Book #11: 1984
What will the world look like in 40 years?
Difficult question, yes? No one really can answer with certainty. And, if we try to answer, more than likely we’re going to come up with some goofy, off-base version of the future that, in 40 years, will be over the top and lame. Kind of like The Jetsons or those rides at Epcot.
One of the most powerful aspects of George Orwell’s 1984 is that the novel, though set in 1984 and written in the 1940s, illustrates a world that still could be our future. 1984 doesn’t seem dated or cheesy. It still seems possible. And that’s scary.
Even the technological aspects of the novel–such as the infamous telescreen, a screen in everyone’s home that sees almost everything–doesn’t seem that off the mark. If the world of 1984 existed today, telescreens might be replaced by microchips and GPS devices, but telescreens still seem plausible.
This is a dystopian novel–simply meaning it’s a warning signal that society’s future could be this way if we continue with the status quo. As government gets bigger and bigger and the power of technology becomes increasingly prominent–and more invasive–could the world of Oceania in 1984 be a reality 100 years from now? For the sake of our grandkids and great grandkids, I hope not.
So, let’s briefly recap the scariness: Winston Smith is Orwell’s main man. The story follows him as he fights an unwinnable battle against Big Brother and his minions in The Party and the Thought Police.
He lives in a society where all evidence of truth and fact is routinely thrown down a “memory hole” and transformed into ashes. Individuality is non-existent. Everyone dresses the same, looks relatively the same, eats the same food (no lemons!), says the same words (Newspeak), goes to bed and awakes at the same time.
There are no such things as friends or families. The only purpose of sex is to create more Party followers. Children are easy to indoctrinate, so The Party focuses much of their efforts on kids, making the children in 1984 a wicked little group.
The purpose of The Party, of Oceania, is pure power…to dominate their citizens and the other two countries. As the intimidating O’ Brien says, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face–forever.” Is that a Toby Keith redneck song lyric?
It’s doubtful that many books have influenced our society like 1984 has. Everyday jargon like groupthink, doublethink, Big Brother, “the man,” all of it comes from Orwell’s novel in one way or another.
Speaking of language: Newspeak was a language developed by The Party to wipe out “Old English” and simplify human language, making humans stupider and less individualistic.
Though the novel’s story ends on a down note, the appendix entitled “The Principles of Newspeak” reveal a few interesting points. Thomas Pynchon points out these issues in his foreword to the book:
“The Principles of Newspeak” is written in the past tense, as if to suggest some later piece of history, post 1984, in which Newspeak has become literally a thing of the past–as if in some way the anonymous author of this piece is by now free to discuss, critically and objectively, the political system of which Newspeak was, in its time, the essence.
Did revolution happen? Was Winston’s efforts not in vain after all? We’ll never know, but the appendix in 1984 provides a glimmer of hope that didn’t seem to exist when we last see Winston Smith at the end of the story.
As far as Orwell’s writing style–it’s tight and clean. If you read my earlier post, you know Orwell hates fluff and his writing style is reflective of that. Every word is purposeful and straightforward. It’s refreshing and easy to read.
1984 is yet another true classic in this 101 book journey. I can’t even try to put this masterpiece into perspective. Though the novel is, of course, fiction, it somehow still seems real–or, at least, like it could easily become real.
1984 was 26 years ago, but 1984 is as relevant as ever.
Opening Line: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansion, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.”
The Meaning: 1984: A view of the world where government has complete control to do whatever it desires and human beings are nothing but pawns to complete its purpose. What Big Brother wants, Big Brother gets. And Big Brother wants power. Lots of it.
Highlights: The glimpses into the humanity of Winston Smith were refreshing. In a sterile, angry, and untrustworthy world, Winston manages to still fall in love and briefly imagine a life outside of the eyes of Big Brother. In Winston Smith, Orwell created a perfect protagonist for this novel.
Lowlights: Goldstein’s book interrupted the flow of the novel in my opinion. These pages served a purpose and explained a lot of the background, but they could have been a little shorter, maybe? Who am I to question George Orwell, though.
Memorable Line: To set up this line, know that, in Oceania, even simple math problems are not considered truth unless The Party approves them. ”Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.” – Winston Smith
Final Thoughts: If you’re a conspiracy theorist, don’t read this novel–because you’ll get even more paranoid. If you think our government is currently too big, read this to give you perspective. 1984 really is an outstanding classic. I’m glad I can finally mark this one as read. If you haven’t read 1984, it’s your turn.
Up Next: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen