The Vita Activa as a Literary Lens for George Orwell's 1984
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This study explicates Hannah Arendt’s social theory and political studies and applies them as literary lens for George Orwell’s iconic dystopian novel 1984. The thesis focuses on Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition (1958) and The Origins of Totalitarianism (1968). The Human Condition provides Arendt’s comprehensive delineation of the vita activa and its supporting social components. It explains different social components how they work interdependently to culminate in a free and public life: the vita activa. While her work stresses that democracy is not a perfect system, it is the system that best respects humanity’s attribute of plurality. The Origins of Totalitarianism follows the rise of fascist governments. Arendt’s study illustrates why totalitarian governing systems are detrimental to society, and how they work to destroy democracy. The Origins of Totalitarianism identifies and explains the concept of mass man. The idea of mass man gives rise to three societal components: the masses, the elite, and the mob which work to destroy democracy and exploit humanity’s plurality. When the machinations of totalitarian governments are accurately executed, they lead to the dismantling of society, democracy, and the vita activa. The United States has not fallen victim to fascist movements; however, it is far from immune. This thesis proposes that a vaccination against totalitarian rule lies within dystopian literature. The contention of this study is that dystopian fiction should be interpreted as the commentary and critique of politics, politicians, and political machines that it is. The examination George Orwell’s iconic dystopian novel 1984 (1950) showcases the destruction of society, democracy, and the vita activa through the struggles of his protagonist, Winston Smith; a depiction of a society under totalitarian rule. This examination of Arendt’s political and social philosophy as literary theory provides an informed analysis of a society gone awry. While Arendt’s works do not explicitly warn American societies against the dangers of totalitarian governments, she identifies, defines, and describes what it looks like to live in a society where totalitarianism is allowed to flourish. This examination of 1984 attempts to identify elements of a fascist government in hopes that readers will recognize the warning signs and act to protect, uphold, and sustain democracy.