At some point, in their education, most students, in the developed countries, read "1984," by George Orwell (1903-1950). In America, he was off by a mere 17 years.
The most chilling words in the novel are, "Do it to Julia!" When students read those words, they pause, if only for a moment, and wonder if Winston and Julia loved each other. It's easy to dismiss the possibility they were in love. Then, you consider the circumstances, in which Winston uttered the words, and the matter of love is no longer so simple.
Repression, the act of suppressing, controlling or excluding, is a basic human need. If you can't repress some things, some times, you can't survive or flourish. A hard-wired inclination for repression, that is, a brain intended to accept degrees of self-discipline and control.
Hard-wired repression invites a social form repression. The sanctions imposed on us by society encourage us to repress certain acts. Emile Durkheim, the sociologist, said we have insatiable wants. Curb these wants, he said, else chaos. You might wish to slug an obnoxious drunk, who's bothering your children, but you don't. You repress the urge, knowing the possible results of acting impulsively. The results include jail, a beating by friends of the drunk or, most clearly, the pangs of a guilty conscience that throb when you know you've done wrong.
Social repression is obvious in "1984." It's also obvious, everywhere, in 2006. The faux scheme of sexual customs, precariously rooted in a possibly flawed assumption of monogamy, is one example. The systemic repression of a natural sex drive results in an array of neuroses, which reveal in sublimation, of many types. Some believe the unnatural repression of a nature urge is critical to civilization. You no doubt recognize it from its typical code words: family values.
In "1984," Winston and Julia are obviously subject to a more intense forced repression of sexual energy than are you and I. The results of their repression are unquestionably disturbing. In "1984," it's given that a person cannot access the repressed. Winston and Julia come into their tragic affair from different perspectives, but the surfacing of similar repressed needs motivates them.
The state, the authorities, in "1984," recognizes the need to provide a way to sublimate or control insatiable needs, and all needs are dangerous. Emotions are most dangerous. Love may be the most dangerous emotion, and not just in "1984." The state sanctions ways to repress, to sublimate, love and sex. The most common form of state-sanctioned repression of these emotions is replacement. Citizens can love only "Big Brother," and this love, at best, is merely an expression of their fear and hate of everything that isn't "Big Brother." Fear and hate, which the state believes more controllable, replace love and sex.
Daily expression of hate are a perfect example of how repressed feelings externalize through opposite. Julia and Winston are heroic. Their heroism lies in how we choose to reject the state sanctioned sublimation of their repressed sexual needs.
One school board or another, because of its direct sex scenes, often bans "1984." How else could Julia and Winston make love? Their sexual meetings must be primal and animalistic; the state has been so successful repressing love and need for another that sexual etiquette is no more.
The question remains, if what they have is nothing more than pure animalistic passion then, to quote "Gang of Four," is it love or not? The pat argument against is can they so easily betray each other that what they feel can't possibly go as deep as true love. I would counter that not a day passes when people each of us know to be deeply in love don't betray each other in some way.
Can love coexist with betrayal? Do you doubt Julia and Winston were deeply, devotedly in love? Consider how they both commit body and soul to the affair. Their commitment doesn't falter, even knowing capture and punishment are certain.
At the end of "1984," Winston finally comes to love "Big Brother." Is his love any more than total sublimation and transference of the love from Julia to "Big Brother"? Love for "Big Brother" is no more than a repression of love for Julia.
At the end of the 1956 movie version of "1984," Winston (Edmond O'Brien) and Julia (Jan Sterling) are sitting, together, on a bench. Their outward expression is unknowing, two ostensible strangers sharing time and space. Still, the audience gets the sense, a strong sense, that their love for each other has found a way around "Big Brother."
Tim Sexton is a writer, living in Florida, at last report.
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