The Struggle Between Consciousness and Awareness in 1984

July 5, 2011
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Before one can understand how Orwell defines consciousness in 1984, one must grasp the distinction between consciousness and other states of responsiveness, such as awareness. Confusing consciousness with awareness is a blunder that can be easily made, but the two are quite different. While one naturally remains conscious in sleep, it is impossible to remain aware. For example, although dreams are usually spurred by one’s waking observations or opinions, while sleeping, one cannot control with awareness one’s dreams or bodily movements. Awareness, then, can be understood as existing on a deeper level than consciousness. Thus while one may be conscious of one’s lust for fame, wealth or power, one may lack or suppress awareness of the means one may resort to in order to achieve these ends, including even criminal and immoral acts. Awareness is the moral component of consciousness. George Orwell explores the inherent conflict between consciousness and awareness in 1984. Orwell demonstrates how with an extremely suppressed or nonfunctioning conscious, awareness becomes impossible, and thus states crucially related to awareness, such as self-evaluation, and the ability to feel and think critically, begin to dissipate. As a result, escaping mass consciousness becomes impossible.
Towards the beginning of the novel, protagonist Winston Smith begins writing in a journal, fully aware of the crime he is committing by expressing individual creativity, but conscious enough to continue writing for his own pursuit of pleasure and inner peace. To clarify, Winston‘s knowledge of the inevitable consequences that would result from the act of journaling is tantamount to awareness, and almost completely disconnected from his consciousness, which focuses on the now, or the personal benefit he obtains from writing in his journal, an act that he describes as almost involuntary. Orwell is trying to emphasize the difference between acknowledgement and action. Action is the job of one’s conscious, but acknowledgement is the deeper play of awareness. Consciousness is constantly in a state of reaction to the stimulus of one’s surroundings. Put Winston in or near a bar, and his consciousness suddenly yearns for beer and a buzz. Put Winston near Julia, and his consciousness begs him for sexual interaction. Without awareness, ones consciousness begins to update itself and change motives throughout every moment of one’s life. Consciousness provides motivation, but it is awareness that gets the last word in, and controls whether one listens to his conscious or not.
Consciousness reacts and depends upon the function and stimulus of society. In Ingsoc society, selflessness is valued above all, and thus man’s consciousness pulls him away from himself and towards Big Brother; personal dreams are replaced by Party ideology. The result of this action is an inner paradox: consciousness is begging for selflessness, yet the Party members are aware of the self-indulgences they are being denied, and are constantly suppressing this awareness. Because awareness lies at a deeper level than consciousness, it can be hidden if society begins to manipulate one’s conscious. This society-driven manipulation is a phenomenon that occurs in every group-based function. With any cluster of people, like-mindedness becomes infectious, attacking one’s consciousness, convincing it to adapt to one’s surroundings. Due to this adaptation, the conscious stops communicating with one’s awareness, leaving one’s awareness increasingly confused and unprotected. This group adaptation naturally occurs to those born into the 1984 era. The Party Members live in close proximity, and thus each Party member’s consciousness becomes condensed and similar. The conscious loses its main purpose: to define a human and give it individual purpose. When Julia and Winston separate themselves from society and move to the room above Mr. Charington’s shop, their consciousness becomes, in a sense, liberated. It is during this isolated living experience that Winston begins to truly believe in the existence of the Brotherhood, alerting and activating his awareness and causing him to take a step closer to radicalism and rebellion than he has ever taken before.
Orwell hints that consciousness is the pursuit of intellect, a search that is disappearing due to the growth of mindless distractions such as technology and the pressures of society. If one’s consciousness is not fed intellectual material, one’s awareness is never given the chance to expand, and thus one becomes unconsciously suppressed. When Winston is reading Emanuel Goldstein’s novel, he becomes fully engrossed in the literature, unlike Julia who quickly loses attention and drifts into sleep. Because Winston lived in a time before Big Brother rose to power, his intellectual curiosity can expand in a way that Julia’s cannot. Orwell demonstrates how education provides one’s consciousness with nourishment to feed and grow. Learning allows the conscious to form its own opinions, a base upon which awareness then forms. The greater one’s conscious, the greater is the range of actions one has the ability to take. The education given to Party members of Julia’s generation revolves solely around Ingsoc principles. The members are never given any substantial material to process, and thus their conscious never prompts their awareness to take actions that go against Big Brother’s logic, or that tamper with the status quo. The Proles are oppressed in the exact same way, just more profoundly. Given only trashy novels, alcohol and sentimental drivel to feed their consciousness with, the Proles never become aware of their oppression because they have not been given the intellectual tools to notice or care for change. Thus, they never feel the need to rebel, and may never be capable of cultivating the awareness necessary to rebel. Orwell is trying to prove that as the world advances into an age dominated by technology and the search for endless stimulus, humanity is shriveling into an unconscious stone, sitting blissfully, but completely wasting its underlying potential for self-determination and its accompanying power of awareness.
The Party demands consciousness severed from awareness. Winston’s daily life includes intense consciousness- he has to use his mind to figure out how to alter history. Winston loves his work, and is aware that he is destroying history, but separates this guilty awareness from the skills it takes to do the job. In the moment, he has succeeded removing awareness from consciousness. The only instance in which Winston reaches the state of awareness in the novel is brief and passing. As Winston places an article into the fire, he becomes aware that he is not only erasing history, but that he is also erasing evidence that could help him bring change to the stifled world he suffers in. This awareness is fleeting, and comes moments too late, for the article is already burning when he fully realizes its importance. Consciousness can only work properly if functioning beside awareness, a relationship of more interdependence than any other relationship depicted in the novel. As the world progresses and everyone becomes single individuals of a larger group, the conscious is being affected and altered too. Orwell argues that this development is for the worst, and is leading towards the downfall of humanity. One can compare Julia and Winston’s relationship to that of consciousness and awareness. After torture and separation, they briefly reunite, but only to realize that the ties that once bound them so closely together have dissolved. It is Orwell’s hope and man’s unseen mission to make sure that this divorce never occurs to consciousness and awareness, for once these states are detached, life becomes nothing but a lonesome, passionless, and pointless formality known to the victimized characters in 1984.

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