Orwell Versus Tolkien: Good and Evil Part One


Post by nebcanuck, Stephen’s son: Orwell Versus Tolkien is a series of posts which seek to compare key components of the worldviews presented in Orwell’s 1984 and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings by considering excerpts in tandem.

Having established the core of the worldviews in both 1984 and The Lord of the Rings, it’s now worth considering what some of the implications of these worldviews are. The first I’d like to look at is each author’s depiction of Good and Evil throughout their novel. Each of these depictions bears the mark of the worldview. And each presents a clear difficulty for the respective worldview to overcome.

Running with the idea that Orwell does not intend the reader to ascribe to the Party’s arguments, I put forth that he was actually attempting to advocate for a naturalistic humanistic worldview. Both portions of this worldview are necessary albeit not directly linked. The perspectives established thus far, concerning man and hope, are essentially derived from naturalism. To say that man has a conscious and subconscious mind is not a judgment of character, but a mere observation of natural phenomena. A naturalistic perspective ultimately reduces all fact to the present, which I argued became a hurdle in establishing any sort of hope within humanity. But it is here, in the consideration of Good and Evil that Orwell really begins to demonstrate his humanistic inclination, rather than his naturalistic one. Naturalism in its brute form does not contain morality, as has been pointed out in past comments. But humanism is a moral position. And it holds that certain actions are good, while others are evil.

Consider this excerpt:

“Do you believe in God, Winston?”


“Then what is it, this principle that will defeat us?”

“I don’t know. The spirit of Man.”

“And do you consider yourself a man?”


“If you are a man, Winston, you are the last man. Your kind is extinct; we are the inheritors. Do you understand that you are alone? You are outside history, you are non-existent.” His manner changed and he said more harshly: “And you consider yourself morally superior to us, with our lies and our cruelty?”

“Yes, I consider myself superior.”

O’Brien did not speak. Two other voices were speaking. After a moment, Winston recognised one of them as his own. It was a sound-track of the conversation he had had with O’Brien, on the night when he had enrolled himself in the Brotherhood. He heard himself promising to lie, to steal, to forge, to murder, to encourage drug-taking and prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases, to throw vitriol in a child’s face. O’Brien made a small impatient gesture, as though to say that the demonstration was hardly worth making. Then he turned a switch and the voices stopped.

As one can see, there are some difficulties with concepts of good and evil. Orwell seeks to establish Winston as the better person, morally. The book, in my opinion anyways, genuinely conjures up emotions of sympathy and camaraderie for Winston within readers. When he is oppressed, we, too, feel oppressed. When he and Julia are tempting fate for love’s sake, one cannot help but feel that this is a moral stand against the regime. When Winston looks down upon the prole woman in the courtyard and notes the fact that her hardened, aging body is a good and beautiful thing, we agree wholeheartedly, even as we struggle to reject that part of us that finds plastic surgery and youth aesthetically pleasing. And at this scene, when Winston is in the middle of being tortured for having lived a full life, his courage in defense of the “Spirit of Man” is praiseworthy! How can one not feel some connection with Winston in the face of O’Brien and the Party?

But, inevitably, the entire scene crashes in around us as O’Brien’s logic works its magic. Always with the quiet, perfectly-honed response, O’Brien shatters those illusions which Winston holds dear. The Spirit of Man exists even amongt the collective. (Your kind is extinct). This principle will defeat the Party? (You are alone). Right and wrong, good and evil, exist! (You, and thus they, are non-existent). In a world which is entirely physical, and under the control of one omnipotent force, nothing can be contrary to it. Morality, as a concept, ceases to exist outside of the Party.

The only possible response? Destroy the Party! If it can be destroyed, then surely that is a sign that morality can overcome power! And yet, this hope, too, becomes caught in its own contradictions. Winston, so excited to see the Party fall, agreed to join the Brotherhood in a full-fledged resistance. He was willing to do anything — with the exception of betraying Julia — to see Right and Wrong restored. To have man returned to his peaceful state. To see love, life, liberty, and happiness become permissible again. But, in promising to resort to any tactics necessary, he promised away his moral high ground.

This is an age-old battle for humanism. A classic example: the Black Rights movement in the United States was divided along these lines, with men like Martin Luther King Jr. paralleled by groups like the Black Panthers.  More recently, Obama appealed to the Middle East to relinquish its right to use any means necessary to reject Western influence, and Dr. George Tiller was recently murdered for his abortion practices, which was immediately rejected by Albert Mohler and other pro-life members. For members of each movement, whether Black Rights, Pro-Palestine, or Pro-Life, there is a difficult position to be taken. Do you accept abuse, and potentially jeopardize your ability to see results in favour of your cause? Or do you lose any traditional sense of morality and begin attacking with everything you have in your arsenal?

In each of these cases, though, a limited degree of freedom was still held by the population. Non-violent tactics actually have an impact in these contexts. In Winston’s, on the other hand, it is very clear that even quiet resistance, in the form of romantic relationships, leads to dire consequences.

Will this extreme scenario ever be faced? It’s impossible to say. But this is a premium difficulty for anyone who wants to hold onto both naturalism and humanism, and I believe Orwell himself struggles with this fact. To suggest that there is no good or evil outside of man (no “God”, that is) means that any morality is essentially relativistic. But one man’s relative good (killing a kid to take down the Party) is another man’s evil. And when two men disagree about morality, and there is no objective judge, might inevitably makes right, whether that might is a gun or a simple majority vote.

To keep these posts shorter, the next Orwell Versus Tolkien will consider Christianity’s own struggles with Good and Evil, as in Tolkien’s writing…


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