I came across an interesting comment a few weeks back.
It was when Game of Thrones’ aired “The Bells.” In it, Daenerys Targaryen took a dark, lethal turn. Many fans found it to be shocking. Some called it sexist, where others interpreted it to be realistic and in tune with Martin’s story. Yet this comment I came past- on YouTube- said something interesting. Us fans expected a Marxist story out of Daenerys, yet we got an Orwell one. This comment fascinated me. Sadly, I didn’t screenshot the comment.
Meaning: Daenerys’ arc is more in line with Orwell’s style of writing and worldview, in comparison to Marxist schools of thought.
Now, what I said may be confusing if you are unfamiliar with the terms ‘Orwellian’ and ‘Marxism’. I’ll outline what those terms mean. This article will read better if you are familiar with the plot and themes of 1984.
Orwellian refers to a situation, idea, course of action that Orwell identifies as being destructive to a free society. Hallmarks of Orwell’s writing- irony, bitter endings, satire, high-concepts (doublethink, wrongthink) will play a role in an ‘Orwellian’ interpretation of a text.
When you are reading a book that is ‘Orwellian’- chances are, many plotlines have grim endings, and you are constantly alert about the dangers in the book. This is because George Orwell wants you to see the world as it is. There is little pretense with Orwell. He argues that the desire for progress and revolution can lead to dictatorships and harmful power structures.
Because of that, Orwellian encourages the reader to think about ‘progress’ and whether or not it can be trusted. Orwellian is strongly against totalitarianism and advocates for individual liberties.
Marxism, on the other hand, is a highly established theory in universities. To quote Professor Eagleton:
Its aim is to explain the literary work more fully; and this means a sensitive attention to its forms, styles and, meanings. But it also means grasping those forms, styles and meanings as the product of a particular history.
However, literary Marxism can be understood in clearer terms.
The simplest goals of Marxist literary criticism can include an assessment of the political ‘tendency’ of a literary work, determining whether its ‘progressive’. It includes analyzing the class constructs that are demonstrated in the literature. It also attempts to analyze the narrative of class struggle.Thanks, Wikipedia.
I hope that gives a clear definition of the terms ‘Orwellian’ and ‘Marxism.’ A Marxist would look at Game of Thrones, note any unprogressive material. This is to deconstruct the politics of the text. This may extend into ‘interrogating’ the author and his intentions.
An example of media that has a ‘Marxist’ interpretation would be The Matrix. We follow the adventures of “Neo” who has learned he is part of a larger machine that controls him. The only way he can ‘be free’ is through rebellion and revolution. Therefore, The Matrix represents Marxism.
Karl Marx writes about the forces of capitalism (the larger machine). He also wrote about eliminating class-based resentment (Neo) through drastic means (rebellion and revolution). Because of that, The Matrix is an example of Marxism in cinema.
1984 by George Orwell is the best example, of well, Orwellian literature. The protagonist Winston is overseen by a controlling government that controls peoples thoughts. The novel ends with him psychologically and physically scarred and dependent on the regime. Orwell satirizes revolution frequently in his work. Because of that, there is no epic moment of Winston gaining victory. Orwell argues that for an individual to be truly free- they must not be under oppressive governance, or ‘thought control.’
It’s no wonder that Orwell is used as an argument for liberty- such as freedom of expression, speech, trade, movement as well as an open, free economy. Marxism, however, argues for economic equality and is anti-capitalist in nature.
Back to Daenerys Targaryen! Here’s what I think.
She’s a character written with Marxist undertones. We see this from her desire to free slaves from corrupt workers. She promises ‘fire and blood’ through revolutions and uprisings. This was explicit in the fourth season. Here, she inspired the slaver’s to raise against their masters.
However, her story does not have a Marxist ending. After she has ‘freed’ the people of King’s Landing, she gives a speech, voicing her intention to liberate the masses. As Tyrion Lannister puts it:
She liberated the people of Slaver’s Bay. She liberated the people of King’s Landing. And she’ll go on liberating until the people of the world are free and she rules them all.Episode: 8×06 “The Iron Throne*
The Marxist interpretation of ‘liberation’ is given a sinister light in Game of Thrones. Honestly, it would make George Orwell proud. Daenerys’ actions in the last two episodes of the show are villainous and scary. Because of that, I’d argue that Daenerys started off as a Marxist hero. However, she ended up as the villain Orwell would warn us about. Overall, I’d argue that Daenerys has always been power-hungry and full of vengeance. A Marxist would highlight the importance of ‘progress’ whilst Orwell would be mortified of it.
I don’t blame people for thinking Daenerys was going to belong in a Marxist narrative. After all, Marxism literary analysis is prominent in academic circles. Chances are, a Marxist taught you English literature in school or university. Orwellian concepts have never been fleshed out as their own theory. I believe this is a shame- Orwell’s ideas are brilliant.
This meta got long, yet I hope I highlighted what Marxism and Orwellian is. While there is plenty of information about Marxism, there was few about ‘Orwelliian’ examples in literary analysis. So I had to use my imagination a bit. I think George Orwell’s influence can be seen in Daenerys Targaryen. Orwell would be cynical towards Daenerys and her promises, whereas a Marxist may be more generous. If they aren’t, the Marxist will label Daenerys’ progression as false or unfair.
Therefore, the arc of Daenerys Targaryen will interest the Marxist and Orwell- reader. However, this is for contrasting reasons. Either way, the fandom discussions are interesting to think about.
What do you think about George Orwell and Karl Marx? How about Daenerys Targaryen? Comment below! Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.