writing the novel, this argument garners validation through the fact that generally, people were bleaker after the wars and great depression – hence showing how societal conflicts impede themselves into the subconscious minds of the individuals. Similarly, Nora is also left in a position at the end of the play where she is deceived into believing that she has attained freedom at the end as she divorces her husband with no plan for the future, but she is unaware of the oppression that women faced in the 19th century. Despite her progressive attitude and actions, Nora ultimately fails to grasp the oppressive nature of society as she pinned the constrictive laws on her husband “According to it a woman has no right to spare her old dying father or save her husband’s life. I can’t believe that”. She speaks in a child-like manner in a sense that her lack of understanding inhibits her ability to view the law in a literal sense of how it is. It can be argued that conflict is caused by the lack of resources that society provided her as patriarchy structurally placed women at the bottom; she couldn’t conceptualise the laws that limited her power. This may spark empathy from the audience as they witness how na?ve Nora is to the inescapability of 19th century gender inequality. In addition, there Is an element of tragedy through the dramatic irony in both texts as the protagonists are in fact unknowingly products of their societies, however, don’t realise it due to their relentless individualities and strong self-convictions which oppose societal norm. One self-conviction that Nora holds (that society oppresses) is her proto-feminist ideologies when she wanted to leave her husband and be independent; the 19th century often dealt with progressive attitudes by further tightening control over women through psychological manipulation; doctors diagnosed progressive attitudes or anything non-conforming to societal expectations as hysteria – Regardless of the way the protagonist felt, society still placed men above women.

-how is room 101 presented?

“is there anyone who does not feel that it is this young woman’s duty, her inescapable duty, to leave this gentleman, this husband, who slowly sacrifices her on the altar of his egotism, and who fails to understand her value as a human being” – Review of a dolls house in Social democrat paper “Social-Demokraten”,1879 .

Ultimately, despite Ibsen and other influential figures challenging the ideal of bourgeois respectability, it remained prevalent throughout the 19th century – however, amongst the controversy, his use of characters such as Nora opposing social expectation has sat well with certain critics who also supported his socio-political views.


Both texts portray worlds that hinder the individuality that resonates within the protagonists; They appear to have contemporary elements to their personalities and therefore have an innate inability to conform to their oppressive societies: Conflict is created as a result of the protagonists being portrayed as being their own person and not conforming to the mould that the societies impose on them – The protagonists suffer as a result of being different to everyone else in society. Both protagonists are left isolated at the end of the texts; Nora is removed from the oppressive collective through being progressive and escaping her toxic marriage. Whereas Winston on the other hand is dragged back into the dystopia that he attempted to escape as his character is seemingly weaker than everyone else’s – despite paradoxically being the first one in the novel that deliberately rebels and fights for his own personal conviction. Ultimately, both texts have different endings, however neither of them results in a change in society itself; there’s only a change to the individual; and therefore, there will continue to be conflict between the individual and the collective society.

About the author

This academic paper is composed by Samuel. He studies Biological Sciences at Ohio State University. All the content of this work reflects his personal knowledge about Conflict between the individual and their society in both texts and can be used only as a source for writing a similar paper.

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