• $5.99

Publisher Description

"Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves" (256). This is the chilling message told to Winston Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell's 1984, by the Party tout, O'Brien. The danger presented to the individual human spirit by a totalitarian society is a major theme in Orwell's oeuvre and also in the writings of contemporary Chinese novelist, Ha Jin (birth name, Jin Xuefei). (2) Several critics have noted parallels between the writings of these two authors. For example, in speaking of Ha Jin's short story collection, Under the Red Flag (1997), Robert D. Sturr remarks on the "clear reminder of the Orwellian resonances in Jin's writing" (190). Bill Delaney, commenting on Jin's novel Waiting (1999), winner of a National Book Award, makes the case that "the author reminds the reader of such Western works as George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four" (802). Despite such tantalizing references, however, no one has attempted thus far to explore fully the connection between the two authors, to probe the nightmarish visions of the future presented in Orwell's totalitarian societies as opposed to the much closer memories of Ha Jin's past in Mao's China. What links are there between these different yet hauntingly similar dystopias depicted by the authors? This essay will attempt to answer this question by studying what are perhaps the two seminal works by the writers: Orwell's 1984 and Ha Jin's Waiting, particularly by focusing on the subjects of love and sex in the novels. Perhaps the first thing that needs to be done in comparing these books is to provide a working definition of totalitarianism. In his classic study of the Chinese Communist Party, Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power (1962), Chalmers Johnson describes a totalitarian government as one "committed to the wholesale reorganization of society under conscious direction from above, and that it has enlisted all the institutions of the society (particularly the state) in the service of this single aim" (11). Orwell, "a writer committed to a democratic and communitarian socialism," was frightened by the "oligarchic collectivism" (Harrington 432) he saw manifested in Russia, in the increasingly radical English socialism (Ingsoc in the novel), and in China (represented in the novel as Eastasia. Interestingly, China's Communist Party emerged victorious in 1949, the year the book was published). The extreme version of such a society exists in 1984, where the state "seeks power entirely for its own sake" (Orwell 263). Waiting, set in part during the Cultural Revolution in China beginning in the mid-1960s, reflects "a decade of turmoil and civil strife that drove the country to utter chaos and the brink of bankruptcy. [...] Poignantly, the Cultural Revolution turned out to be anticultural, anti-intellectual, and antiscientific" (Hsu 703). The question remains in 1984 and Waiting what the impact of such state-driven, anti-humanitarian societies (and in fact any system designed for complete power) will have on individual freedoms, especially as manifested in the basic human emotion of love.

June 1
Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Department of English
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

More Books by Studies in the Humanities