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
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.
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.
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.