Compare how a lack of identity is explored in ‘Nineteen-Eighty Four’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’?
George Orwell’s novel ‘Nineteen-Eighty Four’, published in 1949, prophesize the advent of a totalitarian society in which individuals have no significance. Winston Smith narrates his vision of life in an age where totalitarianism has eradicated individuality, choice and personal identity. In this novel, the protagonist Winston Smith plucks up the courage to express his thoughts and feeling to Julia, his secret lover as they pursue a forbidden relationship. These criminal actions are found out by the Inner Party, the ruler of Oceania and the upper class government who form policies, decisions and govern society and the must do everything in their power to reform the nonconformist. Similarly, ‘Never Let Me Go’ written by Kazuo Ishiguro is set in a dystopian world in England’s early 1990’s in which human clones are created for the purpose of donating their organs as young adults. The novel is centred on the life of a young woman named Kathy who acts as both the narrator and protagonist, and her close friends Ruth and Tommy, clones who were raised in a boarding school, ‘Hailsham’, for future ‘donors’ as they reminisces about their past life living in a dystopian set society and what impact it had on her and those close to her.
Orwell’s novel was written in 1949 in reaction to the totalitarian governments that were emerging after World War II. The war began as a result of aggressive German attempts to take back parts of Europe that the country had lost after World War I. Germany was being led by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party, a totalitarian government that came into power in 1933 and continued to force loyalty upon German people. (1) The leaders of the Nazi Party, similar to the Inner Party, used operatives loyal to their cause, similar to members of the Outer Party, to destroy evidence and identities. In ‘Nineteen-Eighty Four’ identity is lost from a lack of individuality and stolen from an overpowering government where everyone and everything must be uniform, and the people must be controlled to constantly be practicing the ideas of Newspeak and Doublethink, a form of control the government holds over the people. The absence of identity strips the people of all creativity and diversity, as well as taking away any chance the society has to advance as people or in the area of technology. This lack of identity is portrayed through the description of Winston’s surroundings and clothing. The reader is told in the first chapter of the novel that Party members wear a uniform consisting of “blue overalls”. (2) The colour blue is typically associated with trust and loyalty which is what Big Brother ultimately want from all citizens of the Oceania, however metaphorically, this colour may also be viewed as a sign of depression and sorrow due to the reference of having the ‘blues’ which typically meant being miserable. During the late 19th century, the musical genre of the blues was first introduced which is where Orwell got the inspiration of the clothing, depicting the lack of emotions and confinement of identity the characters had to maintain so the thought police did not recognise any form of feelings. The purpose of the uniform is one, to help create a sense of unity between each Party member since everybody looks exactly the same, signifying a lack of individuality and identity as there is no freedom within society. Also, by wearing these uniforms it is easy to recognise other Party Members and in order to distinguish Party Members from the other social groups such as the Proles, who do not wear a uniform. Moreover, the separate uniforms suggest a sense of segregation between the Inner Party, Outer Party and the Proles as the unity seems to be only present in their own Parties and are unwilling to extend the unity further. On the other hand, making people wear a uniform is also about exerting control. This further prevents people from wearing their own clothes, thus from expressing their own style and personality, illustrating their true identity. As a result, the uniform functions as a symbol of social control, much like Newspeak and the telescreens. Many critics have viewed that Orwell as portraying the idea of having one uniform for all Party members suppresses society’s own personal identity and ensures that the bigger identity of the Party is dominant which defines who they are. Orwell continues to present a totalitarian world where those who live in it are given little, if any, freedom of choice and therefore, the uniform serves to underscore this bleak reality.
Similarly, within ‘Never Let Me Go’, the dystopian society deal with the question of what it is to be human and the definition of identity. Never Let Me Go was set in the beginning of the 21st century in which medicine and science was on a horizon. The first clone ever created was a sheep named ‘Dolly’. Ishiguro’s novel takes on a more complex on the idea of cloning and organ-farming in which their identities are eradicated due to humans being used as experiments, having no purpose other than seen as endless supplies of organs. In the novel, society deprives the ‘students’ of having a unique identity; the students are not given full names, for example, in the beginning of the novel we are introduced to Kathy as ‘Kathy H’, setting the tone very quickly as to the status of the clones, which also makes the reader automatically question why she has not revealed her surname, presenting a lack of identity and also indicating that the students do not have a family, thus, depriving them from building a sense of individuality as one of factors shaping identity is a sense of belonging that comes from being part of a family. Kathy’s whole existence is summed up in nineteen words as she is simply Kathy H. Furthermore, not having a family bond forces the students to form their own identity from scratch but in doing so they further enhance their lack of identity as they have been bought up and educated just like every other ‘student’ in Hailsham. Also, she lists three things about herself, ‘I’m thirty-one years old, and I’ve been a carer now for over eleven years’. As she only mentions these three points suggests that being a career is very important to her and maybe a big part of her life and her identity. Moreover, students at Hailsham are only able to identify themselves based on what they see others do, making most of them lack identity such as Ruth as she spends most of her time pretending as a child through fictional games and as an adult mimicking what she sees others do.
In both novels, ‘1984’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’, the citizens in this dystopia seem to lack what makes humans unique which is our consciousness. A critic named Allen Shui believes that having a conscious but not being able to act on it is more restricting, and as a result they become mindless ‘drones’. Citizens of a dystopia are unable to make their own decisions and can only act in the ways that benefit the controlling party. Also, the students within ‘Never Let Me Go’ are restricted from doing certain things such as smoking or not being allowed to discuss certain aspects of their lives as clones. In Orwell’s novel ‘Nineteen-eighty Four’, the Party’s main aim is to ‘make thoughtcrime literally impossible’. As the quotation mentions, the Party is trying to gain control of everyone’s thoughts so no one can disobey orders or revolt. Individual thoughts are viewed as borderline crimes, which prevents anyone from expressing their true self further conveying the theme of a lack of identity as no one is truly given the freedom to express themselves freely. Within this novel, the citizens of Oceania are somewhat presented as robots, showing no signs of emotions or feelings that would pose as a threat to the Party. For example, the proletarian, also known as the proles who are seen as unimportant within society are described as ‘natural inferiors seen as animals’ whereas the people of the Party had become ‘hardened inside’. The fact that they are described as animals and inferior portrays how the proles are viewed as insignificant, however, the proles have more freedom than the Party as they have the liberty to divorce their spouse and have the freedom to follow a religion. These liberties allows them to create an individual identity of themselves. On the other hand the adjective ‘hardened’ used to describe the people of the Party presents them as heartless and stiff people, alluding to the fact that they are emotionless and sluggish people who lack the freedom to portray their true identity. When ‘Nineteen-eighty Four’ was written in 1944, World War II was taking place in which men were ultimately forced to ‘toughen’ themselves up in order to go fight in the war which meant they had to perceive themselves as ‘soldiers’, therefore, denying their freedom to express their identity. This mirrors the plot of ‘Nineteen-Eighty Four’ where the citizens of Oceania are expected to show no form of emotions and express their themselves in any way to prevent them from serving the country.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel ‘Never Let Me Go presents a society that focuses on the search for identity and meaning throughout curiosity and self expression. Emotions play a huge role in ‘Never Let Me Go’ and how they form each character’s identity. His work demonstrates how disease and human imperfection can disconnect people from the real world causing them to forget the present. Ishiguro also portrays the troubling possibility that our self-identity is incredibly fragile, and can transform itself when others impose judgments upon us. Throughout the novel, emotions are triggered through art and entertainment. A literary critic has viewed art as ‘an extension of one’s soul’ as the students of Hailsham are able to express their identities and true selves through their artwork and possessions. Within the novel, the reader is told the artwork “Revealed what you were like inside. She said they revealed your soul”. The repetition of the verb revealed emphasises how their artwork ‘soul-revealing properties’ which suggest how students art is essential within their lives. However, the fact that these materialistic items are so important further portrays how the students have no attachment to their emotions, but are obsessed with objects which further conveys a lack of identity. The art the students create is a reflection of not only their souls but also of their feelings.
All of the students at Hailsham diligently attempt to improve their art in order to have their pieces selected for ‘the gallery,’ which is an extensive collection of their best works. Consequently, this changes the students’ perception of their own self-worth, causing them to doubt their individuality and meaning. Kathy’s anagorism of her lack of identity is conveyed when she describes her life in a simile as “like walking past a mirror you’ve walked past every day of your life, and suddenly it shows you something else, something troubling and strange”. The use of the figurative language illustrates struggle for self-acceptance and the regrettable truths that Kathy inevitably faces and the image that she presents suggests a doubling effect, where the mirror image is an altered reflection of herself. Furthermore, the repetition of the word ‘something’ emphasizes how Kathy does not really understand her identity, conveying a rather vague meaning to her life.
Andrew Borrows, a critic of ‘Never Let Me Go’ viewed this novel as “sad as Ishiguro simply uses a science-fiction framework to throw light on ordinary human life, the human soul, human sexuality, love, creativity and childhood innocence”.