Classics: 1984 by George Orwell

Hi, friends. Today’s well-known classic seems to grow more relevant with time. [Though it’s ironic to think that both liberals and conservatives could read that sentence and think “Yep!” for different reasons.] In my opinion, circumstances change, but people don’t!

1984 by George Orwell

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At the start of this dystopian fiction (published in 1949), our protagonist, Winston Smith, returns home from another day at work. The general atmosphere is dingy, dark, and overall oppressive. The narrator drops many phrases the reader will come to understand: “Thought Police,” “Big Brother,” “Ministry of Truth,” “the Party,” “Newspeak,” etc. When Winston arrives home, he tries to hide from the telescreen as he writes a journal entry. Before he even forms a word on the paper, he senses his imminent doom.

1984 movie

In this novel, “The Party” (which rules “Oceania”) has turned people into illogical but loyal robots. “Orthodox” Party members love what they’re told to love, hate what they’re told to hate, and believe what they’re told to believe; if they’re told to love something today which they were told to hate yesterday, they must believe they have always loved it. Memory cannot exist. Individuality cannot exist. The party’s motto is “War Is Peace. Freedom Is Slavery. Ignorance Is Strength.”

Winston works in the Record Department where he alters history by editing previous publications to match/confirm the state of things in the present. If Oceania is currently warring with Eurasia, every article that ever stated otherwise (like Oceania being at war with Eastasia instead) must be “corrected.”

Winston begins to have “unorthodox” thoughts and compulsions–remembering “untruths” aka parts of history that have been altered, yearning to decipher reality from propaganda, etc. With the telescreens and Thought Police detecting any form of rebellion down to an unacceptable flash of the eyes, Winston lives in fear. He suspects that certain coworkers might share his thoughts, but with his every move being monitored, Winston must determine how far he is willing to risk his life to recover his sanity.

Additional Details

George Orwell
George Orwell

By 1989, 1984 had been translated to 65 other languages, which broke a record at the time.

Orwell once said that the novel aims to imagine a communist (specifically Stalinist) government taking over an English-speaking country. Most of the symbols and images in 1984 tie back to the Soviet Union and/or wartime in Great Britain. The same is true of Animal Farm, which he wrote five years earlier. Both novels have impacted our culture greatly; phrases and images from both novels are still referenced in politics and entertainment. Both novels have been banned during totalitarian rule in various countries. China is one example.

Orwell didn’t support capitalism or communism, but he supported democracy.

A film version was released in 1984; it has an 81% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Thanks for reading! Have you read 1984 or its predecessor Animal Farm? They are short reads and so worth the effort.

23 comments

  1. With such extremes today on both the left and on the right, this is important to not only remember, but to guard against. Freedom is precious and freedom is also information, at least in reference to history and who we are. We should not succumb to ignornance when we have a mind and the ‘good stuff’ right there as weapons against mis-education. It all begins with the discipline of our minds. I would urge all of us to wake up and see what we see and ot hear what we hear and write it all down.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You’re right, Tom, that there are extremes on all sides nowadays. We could have more productive conversations if we quit fighting culture wars and started trying to see things without bias. You’re right that we have weapons to fight ignorance. Christians have scripture to guide them. Everyone has access to knowledge via the internet, but many won’t take the time to research.

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      1. Lily,
        At least part of people refusing to research is the fact that many are engaged in social media and or online games. This is at least true for the millenniums. Others leave it to preachers to provide whatever information they think is necessary or needed. What you and I are advocating that people take a personal commitment in pursuit of truth and real knowledge. In this case we are speaking of spiritual knowledge. I think this is what it meant when the Scriptures said that my people perish for lack of knowledge.
        Consequently there are all kinds of knowledges just as they’re all types of wisdom. Yet you and I realize there’s only one true wisdom that comes from God and God alone. What all this really comes down to is a commitment and spiritual discipline. In the long run of things it’s really not rocket science board is made clear in the Scriptures. I suppose nothing really has changed for it was probably the same in the days of Jesus. And by the same virtue and means that bloggers like you and I are needed to continue to attempt to wake people up. All this to the true glory of God.

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  2. I remember reading 1984 in high school and loved it so much I bought my own copy. I’ve always been fond of it and appreciated the message behind it.
    From a Christian perspective, 1984 is really interesting. There is this one part of the novel that I’ll always remember (from page 270 in my version) that, perhaps unintentionally, explains why Winston became a slave to The Party in the end:
    “Do you believe in God, Winston?”
    “No.”
    “Then what is it, this principle that will defeat us?”
    “I don’t know. The spirit of Man.”
    “Do you consider yourself a man?”
    “Yes.”
    “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 nonexistent.”
    I kept thinking, if only Winston had made that connection, that God is actually sovereign over all things, and The Party’s power can never even touch His, then he would have won – goodness would have won. In the end, the spirit of man is weak, as Winston’s defeat shows, but the Spirit of God can make us strong. Orwell may not have intended to demonstrate this when he wrote 1984 (he apparently didn’t view Christianity too favorably), but it seems clear to me that believing in God would have been Winston’s last chance, and that by rejecting Him and choosing instead to believe in the strength of fallible mankind, he failed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, thank you for your comment, Ada! This is a brilliant and poignant analysis. “The spirit of Man” is the part of us created in God’s image that yearns for communion with Him, but that spirit is weakened by sin. The Holy Spirit supplements our human inadequacies. God is the only thing that could’ve been bigger than the Party, and as you say, man alone couldn’t defeat it.

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  3. These were both required reading when I was in HIgh School. Enjoyed them both. Seems many of the things from 1984 are coming to pass today, as some want to control what can be said, and ultimately even what can be thought. We see history being erased around us as some vocal group or another declares some part of history to be “offensive.”

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