Firstly I’ll introduce the two novels as I know that some of you haven’t read both of them, 1984 was written in 1948 so it is meant to be a dystopian future, a dystopia being the opposite of a utopia. It focuses on the life of Winston who is trying to rebel against the totalitarian society he lives in. He thinks that there must be a better way to live as he thinks for himself, unlike most of the party. The Kite runner is about Amir and his life journey as he tries to right the wrongs of his past, but it also about Afghanistan and its culture and some of its history, this gives us, the western world a great insight into a country that we would normally immediately think of badly.
What is a society? Well there are several definitions of a society, one definition that I found is “mankind considered as a whole”, whilst another definition was “the rich, privileged and fashionable social class” I think that a society is a mix of these things, it’s the world we live in and the ideas and culture we have as a country. The kite runner and 1984 are both about society, it is a pivotal theme in the books, helping to set the scene for us and give us an inside view on an alien world as it were.
Well in 1984 you could say that the society is defined as my second definition, the fashionable elite, these being the party and big brother, the proles aren’t counted as society, and they’re just a resource the party has at its disposal. Only party members count as the society, the proles don’t even have their own society as they have no sense of self awareness or thought, they are the dumb masses. The proles take up about 85% of the population in airstrip one, and probably all of Oceania, yet they are just seen as another resource to the party, they are like cattle, just a supply of labour that’s easy to control. Orwell does use a lot of metaphors in his writing that are normally to do with animals, “Her powerful mare like buttocks protruded.” This describes the Prole woman who sings outside the antique shop, comparing her to a horse, showing that proles are generally strong and placid creatures.
But what about the society in the kite runner, well at the start the society seems quite fair, you have Amir in a nice big house, living in the Wazir Akbar khan district, the wealthy part of Kabul, he goes to school, people are generally treated quite well, the society is quite biased though as Pashtuns are the hierarchy and hazaras have the more menial kind of jobs, Hassan and Ali being servants to Amir and Baba. But even though they are servants Baba treats Ali and Hassan well, much better than other Pashtuns treated hazaras. But then, when the Taliban gain control of the society it turns to being very similar to that of 1984, the Taliban seem to emphasise the role of Pashtuns being the one in control and the Hazaras are treated worse than before. The hazaras are the equivalent of the proles.
The society in 1984 is twisted, the novel is after all about a dystopian future, and this society is fuelled by war, this leaves the entirety of Oceania, as well as Eurasia and Eastasia under a constant stress, stopping any other society from forming as the people are all too taken up in the war to think that they are treated unfairly or that they could have a better life. Everything is controlled by the only society, the party and Big Brother. The only other social groups are the junior spies and the anti sex league, and other groups that are already controlled by the party and only help to fuel support for the party, as well as helping the party to find any thought criminals or people that thought for themselves.
This is similar to the Taliban regime in the kite runner, the Taliban only came to power because of war and when they first came to power Rahim Khan says “They were heroes.” The people in Afghanistan supported them because they got rid of Showari, the afghan word used for the Russians who had been oppressing Afghanistan previously. In kite runner the Taliban regime is the only social group really allowed, people couldn’t even gather in large groups when the Taliban were in power, unless it was an organised gathering that was supporting the Taliban.
In 1984 the society controls the entire lives of all party members, and limits the lives of the proles. Inner party members get luxuries, they have real coffee and tea, they get chocolate and O’Brien even has a butler. Outer party members are given rations of victory products which are poorly made, such as the victory gin that’s described as being oily and is compared to nitric acid, and victory cigarettes, which Winston, and I quote, “incautiously held it upright, where upon the tobacco fell out onto the floor”, these poorly made products are what the outer party members get so what the proles get to live on must be worse. In the kite runner the Taliban eat meat, they have whatever they can take, a good example of this is Assef going to the orphanage and taking children, they could do what they wanted because no one was going to stop them, the Pashtun survive on vegetables and the rare scrap of meat, attempting to live a normal life and the hazaras get whatever they can, those that were alive that is, Rahim Khan tells Amir, “in 1998, they massacred the hazaras.”
It wasn’t just food that was controlled though in either society, there was also the control through violence. In the kite runner you have the stoning of a man and woman who have committed adultery, this is done in front of a stadium of people who watch until “the man in the hole was now a mangled mess of blood and shredded rags.” This shows control through violence it is done in a stadium full of people for mass effect, the more people you expose then the more control you have. You also have the beating of Farzana, Hassan’s wife when she spoke to loudly in the street, this also shows the oppression of woman under men that happened during Taliban run Afghanistan. In 1984 people are taken away in the night by the secret police, they vanish like Syme who was working on the newspeak dictionary did, he seemed to have too much of a mind of his own, this is a hidden violence which is a constant threat to people who act as an individual or do anything to go against the party.
Although the threat of the secret police is more of an unconscious awareness, party members knew about them and thoughtcrime but to think about that could be seen as thoughtcrime, this is an example of doublethink, holding to contradictory thoughts in your head at one time, believing both. People knew that party members were taken away by the thought police but they also knew that they had never been, as the party told them. You also have the constant show of violence in the public hangings which control the people of the party’s emotions by being the one of the only emotional outlets they have, as well as the minutes hate, this also strengthens the bond party member have to the party, they are seeing physical evidence of the war being won, or so it seems.
Another similarity between the two societies is the conformity that people had to have, they had to fit in and be a nobody. In the kite runner this is the Beard patrols by the Talibs, men had to have a beard that was the size of their fist, as well as the burkha having to be worn by women outside the house, this conformity makes people feel more like they are part of a society, even if they hate it, it also means they are more likely to go along with other rules and regulations.
In 1984 this was the minutes hate, every party member did it and it forced people to be a part of the society, instead of being individuals, they also had to wear work overalls which were the same as each others, again making people look the same, this would make people feel part of a team. The only people who didn’t have to conform were the outcasts, the proles had to be placid and do whatever the party called on them for, but apart from that they were pretty much free to do what they wanted, everything they did was controlled by the party, so the party knew everything they did, even if the proles thought otherwise. In the kite runner the hazaras don’t have to conform, they are completely outcast and below the law. The Taliban had tried to get rid of them completely, any surviving hazaras were in hiding.
But with all these similarities it would seem that the Taliban regime was almost the same as INGSOC, the society in 1984. Many people have read Orwell’s novel as a warning for the future, as it was written more than thirty years before it was set. But what happened in Afghanistan, and the similar things that go on in other countries are real, they aren’t fiction and we know all about them, we hear and see these things on a daily basis. So have we overlooked Orwell’s warning, is it all starting to come true? Could the UK be next, or the world? Only time will tell. Thanks for listening, any questions?