1984 vs. The Running Man

A grammatically sloppy, hastily finished essay, that I wrote for... fun :D
Anyone else who actually LIKES writing essays is welcome to contribute :)

The cultural differences between citizens of the United States of America and those of their British counterparts can be summed up in the comparison of two distinctly similar, yet vastly different novels; George Orwell's 1984, and Stephen King's The Running Man.  Both novels speak of a violently authoritarian future, in which even a subversive thought is punishable by death, and too great an intelligence or individuality brings only certain annihilation.  The key difference between the books, each a tremendous literary accomplishment and worthy of high praise from casual and critical readers alike, lies in their endings; this also illustrates the primary divergence between an American and a British life perspective.
    From the beginning, 1984 and The Running Man each catapault the reader towards a grim and lethal conclusion.  Starting at a point of poverty so insidious as to almost go unnoticed by the characters, each novel speeds along too quickly to show more than the barest glimpses of a society of plenty existing just beyond the scope of the protagonists' reference, and manages to cast a sordid light on any human interactions taking place within that scope.  Although 1984 uses the supression of sexual urges, and The Running Man the exploitation thereof, the feel of each book is decidedly similar; the 'vapid, oversexed version' of Richard's wife Cindy, echoes irrefutably the 'crudely painted mouth' of Winston's nameless aged prostitute.  Throughout each book, descriptive text is used largely to impress upon the reader not the beauty and fragility of life, but rather its ugliness and lack of definite meaning.  In each novel, the word 'dark' can be found multiple times before the end of the first chapter.
    Along with stylistic similarities, each book seems to be a well-crafted warning to antecedent generations, and the message of both books is the same: guard your personal freedoms zealously, by force if necessary, or they will be removed by force.  Indeed, in both books, it is the underclass of people--Orwell's proletarians--who are held up as the only possible solution to the mindlessness of totalitarian government rule, because they have not lost the ability to behave forcefully and perhaps wrest control.  Here, however, the similarities end, and the true differences between the books becomes apparent.
    The main difference between 1984 and The Running Man is, of course, the outcome.  By the final pages, the character of Winston Smith, doomed from the outset of the book, does indeed fall prey to the machine of government so completely that he is unrecognizable as the protagonist from earlier chapters.  The character of Richard, on the other hand, chooses to sacrifice himself in a stereotypically gung-ho fashion, proverbial guns blazing, as he strikes one final blow into the heart of the enemy.  It is not so much the fact of his making a difference that is indicative of the peculiarly American optimism of King's novel.  Rather, it is the existence of the possibilty that he may have achieved some worthwhile goal, which allows the reader to hope that this may indeed be the case.
    Of course, there are other, more minor differences as well.  1984 is irrefutably darker, with a more obviously prohibitive social structure in place.  Orwell's Room 101 is indisputably more sinister an invention than King's gaming conglomerate; still, this is largely a question of degree.  King's Games *are* the arenas of ancient Rome, with innocents falling to the lions on a daily basis.  Orwell's Room is, instead, a potential modern Rome, with not only better technology, but better psychological insights as well; which therefore provides a more focused and sinister brand of cruelty.  Also, Orwell's arena does not even pretend to be entertainment, but rather, punishment of the most effective and dehumanizing sort.  The true divergence of the texts, though, is in King's aggressive hopefulness, as opposed to Orwell's bleak passivity.  This stems from the differences in American and British cultures in general.
    Overall, the most advantageous aspect of an American's point of view as compared to a Briton's, is their great capacity to believe in positive change, or, said in another way, the ingrained disbelief in, and resistance to, the negative.  As Shaw said, the non-monarchist lay-out of the United States government removed all chance of that government becoming tyrannical, while allowing, 'each boss, slum lord, etc, to become a minor tyrant'. Conversely to what may be expected, this is precisely the reason an American author, such as King, cannot conceive of a government powerful enough to take away all semblance of freedom from its citizens.

   Unspoken, but very definitely understood throughout the novel The Running Man, is the idea that no government will completely strip an American's rights away, because to be an American is to refuse to let it.  What the American government may do abroad or to non-citizens is sadly another topic; but King's version of even a totalitarian goverment implies that, to an American, America herself stands for the rightness of the individual over the rightness of the masses, and if America oversteps her bounds, there will always be someone to oppose her.
    Contrarily, the average Briton, both in Orwell's day and the present, expects government bodies to organize everything from the operation of public transportation to defining appropriate entertainment.  Individuals are not allowed to defend themselves, their homes, their families, but instead must trust in the State to adequately protect them. Healthcare, childcare, working hours, utilization of natural resources, the use of crude language in the media, each is regulated by the British government.  This kind of government-bred mass helplessness has turned Britain into a culture of mindless fear above all other emotions, and has put in place all the necessary tools that will enable Big Brother to ascend to power. In modern-day England, it makes all too much sense why George Orwell could imagine, 40 years before their implementation, the use of CCTV cameras on every streetcorner, outside every place of work, within every shop; and it makes all too much sense why Britons, weighted down by the EU, UN, and the restrictions of so many of their personal freedoms, are powerless to effect any change.
    Were they Americans, the country would be, quite literally, up in arms.

   But.  We live in a peaceful world--of course we do.  There has been no need for households to own firearms, or regulate their own television viewing, or decide how large a meal they want from a fast food establishment since 1945 (nevermind 1984).  In our society, there is really no need for nuclear missiles, or a defence budget--as long as we keep a close enough eye on our citizens, comply with other countries' governments, and convince the rest of the world to disarm as well.  Once that happens, everything will be fine, all the countries of the world will get on splendidly, and none of us will mind the little box in the corner that monitors our every spoken word.  And if we do, well . . . Room 101 is only a government project away.

The End

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