An Essay on the Sex and Love in George Orwell’s 1984

Modified: 27th Feb 2023
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George Orwells novel 1984 explores intimate human relationships in a bleak futuristic society as experienced by protagonist Winston Smith. Since there are few bonds stronger than those developed from loving relationships among family, friends, and lovers, the only entity acceptable to love in Oceania is the face of the Party, Big Brother. This restriction is necessary to achieving complete power and control over its citizens, as the Party must dissolve all loyalties derived through love, sex, and family and redirect them upon itself. By destroying trust the Party has “cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman”(220).

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To train the citizens of Oceania for complete submission and devotion to Big Brother and the Party the family bond has been completely devalued, as “No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer.”(220) The Junior Spies are an organization in which children have become the police and denouncers of their parents in the name of Big Brother. By this means, the Party has managed to wedge itself between one of the most powerful instinctual bonds to turn parental devotion into fear and children into faithful machines of the Party as an extension of the Thought Police. Parsons’ remark “In fact I’m proud of her. It shows I brought her up in the right spirit, anyway”(193) in response to his daughter’s betrayal, clearly portrays the Party’s influence in the family institution. Not only does the daughter value the Party’s approval more than her father’s life, but also Parsons’ appropriate response is to be grateful for the betrayal and to those who enforce it.

The betrayal of the family bond is a common theme in 1984. Orwell illustrates how weak that loyalty has become with the skull-faced man’s desperate begging to watch his wife and children’s throats be slit as an alternative to the Ministry of Love’s room 101 with a complete lack of “private loyalties”(136). Winston’s memories of his mother’s love “in a time when there were still privacy, love, and friendship, and when the members of a family stood by one another without needing to know the reason”(28) confront his suspicions that to “remain human”, one was “not loyal to a party or a country or an idea, they were loyal to one another”(136).

Technically, consorting with prostitutes is forbidden, but it seems to be tacitly encouraged just the same, as a means of relieving natural tensions. The more serious crime involves relations between Party members. The Party does not wish to allow the development of loyalties to any other acts or persons than itself, so it tends to deny permission of marriage to couples who appear attracted to one another, and it campaigns actively against sex as anything other than a slightly disagreeable duty whose sole purpose is propagation of the species. The Party feeds off the hysteria produced from sexual privation, as it is conveniently transformed into “war fever and leader worship”(110).

Through its control of marriages and sexual mores, the Party resembles a conservative religious institution. By attempting to control people’s loyalties and loves, and redirect those towards itself, the Party posits itself as the end and the ultimate salvation. Katharine even calls sex “our duty to the Party,” and it is a weekly ritual almost like a martyrdom, in which both she and Winston are uncomfortable but must suffer through it anyway.

Clearly, Winston’s desire to have a woman of his own with whom sex could be pleasurable is yet another instance of his heretical tendencies. It does not seem something that he has experienced yet, since his encounter with the prostitute was somehow dirtying in every sense. His desire to evoke desire is itself thought crime, and part of his overall rebellion against the world he lives in.

The Junior Anti-Sex League is one of the propaganda organizations used to control desire and teach sexual orthodoxy. The Party’s sexual puritanism is due to the fact that “the sex instinct creates a world of it’s own”(110) and is therefore out of the Party’s control and must be destroyed; “The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm”(220). The sex instinct is dangerous to the Party and makes a “direct, intimate connection between chastity and political orthodoxy”(111). Sex is an act of outright rebellion, as all enjoyable sex must be in a society where the act is supposed to be free of pleasure. In this sense Winston’s affair with Julia is a political act against the Party, which is part of the attraction. Perhaps the greatest crime they commit is declaring love for someone as an individual, someone who is separate from the Party.

Love, the clear anti-thesis to everything the Party stands for, has heavily ironic meaning in 1984. The language along with the emotion is manipulated by the Party to gain control of the people. The Ministry of Love, for example, “concerns itself with torture”, and the destruction of the individual is referred to as “love for Big Brother”.

Winston battles to discover his humanity by equating the ability to feel love with the essence of being human. Winston progresses from seeing Julia as an outlet for his political unorthodoxy and his sexual energy, to seeing her as a companion, linked to him in a marriage of love. As long as Winston loves Julia, and what she represents to him, he is able to believe in himself and his humanity enough to hate Big Brother. Once he betrays that love, he violates his own humanity and can no longer love another human; “All you care about is yourself”(240). The Party, through Winston’s betrayal of Julia, has cut another link to loyalty derived by love and redirected it upon itself. Winston is left a shell of a man having “won the victory over himself” and learned to love Big Brother (245).

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The goal of the Party is to wipe out the individual; “There will be no loyalty, except loyalty toward the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother.”(220) In 1984 Orwell warns about the future of man who is doomed to lose his individualness without love and loyalty. Family, sex, and love are the anchors that hold the emotions of human essence to our individual selves, resulting in “Ownlife.”


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