The influence of Nineteen Eighty-Four in dystopian science fiction

KGeo777

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I thought of this due to the topic of evil. Maybe there is some other work prior to Orwell which actually is the catalyst but I can't think of any.

You could say this is a coincidental "zeitgeist" situation but maybe Orwell's book caused a flurry of inspiration that triggered authors to explore this idea.
If we take Beowulf as the most basic oldest kind of fantasy story--(a hero defending the village from some outside threat) then Nineteen Eighty-Four is saying in essence that Beowulf cannot save the village.
That is the basic plot of the novel. Winston Smith is an establishment figure "system enforcer" and he meets a woman who is opposed to the way the society is working--but in the end he fails to liberate the society.

Now let's consider Fahrenheit 451, I Am Legend, Planet of the Apes, and for good measure, Quatermass and the Pit tv show. They are all famous examples of dystopian story and they link together.

In Bradbury's novel, you also have an establishment figure system enforcer and he also meets a woman who represents the counterculture and in the end--he does not save the society. There is hope but it's not due to anything he does--he has to go along with the outsiders in the society who have formed a separate colony.

Likewise, in I Am Legend, Neville is also an establishment figure--he's a family man --and he cannot save his family or the village. He also meets a woman who represents the outsider perspective!

How about Planet of the Apes? Same situation. An astronaut goes to another planet where humans are enslaved--in this case there are two female characters of influence--Zira and Nova---but the ending is the same as the other situations. The village cannot be saved.

Quatermass and the Pit is also a case where the establishment character scientist cannot save the village from the outsider threat because we learn that in fact, the outsider created the society. There is also an important woman character as well, she has the ability to see more of the outsider influence. In this case the village is saved--but is it really?

I wonder if you could even link this to the Adam and Eve story---since the idea of the Garden of Eden is that of the perfect society and it gets damaged--although in the case of the stories above, the women characters are not representing the cause of the downfall. They represent a stabilizing influence or salvation or comfort or hope.

But in all cases (except the Quatermass situation where the scientist sacrifices himself to neutralize the alien manifestation) the primary (male) character loses or is unable to solve the problem.

I find it interesting that the stories have such a common plot and you can trace it back to Orwell's book which is not really a fantasy story with the usual trappings (aliens, vampires etc.).
 
I think it may be hard to determine influences on later writers, but 1984, written by George Orwell in 1949, was preceded by "The Lottery", written by Shirley Jackson in 1948. There were also other notable dystopian tales in the late 1940s through the 1950s, though I suspect that they were more influenced by current events of the times rather than each other. Likewise, I am sure that some of the more recent dystopian fiction, such as The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner were influenced by 1984 or other stories of that period.
 
I think it may be hard to determine influences on later writers, but 1984, written by George Orwell in 1949, was preceded by "The Lottery", written by Shirley Jackson in 1948. There were also other notable dystopian tales in the late 1940s through the 1950s, though I suspect that they were more influenced by current events of the times rather than each other. Likewise, I am sure that some of the more recent dystopian fiction, such as The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner were influenced by 1984 or other stories of that period.

Like: EM Forster's The Machine Stops and some of Kafka's stories e.g The Trial and In the Penal Colony
We (novel) - Wikipedia which has been on my Must Get Round to One Day List for ages would be a contender too I think.
 
The question is--how much publicity did those works have compared to Nineteen Eighty-Four, and if the publicity was much greater for Orwell's work when it came out, was Orwell aware of any of these works at all when he wrote it?
You could say it is part of the zeitgeist phenomenon but the plot and character framework of Orwell's book is traceable in those other 1950s dystopian stories.

The Time Machine by Wells also explores a dystopian future scenario between the Morlocks and Eloi although since it is a far future glimpse, and the main character is not part of the society, not directly, it doesn't feel the same scenario as Big Brother etc. The time traveler is an explorer giving details of his travels. There are some ideas in the story about evolution and social structure, likewise with the Food of the Gods--that gets into a dystopian situation and leaves it unsettled at the end. Yet that is directly linked to a technological invention. It is not really suggesting an inevitable sequence of events which is what the other works are implying. If Nature takes its course--this will happen and they aren't cautionary tales either. Maybe Nineteen Eighty-Four is, but not the case with I Am Legend obviously--Planet of the Apes is a little trickier because it does suggest that the domestication and captivity of apes brought it about on two different planets. Fahrenheit 451 is the most optimistic.
 
I don't want to imply that just because those three or four stories each have a woman character in a particular role--that it was because of Orwell!
It's like the Hero's Journey situation where people marvel at the similarities between stories--some of this is just common sense practicality.

If you have a story with a male character in a situation which is dangerous or alienating, at some point it seems logical to introduce a character who can shift the story into a different perspective. If it is another male character who is introduced, it may introduce suspicions or threats that the author doesn't want. More likely it will be a woman.
Also, if you are going to do a dystopian story, it is not easy to turn it around. It is actually easier to go with the flow and say one man against the system can't beat it--it seems practical actually even if it is following the trend (of negative endings).
 
As KGeo777 mentions. The Time Machine is a warning of a future that may come to pass. But you can go much further back for your political satire (which is what 1984 was written as) to works such as Thomas More's 'Utopia'.
 
In Caverns Below by Stanton Coblentz written 1935 It's more satire but it has dystopian elements that sort of foreshadow 1984. I doubt Orwell read ot heard of this one .

We The Living by Ayn Rand 1936 , Its about people trying to surge in Post Revolutionary Russia . Though not a science fiction novel ,Its very dystopian. I have no idea if Orwell read or knew of Ayn Rand But this a book that could have inflamed 1984 .

Not this August by C M Kornbluth 1955
 
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Brave New World was published in 1932. Orwell was influenced by the 1921 We. Am I misunderstanding the thread topic?
 
Not really.
Am I misunderstanding the thread topic?
Not really.
I was pointing out similarities in plot between the later dystopian stories and Nineteen Eighty-Four. The question is whether those works were in any direct way inspired by the Orwell book, or just happened to be following a trend of the time.
Other works that came out before Orwell may show how this trend developed little by little.
 
Not really.

Not really.
I was pointing out similarities in plot between the later dystopian stories and Nineteen Eighty-Four. The question is whether those works were in any direct way inspired by the Orwell book, or just happened to be following a trend of the time.
Other works that came out before Orwell may show how this trend developed little by little.
That is useful clarification, since we have largely discussed the precursors and possible influences on 1984.
WRT subsequent dystopian novels, it is hard to completely separate Orwell entirely from any of them in terms of imagery, but a good proportion are not concerned with totalitarian systems, are not obviously "Orwellian", and so are probably not directly influenced. If one buys that argument then most of Ballard falls into this category. Dystopias where society is simply falling over is not obviously Orwellian.
 
We The Living by Ayn Rand 1936 , Its about people trying to surge in Post Revolutionary Russia . Though not a science fiction novel ,Its very dystopian. I have no idea if Orwell read or knew of Ayn Rand But this a book that could have inflamed 1984 .
Interesting. Although Rand's views on Orwell's works are well documented (she didn't like them), I can't find much evidence that Orwell was interested in Rand. Personally, I doubt he would have been impressed (but that's just my opinion).
 
If one buys that argument then most of Ballard falls into this category. Dystopias where society is simply falling over is not obviously Orwellian.

Interesting you should mention Ballard. His dystopias are more organic than manufactured. Society falls into dystopian lifestyles through convenience and the pursuit of short term pleasure, not through oppression. In that sense Ballard is more like Huxley than Orwell.
 
In terms of influence, having a female rock the boat is about as old as fiction.
 
Orwell definitely read Wells when he was a boy and I'm pretty sure he read We and Brave New World as well. He reviewed a CS Lewis book called That Hideous Strength before he wrote 1984, which includes some 1984ish elements (along with a whole load of occult/Christian/Arthurian stuff).

I agree that these stories do naturally fit a practical shape. For maximum shock value, it would probably be "Downtrodden innocent man rebels at horrible regime, but regime crushes him for trying to be happy". The inclusion of a female character gives the author the option of romance.

I have wondered in the past if there is a slight element of sexual/romantic fantasy in some of these dystopias: a tired, middle-class worker meets a free-spirited woman who inspires him to rebel, like the modern "manic pixie" character in romantic comedies. I'm sure there were several films like that in the 1960s, too.

As for outsiders/insiders, I'm not sure I see the point that's being made. I think it depends solely on the story. Sauron is an outsider trying to capture the good lands of Middle Earth, but when Frodo and Sam are in Mordor, they're the outsiders in an evil land trying to bring it down. Stephen King often uses the "evil outsider" plot. It seems natural for a dystopia to have a "rebellious insider" as a hero, unless the hero is a spy from a free country going in to do a mission. I would say that in 1984 there is no village for Beowulf to defend, or rather the only societies we see are villainous.
 
As for outsiders/insiders, I'm not sure I see the point that's being made. I think it depends solely on the story. Sauron is an outsider trying to capture the good lands of Middle Earth, but when Frodo and Sam are in Mordor, they're the outsiders in an evil land trying to bring it down. Stephen King often uses the "evil outsider" plot. It seems natural for a dystopia to have a "rebellious insider" as a hero, unless the hero is a spy from a free country going in to do a mission. I would say that in 1984 there is no village for Beowulf to defend, or rather the only societies we see are villainous.
That's what I meant--if you look at these works from the point of view of just being a story about a society and characters living within them and forget the dystopian label, you can perceive this theme. Beowulf is the most basic concept--village under threat from the outside, someone capable in the village defends it.
The variation is Odysseus going off on adventures away from home (and you can make the argument he should have never left in the first place) and after much hard ship he returns home to deal with corruption in the village---he is the king by right of birth and has to deal with a revolt in the village. The importance of defending the home is there, and the idea that Odysseus is exceptional. The most capable.

In Stephen King's case--the village is usually destroyed. There is no Beowulf to save the village.
In Salem's Lot, the main character is returning home - the town already has a reputation due to the house. I am not sure what Marsten's attachment to the town was--I know he was a mobster in the book--but was he a native of the town?

That's important because a trend you see--and it's in slice of life works like To Kill A Mockingbird---the village is tainted with something bad that comes out of the town itself as opposed to being introduced by an outsider. There's also the very tired trope of the small town person who wants to leave. They always want to leave.
Even Sheriff Taylor in the Andy Griffith show--at the end he meets a rebel woman and leaves the town.


Can you have a dystopian story where the woman is not the one representing the awakening of the protagonist to the reality that his village sucks?

As for LOTR--I think in that case it's complicated by the fact that the hobbits are the central focus more so than humans. It's definitely not a Beowulf and Grendel situation due to the number of characters who factor in and the size of the village--it's the whole world really that Sauron is after. And the metaphysics of the Ring and the concept of evil makes it much more complex than throwing a spear into the monster's gut. I think in the case of Middle Earth, you may have the idea of the village being innately good or worth saving, but the Beowulf side of it is not apparent because of all the elves and hobbits etc. The borders of the village are pretty porous.

And what about Cthulhu and the Old Ones? In that case I think the gist of it is that the village can't be saved because you are in fact a pest infestation for the real inhabitants who are on vacation. Quatermass and the Pit is close to that idea but the aliens are not all powerful so they can be thwarted in some ways. It's like the Devil is real, the serpent in the Garden is real but you can do something with scientific materialism to defend yourself. But is it really a salvation?
Arguably Fahrenheit 451 suggests some kind of preservation of the village before it was oppressive. But then again, that story has no outsider element. There's no monster, there's no alien power etc. And 1984 is like that too unless there is some cryptic aspect to it that I miss.
 
Interesting. Although Rand's views on Orwell's works are well documented (she didn't like them), I can't find much evidence that Orwell was interested in Rand. Personally, I doubt he would have been impressed (but that's just my opinion).

Off topic question . Did George Orwell and H G Wells ever meet ?
 

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