Paper on George Orwell’s 1984 (due March 15th)
Don’t make this assignment harder than it is. Your main task is to demonstrate that you can analyze a social problem (using the framework we’ve discussed in class), picking something from Orwell’s book, and then something that pertains to contemporary society (from the linked articles on the assignments web page). You’ll be asked to do two things in this assignment:
- Explicitly use the frameworks for analyzing social problems, and the ideas about social problems we’ve discussed in class to make a case for a social problem in the book;
- Examine possible contemporary parallels with Orwell’s 1984. Choose 2-3 articles from the four categories:
and discuss how they relate to the book. These four categories aren’t necessarily social problems, so put some thought into what you think the actual social problem is (e.g., Is Big Brother a social problem, or is it what Big Brother symbolizes? What might that be?). I will have a web page with articles covering topics from these four categories. You can choose to use articles from more than one from a category, or stick to one. Your job is to figure out, Is there a social problem; if so what is it? If not, why not? And then describe and analyze it, using the framework from class. This could be the same social problem you discussed from the book, or a different one—your choice. I would recommend choosing an article that focuses on the same kind of social problem you’ve described and analyzed in the book—it will save you a little time. So in the second part of the paper you need to:
- briefly summarize the articles you used
- Go through the social problems framework, discuss whether the issues the articles address pose a social problem; describe why or why not;
- discuss how they relate to 1984
The point behind this assignment is to see that you can discuss and analyze a social problem, using the tools we’ve discussed in class. That’s what I’ll be looking for. If you stray from this, it will be difficult to do well on this assignment, so make sure you’re clear on how you can go about analyzing a social problem.
An exercise in critical thinking
This assignment is part of a university-wide effort to assess the critical thinking component of the general education curriculum. Critical thinking involves efforts to identify and explain issues, recognize contexts and assumptions, acknowledge multiple perspectives, and evaluate evidence to reach conclusions. The key component for this paper involves analyzing Orwell’s book, and applying what you’ve learned to contemporary society. There are many parallels—the US is currently involved in two wars, and Afghanistan is now the longest military engagement in the country’s history. At various times during the last nine years, the White House has emphasized the ‘war on terror,’ the need for various kinds of surveillance (or spying), torture, censorship of the press, etc. They have held suspected terrorists, without trial or legal representation, in prisons outside US borders, and kidnapped suspects and taken them to third party countries where torture is a routine and governmental enterprise (‘extraordinary rendition’). So there is evidence that some of what Orwell discusses in the book occurs in contemporary society. They have manufactured incidents designed to vilify the ‘enemy’ and create heroes of US soldiers (Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman). Much of this has been done in the interest of ‘national security.’
Your job in this paper is to critically analyze possible parallels between Orwell’s Oceania and the US. Remember that administrations come and go, policies may change, laws may be unevenly enforced over time. But Orwell is also talking to a large extent about social control, and there are various forms of social control of a population. We’ll talk about several this term, both before and after the midterm exam. They don’t have to involve force, they don’t even necessarily have to involve the government directly. So that is your task—is social control exerted in the US that keeps the population from asking questions of its leaders (either in or outside of government, in business, etc.), and that in many ways allows for the ruling class to make decisions with very little accountability, and to control or in some cases ‘create’ a reality? In what ways might it be like Oceania, and in what ways different? Oceania’s means of control required some pretty extensive technology and institutions (e.g., government ministries). What are the mechanisms that may serve similar functions in US society? To do this, you will want to use the social problems framework we will discuss most every day in this class—what is the problem as you’ve identified it, what are possible causes (and arguments/evidence for those), what groups are affected, what are some of the consequences, either to individuals, groups, or even institutions (such as government, democracy), who might stand to benefit from a certain way of thinking about or defining the problem, who has the power and access to media to influence public debate and discussion about how problems are framed in the society, and what should be done about the problem (that depends on one’s viewpoint—for instance, what Winston thinks should be done in the book is quite different than what the government thinks the problem is and how it should be addressed)? These questions are your guide to thinking critically about comparisons between Orwell’s society and contemporary US society.
I will use the following criteria in evaluating your papers:
- Making your argument—Does your paper use evidence from the book and from the sources you’ve used to draw parallels/make comparisons between Orwell’s Oceania and US society? Keep in mind—you can use older articles from the Bush/Cheney White House years, as well as more recent articles from the Obama White House—governments come and go, and this isn’t about a specific government, but about how government, war, media, and other powerful interests may collude to influence public opinion (and isn’t that a form of social control?). 50 points possible.
- Assessing multiple perspectives—to truly understand a social problem, you must be able to view it from the perspective of those who might be harmed, those who stand to benefit, those who may serve as mediators (e.g., the media) in communicating different perspectives, political leaders, etc. 20 points possible.
- Analyzing language—in both the book and US society, language serves as a powerful means of influencing how problems are perceived (for instance, Winston is told he lives in a ‘victory mansion,’ the ‘Ministry of Love’ actually engages in torture of citizens, US enemies on the battlefield have ‘weapons of mass destruction’ while the US forces have ‘smart bombs’ and ‘precision munitions’). I’ll be looking to see that you’ve addressed the use of language (this doesn’t mean you need to pick articles from the ‘doublespeak’ section of the list of articles—you should be thinking about how language is used more generally, even where the article isn’t specifically about language use and manipulation). 10 points possible.
- Drawing conclusions—Pull your argument together with a concluding paragraph or two that states pretty concisely what you’ve learned from this process, and what your comparison of Orwell’s Oceania with contemporary US Society suggests. Hopefully you will go into this paper not with a conclusion you’re determined to prove, but with some intellectual energy for doing critical analysis, seeing where it takes you. In the long run, learning how to do that is much more useful than whatever specific conclusions you draw or grades you receive from/on this assignment. 10 pts possible.
- Writing—paper should be proofread, free of spelling and grammar errors, complete citations in APA format (or the format I use for my reading assignments), and organized in a coherent fashion that allows the reader (me ….) to follow your arguments and supporting evidence. 10 pts possible.
Keep in mind as you do this paper, there are many ways that social control could express itself in a society. Orwell writes about the most heavy-handed kind. But are there other possibilities for controlling a population that don’t require the sort of total control of Oceania? We will discuss some possibilities in both halves of this course.
100 points are possible. Papers should be double-spaced, 5- 6 pages. So there’s no space for fluff or narrative—stick to analysis. You will lose points if you don’t follow the guidelines, so read them well, understand them, and ask questions if you need to. The final paper will be worth 100 points, due March 15th (there is no draft this time—only the final version).
Links to articles for Part 2 of this assignment: