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Defining Evil In 1984 And Heart Of Darkness

1937 words (8 pages) Essay in English Literature

02/05/17 English Literature Reference this

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Evil, exactly what is Evil? Evil as I see it is an abstract concept that is commonly defined by our own moral values. Evil exists within each person in one degree or another as a slightly varying variation on one basic definition: that evil is anything or anyone that could be deemed “wicked”, “tending to harm”, “unpleasant” or “particularly villainous” (from Oxford Dictionary). Evil is a relative term and largely interdependent on the accepted moral code of society or the nation itself. In order to prove this argument, one can simply look 100 years earlier in any given society or location. A large part of what is acceptable in today’s society would be defined as evil by the previous society. An evil person is supposedly capable of all wrong that breaks any conceivable moral code of conduct. It is rare that anything other than physical action may exist in such fashion as to gain connotations of evil; that is to say that an object is rarely seen as evil: it is an intensely human trait (such as the “torture” in “Room 101” [1] and violence in the Congo). With these examples, we can see that it is the individuals involved in any political system that are able to embody evil. In truth, we see that most aspects of evil are performed on an individual basis. However, Evil is taken to an entirely different level when it is performed by individuals on behalf of “society” or for a particular political system. It is often the supporters or the leaders that are personified as being evil and not the underlying ideas or the actual system itself. The system is simply seen as merely “dark”, “oppressive” or “brooding” [1].

Gene M. Moore in his criticism of “Heart of Darkness” discusses the changes in critical opinion that “swung like a pendulum from text to context and back again” [2], concerning those who see Kurtz’s condition as “emblematic of the alienation of modern man” [2] to those who focus on the alleged Conrad-supported notion of the “meaningless of supposedly civilized life” [2]. We can also see critic arguments over “1984” that voiced claims that the novel presented an “extended satire of evil”, whilst others entitled it a detailed description of “human fallibility”. In comparing a parable of evil such as that of “Heart Of Darkness” with a presentation of evil, in satirical format, as in “1984” the literary devices that support the themes need to be analyzed to perceive their contribution to the text as a whole and in this case, evil in its entirety.

The language used by both the novel of “1984” and the novella “Heart of Darkness”, engages the reader directly with the themes and symbols of the writing. In everyone’s mind, evil can be described with a certain strain of the language: an “ominous” and “dark” description of malicious intent. This “language of evil” helps to conjure images, which evoke both uneasiness due to the implied conditions and compassion, with regard to the perceived victims, on the part of the reader.

In “1984” there are numerous references to “light and darkness”; from Winston’s references to O’Brien’s reassurance that they would meet in “the place with no darkness” [1], to Winston thoughts concerning the “telescreens” [1]: “in the darkness, where you were safe even from the telescreens so long as you kept silent” [1]. Similar references to “darkness” and “light” are to be found in “Heart of Darkness”, which encapsulates a definite impression suggesting fundamental human “evil” even within the title of the book itself. Indeed, continuing and expanding from the title, the first chapter alone poses an episode of “gloom” and “brooding” where “darkness was here yesterday” [2]. When Marlow states that this “also has been one of the dark places of the earth” [2], he means for no other interpretation than the suggestion of evil with its relation to “darkness” in the reader’s mind. “Darkness” embodies the element of evil within both tales and lends itself to an element of the “supernatural”, particularly with the “moonlight” in “Heart Of Darkness” and the image of a “gloom brooding over a crowd of men” [2], which has definite connotations suggesting an incubus, sinisterly watching their progress. Anything “supernatural” has always been seen as evil or harmful within our society because it is beyond our control and we believe, greater than our own power. Due to this, we feel vulnerable. This vulnerability leads to anxiety which instills a state of fear in our minds.

“Newspeak” [1] is a direct attempt by “Big Brother”, in the second part of Orwell’s novel, to eliminate any words that could be seen as negative. To express “bad” one must use the term “ungood” [1] which in its exact nature only presents a possibility of something which is the opposite of “good”. With no words to express negatives, or extend a negative feeling to evil, can evil even be thought of or described? With no words with which to articulate a belief in the presence of evil, can it be that society in “1984” will simply cease to believe in the evil of inherent in totalitarianism? In this two-sided resistance conveyed within a two-part text, does this “destruction of language” [1] and eradication of negative language foreshadows the ultimate “victory” of evil over Winston and “Oceania” [1] in general?

Common to both texts also are the images of “devils” of “Heart of Darkness” and the underlying imagery of God-like powers of authority. We are told “Big Brother” is “omnipotent” and “omniscient” [1]. In addition, we can see that in most cases, he is also “omnipresent”. This knowledge, combined with the narrative voice where we, the reader, watch over Winston’s every movement and are even privy to his most secret thoughts in a most God-like fashion make “Big Brother” as the “embodiment of INSOC” [1] into a God of Orwell’s “Airstrip One” specifically and “Oceania” as a whole. With the ability to change public opinion within minutes, “destroy language” [1] and “erase the past” [1], “Big Brother” could be seen a little else but the God of “INGSOC”. In a representative way, this links to biblical tradition when Satan was as omnipotent as God and challenged Him. When Satan was cast-out and deemed to eternal unworthiness in the Underworld, he was labeled as truly evil. Could this introduce the notion that absolute power can be viewed as pure evil? Could this apply to totalitarianism in that “Big Brother” too, is pure evil?

The evil incorporated within the essence of totalitarianism and its suppression of society is portrayed in the total restriction of freedom of choice in “1984”. “INGSOC” is dedicated to a lack of compassion: “Everything will be dead inside you. 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 fill you with ourselves.” [4] This is an extremely powerful intimidation. It shows that more than having a lack of compassion, “Big Brother” is dedicated to torturing those who are “enemies of the party” until they are no longer human. As the epitome of “evil” and “nightmare”, “Big Brother” strives to “beat” prisoners to within an inch of their lives, wear them down so much that they hallucinate, lose memory and become a mere “shell” that can be reformed to conform with “The Party”, “not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul”. Not only is this the most daunting proposition possible for the reader, but this behavior is powerfully reminiscent of possession by a “supernatural” force; introducing a secondary level on which the treatment of Winston is seen as evil. In this sense, “1984” can be seen as the ultimate in dystopian societies. Even though this may seem ironic considering “Oceania” is meant as “Big Brother’s” idyllic utopia.

“Big Brother” rules by absolutes. An absolute is a directive or order that must be followed, without question, down to its exact intonation of “tinny” “yellow note” from the “telescreens”. Absolutes encourage depersonalization. Morality is the component that actually helps distinguish people as human. Depersonalization tends to reduce moral conduct through a perceived apparent lack of responsibility that one must suffer for one’s own actions – consequences can be blamed on the orders given and not on personal choice and, in a rather perverse state of affairs, Big Brother’s ruling by absolutes could be seen to condone evil. This facet of depersonalization in “1984” contradicts the madness of Kurtz in “Heart of Darkness”. As madness often arises as a “result of being removed from one’s own social context and allowed to be the sole arbiter of one’s own actions” [5] Madness, and consequently evil, “is thus linked not only to absolute power but to man’s fundamental fallibility” [5]. As Kurtz has no orders to account for his actions, the guilt is entirely his own burden and his evil eventually drives him mad.

This “fundamental fallibility”[2] of man highlighted in “Heart Of Darkness” can be extended to explain Winston’s actions in the concluding part of “1984” when he sacrificed and “betrayed”[1] Julia to save himself from the “nightmare of the rats”[1] in “Room 101″[1]. The tragedy of Winston succumbing to “Big Brother” and accepting unreservedly the ways of “INGSOC”[1] is illustrative of how a person can be made sufficiently weak and fallible as to abandon their true love as much as their values and ideals for which they have lived and risked life for. A direct comparison of this basic defect in people is the “infallibility” [1] of “Big Brother”. This makes it the opposite to people and human nature and ultimately evil in that sense.

The very essence of “INGSOC” is hypocritical. In the same rationale of “The Party” [1] O’Brien states that it is “a dedicated sect doing evil that good might come, sacrificing its own happiness to that of others” [6] before continuing to proclaim; “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others” [1]. This obvious contradiction intimates that deeper hypocrisy is prevalent within the very nature of “INGSOC”. In fact, it is explained that “the Party rejects and vilifies every principle for which the Socialist movement originally stood, and chooses to do this in the name of Socialism” [1]. The foundation of the entire doctrine of “INGSOC” is hypocritical. The “Ministries” [1] are named in almost hypocritical mockery of their true mission: “The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies” [1]. Liked to “Heart of Darkness” we see that in both cases, hypocrisy can often lead to immoral or even evil deeds. In our society today a hypocritical attitude is impossible to be seen as a positive commodity. We extend our values to judge the text and in doing so, condemn all hypocrisy and its outcomes to be one of the sources of evil within each story: we judge hypocrisy itself to be evil and thus, “Big Brother” the quintessence of hypocritical attitudes is viewed as pure, unadulterated evil.

[1] Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Penguin Books Ltd, Signet Classics, 1977

[2] Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Penguin Books Ltd, 1973

[3] MLA: “The Evolution of Totalitarianism by L. Ron Hubbard – On …” .

[4] MLA: “ G. Merritt’s review of Nineteen Eighty-Four.” .

[5] “SparkNotes: Heart of Darkness: Themes, Motifs & Symbols.” .

[6] MLA: “Reader Correction BB.” .

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