Madness is a label created by society in order to imprison its dreamers. It is often usual to lock up critics of cruel commands, because creative people can be dangerous to totalitarian control. The critical essay “George Orwell and the Mad World: The Anti-Universe of 1984” by Ralph A. Ranald discusses the theme of controlled madness and of a reverse society in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Ranald argues that Nineteen Eighty-Four is about “…religion reversed, law and government reversed, and above all, language reversed: not simply corrupted, but reversed” (Ranald 251).
He refers to Winston as an “antihero” (Ranald 250), and “implies the ability to have one’s mind changed, but in the condition of “controlled insanity”” (Ranald 251). Ranald claims that through the breakdown of communication, the pain of “all” (Ranald 251) human relations and the “passive” (Ranald 253) characteristics of Winston Smith that the society can be revealed as “mad” (Ranald 251) in Oceania, but this is incorrect.
Nineteen Eighty-Four uses communication to spread its totalitarian messages, reveals a love between relationships and exposes Winston as an active persona in the pursuit of rebellion.
Ranald’s main argumentative idea about communication is that it is collapsing in Nineteen Eighty-Four when really, it is growing. His opinion on the “… breakdown in communication – not extension but breakdown…” (Ranald 251) is weak because the only way Big Brother has power is by its influence on messages.
Telescreens in the novel were the most important form of communication used. They were bi-directional, pushing propaganda while acting as a security camera in every room, it “could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely” (Orwell 3).
From every square and alley, the signs and propaganda for “the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features” (Orwell 3) overcome you.
To say that “the deliberate, managed breakdown in communication … at the linguistic level and indeed in all media…” (Ranald 251) is a “…master theme” (Ranald 251) of Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four is absurd, as communication just from “A single flicker of the eyes could give you away” (Orwell 39). It is the huge role of communication that keeps people like Winston afraid of Big Brother, and furthers the plot of the novel. Despite the hurt between most relationships throughout Nineteen Eighty-Four, to say that “all human relationships are based on pain” (Ranald 251) in the novel is false.
Although I would agree that the O’Brian-Winston interactions would categorize under pain, the Winston-Julia relationship is about desire. Ranald fails to see that not all “human beings communicate… by inflicting pain on each other…” (Ranald 252) Winston’s love for Julia is what kept him alive for so long, for at “the sight of the words I love you the desire to stay alive had welled up in him, and the taking of minor risks suddenly seemed stupid” (Orwell 115).
This quote proves that not all relationships are based on pain, only manipulated that way to make people afraid of defying the party. By showing the “… simple undifferentiated desire: that was the force that would tear the Party to pieces” (Orwell 132), stopping the power of Big Brother. Ranald’s views on Winston’s character are inaccurate and weak because it portrays Winston as an “antihero” (Ranald 250), “passive and not self-aware” (Ranald 253), when actually his character represents hope and humanist views for all readers.
Winston’s bravery, although sometimes looked over, cannot be dismissed. Acts such as thought crime and buying from the black market, as well as rebellion to Big Brother with Julia through defiance are not considered “passive” (Ranald 253). At the Ministry of Love, his encounter with O’Brian is heroic: O’Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended. ‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston? ‘ ‘Four. ‘ ‘And if the Party says that it is not four but five–then how many? ‘ ‘Four’ (Orwell 261-262).
Even though Winston knew he would be tortured for his answer, he refused to give into Big Brother’s ways, a true hero and the last bit of humanity in Oceania. Winston only finally gives in because in “the face of pain there are no heroes” (Orwell 251). Reading Ranald’s criticism on Nineteen Eighty-Four was disappointing because his argumentative points were flawed. Although it made one think about the madness of Oceanian government, as well as the reversed society, it didn’t persuade the audience to thinking that what he was saying was undoubtedly true.
Ralph A. Ranald couldn’t prove that the communication was deteriorating, every single relationship was based on pain or that Winston’s character was a by-stander throughout the novel. To agree with everything Ranald had said, that, would be madness.
Works Cited Ranald, Ralph. George Orwell and the Mad World: The Anti-Universe of 1984. Vol. 7. GaleGroup, 250-254. Print. Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York, New York, USA: Penguin Group,1954. Print.