“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past” To what extent is this true in George Orwell’s novel 1984? In George Orwell’s novel 1984 it is seen through the constant destruction and falsification of records by the party, that the main character, Winston Smith and the people of Oceania are unable or struggle to form their own identity due to their own few fading memories of the past.
Throughout Winston’s struggle to hold onto the past, the Party utilizes a number of techniques to evoke memory loss in the minds of the wider community of Oceania, and actively does so through alcohol abuse and exploitation of fear. The reoccurring destruction and falsification of the past in records, literature and in the media deprives the citizens of Oceania the right to their own individual memories and ultimately, a life story.
The constant bombardment of ill admitting “alteration[s]” made by the Party leaves the people of Oceania confused and manipulated in such a way that any conflicting information stated by the Party is erased in their minds; leaving them with little to no memories of their past. The motive for this removal of truth is to destroy any evidence that contradicts or conflicts with what the Party or Big Brother has enforced or stated.
This deceitful and dehumanising act is carried out by Winston and other workers at the Ministry of Truth. Despite his hate for the Party, Winston considers this callous act as “merely the substitution of one piece of nonsense for another”; but knows deep down that if it carries on, history would become “a palimpsest, scraped clean and re-inscribed exactly as often as was necessary”. This leads to the psychological incapability of holding a memory of some truth and meaning; which in turn denies people of their identities.
The main character, Winston Smith sees the past as his escape, saviour and true identity separate from the party. He desperately tries to resurrect his personal memories of thoughts and feelings shared with those that were once close to him; and searches for the truth in the history of the world he lives in. This is apparent in Winston’s longing for a love similar to that of his mother’s, selfless and unconditional. Relationships that are truly real and loving do not exist in the Party and are seen as a threat to its power and control.
Winston’s reliving of the past he once lived in is also seen through his admire for the fragments left from the past; to him they symbolise a beauty that is no longer existent in his world as it is seen by the Party as unimportant, meaningless and therefore “shut… out of existence”. The coral paperweight, seen by Winston as “doubly attractive” because of its apparent uselessness and its beauty that contrasts with the harsh world he lives in.
Memory loss in the wider community of Oceania is inflicted by the Party through a number of ways; largely due to the abuse of the “oily” tasting “Victory Gin”, which is so conveniently served at the cafeteria. To the members of the outer party it is seen as uplifting, unaware of its dangerous side-effects being dulling of the memory and distortion of reality. The Party secretly exploits the “synthetic” venom as a means of gaining power and control.
Another method of inflicted memory loss that Winston soon discovers is fear. The constant propaganda, war updates and hangings about thought criminals and traitors frightens the people of Oceania to point that no emotion, thoughts or memories are felt. Upon meeting the Proletarian man in the bar, Winston realises that he is incapable of recalling the revolution as he had probably been “terrified into complete intellectual surrender” long ago.
As a survival instinct, suppression of memory is not uncommon in Oceania as fear can drive a person to complete submission of thoughts and memories. Through the dirty and unkempt conditions that the Outer Party members and the Proletarians endure, the revolting food, the out ruling of sexual/intimate relationships and the introduction of Newspeak; it is evident that the Party continuously strip the wider community of Oceania of what makes them uniquely human.
Individualism and freedom can often be expressed via words, but the Party is quick to erase this and the newly introduced language contains words with little to no emotion and its vocabulary is cut down rapidly each year. Marriages in Oceania are not traditionally based on love and attraction and “permission [for marriage is] always refused if the couple concerned [give] the impression of being physically attracted to one another”.
Winston longs for someone to share love and intimacy with; he often questions whether the conditions he lives under “had always been like this? ” and complains of a instinctual ache in his bones that suggest he is being deprived of his right to live freely as a human. The food served up to the party members resembles to Winston as “vomit”; and his apartment building – ironically called “Victory Mansions” is far from its name and often smells like “boiled cabbage and old rag mats”.
These conditions of living cannot be compared with any other reality, nor protested against as all evidence to suggest better living has been erased and the Party controls everything through the exploitation of fear and death. In George Orwell’s 1984, the Party has ultimate control over the past, present and future as all information is systematically filtered through the party’s system, and contradicting evidence that attacks the party is erased – forever.
This does not allow time for the creation of memories in the people of Oceania, as many of them are bombarded with conflicting and confusing information on a daily basis. Also, alcohol abuse and exploitation of fear is a factor contributed to the control of the outer party, as the party uses it to keep their people in a suppressed, dulled state; eradicating them from memories or the ability to compare their lives with that of the past.