Archive for February, 2012

Who is the villain in 1984 ?

George Orwell’s dystopian novella “1984” is one of his best known works, having spawned movies, television shows, video games and countless essays pertaining to varying critical approaches to the text. However, here we shall take a look at who the villains truly are in the novella.

At first glance, the answer is fairly simple, O’Brien. The man, who entraps our heroes Winston and Julia with promises of rebellion, then converts their way of thinking to follow the Party’s. Despite being ‘built like a prize fighter’, O’Brien is the most intelligent character in the novella, revealing at the story’s climax that everything Winston has done in secret, was not so. O’Brien was essentially toying with him, seeing how far a man would go to rebel against the state.
However, O’Brien can be seen as simply a tool of a much larger villain in the text, the Party itself. O’Brien is essentially a religious inquisitor, destroying the negative thoughts of prisoners before releasing them back into society. It is the Party that has control over all aspects of existence in Eurasia. It is the Party that has control over the past, present and ultimately future, as (as Winston eventually understands) resistance is indeed futile.
The idea that a political party could gain so much power is rather ridiculous, but that is not up for debate in this blog. What can be discussed is whether the Party is the real villain in “1984”, or are there any other choices aside from O’Brien?

I will go in a different direction here, and present the idea that the villain of “1984” is Winston himself. He is the one who rebels against the Party, which according to newspaper articles has done wondrous things for Britain. Winston is the one who breaks laws on creative writing, and plots to overthrow the government, going as far as attempting to join the ‘Brotherhood’, a group that is essentially a terrorist organisation.
I am being fairly one sided in this view, the articles are falsified, the ‘Brotherhood’ is a trap and one man plotting to overthrow a government is laughable. However, to the Party, and those loyal to the society it has created, Winston is certainly the antagonist of the text. His actions single him out from everyone else, as he attempts to fight against what is accepted by the rest of society. It is possible to that everyone else in Eurasia feels as much resentment to the Party as Winston does and are simply too idle or scared to rebel. However, it is equally as possible that Winston is the only one who wants to rebel, and so he would be the villain of the novella.

In conclusion, depending on how you view “1984”, it brings up different antagonists. O’Brien deceives Winston and Julia, causing their capture, and tortures them into his way of viewing existence. The Party created the way of thinking O’Brien prescribes to, and indeed all of Eurasia does too. However, Winston rebels against this mass ideology, attempting to destroy it, and so, is also a villain in the eyes of society in “1984”.


Questioning the villain in Mother Night.

Mother Night, written by Kurt Vonnegut, is a novel perhaps entirely centred on the concept of the ‘villain,’ and perhaps morality as a whole.

The novel is a piece of meta-fiction claiming to be the edited autobiography of Howard W. Campbell Jnr, a fictional American playwright who lived in Germany and continued living there during WWII, when he then became a Nazi Propagandist.

After beginning to read the novel, it became clear that this apparent straightforward telling of causes and events leading to Howard W. Campbell Jnr’s arrest was not quite so simple at all. In fact, it left me questioning my entire understanding of ethics.

Vonnegut gives us a foreshadowing of what is to come- that is to say that he will entirely change the way we look at and judge everyone around us, from Nazi war criminals to our closest friends- in the introduction, with the line ‘We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.’(Mother Night, vii).

Not so far into the novel we learn that Howard W. Campbell Jnr is in fact politically apathetic and all he wants to do with his life is write plays, poems, and novels, and be with his German wife, Helga. Vonnegut places we, the readers, in a position to empathise with the character of Campbell. Isn’t he just a victim of circumstance? Is it his fault he ended up writing Nazi propaganda because his audience were powerful Nazi figureheads? He is, after all, just doing what he was told. And we like him, don’t we?

After the war while Campbell is hiding alone in an attic apartment in Greenwich, New York, he befriends a Russian man, named Kraft, in his building who later turns out to be a spy who wants to take him back to Russia and try him for his crimes. Even after finding this out for himself, Campbell still refers to Kraft as his ‘best friend.’ Does it matter that his friendship was perhaps faked in order to secure his arrest?

Along with the Russian, Campbell also attracts the attention of a group of American racists who want to praise him ‘for having courage to tell the truth during the war…when everybody else was telling lies’ (pg. 70). Vonnegut gives us no indication throughout the novel if Campbell is ashamed of the atrocities he encouraged, and gives no clue as to whether he appreciates or loathes the attention given to him by the group of racists. Does it matter? We like him, don’t we?

Vonnegut is exposing the human weakness for labels. We must inevitably label Campbell a criminal, or a villain, for his crimes against humanity. But this by no means makes him an entirely bad person. All he wanted to do was love his wife and write his plays. Is Campbell a villain, or is he a writer? Is Kraft a villain, or is he, as he claims to be a painter? Is anyone a villain? Are we forced to take on a Machiavellian view of morality; that is to say we should only be moral if the time calls for it? But then, we are reminded of Vonnegut’s introduction, ‘We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.’ So Campbell is the villain then, but Vonnegut certainly made us think about it.

VILLAINS!!! In Literature

Ok, this is where we write about villains, in literature!
That’s about it…