1984: A Novel, unleashes a unique plot as per which No One is Safe or Free. No place is safe to run or even hide from a dominating party leader, Big Brother, who is considered equal to God. This is a situation where everything is owned by the State. The world was seeing the ruins of World War II. Leaders such as Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini prevailed during this phase. Big Brother is always watching your actions. He even controls everyone’s feelings of love, to live and to discover. The basic plot of this historic novel revolves around the concept that no person has freedom to live life on his or her own terms. The present day is 1984.
The whole world is gradually changing. The nations which enjoy freedom, have distorted into unpleasant and degraded places, in turn creating a powerful cartel known as Oceania. This is the world where the Big Brother controls everything. There is another character Winston Smith, who is leading a normal layman life under these harsh circumstances, though hating all of this. He works on writing the old newspaper articles in order to make history or past relevant to today’s party line.
He is efficient enough in spite of hating his bosses. Julia, a young girl who is morally very rigid comes into the fore. She too hates the system as much as Winston does. Gradually, they get into an affair but have to conceal their feelings for each other, as it will not be acceptable by Big Brother. In Big Brother’s bad world, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.
Written in the year 1948 and first published in 1949, George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was originally designed as a satire of Stalinism. Like many of his contemporaries, George Orwell was distraught by the Soviet Union’s increasingly totalitarian interpretation of communism. The Soviet Union would collapse in 1991, of course, and communism plays a marginal role at best in today’s world. So how come Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell is currently enjoying a resurgence of popularity? How come it feels more and more relevant in a world dominated by capitalism rather than communism?
The fictional world of Nineteen Eighty-Four is under complete control of The Party and its mythical head, Big Brother. Privacy no longer exists: “Big Brother is watching you” – always. Data is collected, minds are molded, consent is manufactured. So-called “telescreens” monitor every facial expression and record every spoken word, tirelessly looking for “thoughtcrimes“ while simultaneously broadcasting a never-ending stream of propaganda. No other source of information is available, so the loss of privacy comes with a loss of history and political agency.
The Party is even in the process of developing what it calls “newspeak,” a stripped-down, ultimately impotent version of the English language that – through the reduction of grammar and vocabulary – renders subversive ideas unthinkable. Until “newspeak” takes over, “doublethink” ensures that those little inconsistencies between reality and the claims made by Big Brother (claims such as “ignorance is strength” or “freedom is slavery” or “2+2=5”) do not feel problematic in the slightest.
And even if they did, fabricated telescreen reports on what is portrayed as a brutal global war keep the masses in a perpetual state of fear that makes rebellion highly unlikely. Conveniently, this pseudo-war can also be used to justify the elimination of civil rights and liberties. And if there is someone somewhere who somehow manages to resist all this propaganda and surveillance (someone who, like our protagonist, manages to think an independent thought), Big Brother takes the old iron fist out of his pocket and enforces conformity through imprisonment and torture.
In today’s world, the scope, sophistication and effectiveness of propaganda and surveillance have long surpassed anything George Orwell could have imagined in 1948. It is not the Communist Party that controls those endeavours, of course, but largely commercial enterprise (with a little help from the politicians it buys).
1984 by George Orwell portrays, with what now seems like terrifying accuracy a near future extreme totalitarian society and it is a novel that is as pertinent today as never before. In an age of ‘fake news’ ‘counter-fake news’ where truth is increasingly in question, a commodity to be perverted according to need, George Orwell’s 1984 reads like an increasingly and frighteningly accurate portrayal of what was then – a possible future and now a possible present.
Orwell’s concepts of thoughtcrime, doublethink, newspeak, sexcrime, the thought police, along with the wholesale and habitual use of propaganda, the deletion and re-writing of the news/history (‘he who controls the future controls the past’) – historical revisionism, is all just so brilliantly conceived and executed and lest we forget, George Orwell wrote 1984 in year 1949. If it had not been so brilliantly executed, 1984 by George Orwell would undoubtedly have become very clichéd, tired and dated over the subsequent decades – which quite clearly it hasn’t.
What George Orwell has created in 1984 is simply one of the greatest short novels in the English language ever written, let alone one of the most influential – both in literary and cultural terms. The characters of Winston, Julia and O’Brien, Room 101, the surrounding events, the world of Oceania, Ingsoc and the Party remain seared into the readers’ memory with startling effectiveness long after the last page has been turned.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is an outstandingly (in every sense of the word) powerful, thought-provoking, compelling, engaging portrait of an all too feasible near future. Parallels in history are clearly there to see – the National Socialism of Hitler, the Communism of Stalin to name but two – showing us the absolute feasibility of such a world. The way that Orwell writes of the manipulation and creation / management of mass hysteria, the instillation and perpetuation of xenophobia and the unquestioning and blind allegiance to the ‘Party’ has such a feeling of authenticity and is all done so effectively and unbelievably well.