“Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed…
…If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.”
For years now I have longed to read George Orwell’s 1984. After studying both Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale and Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange it only seemed fitting that I should pay homage to George Orwell and read the novel of which inspired Atwood and begat a wave of rumination. The author of these three novels construct dystopian societies, limiting the freedom of the protagonists and simultaneously enforcing oppression upon them by the use of the totalitarian theocracy within the government regimes. These prophetic societies act as warnings to the readers, serving to illustrate the didactic purpose intended by the authors. In The Handmaid’s Tale for example Atwood warns the reader of the extremist form that religion can take, combined with a warning of how the feminist movement may be overthrown to create a totalitarian society. Burgess warns the readers of A Clockwork Orange of the dangers when an individual is deprived of the right to choose and the value of such a freedom is underestimated. Orwell too warns his readers of the dangers of totalitarian governments, but he was particularly interested in portraying the dangers to the rise of communism in conjunction with the use of technology to control the lives of citizens.
To the 1949 readers, Orwell’s 1984 was intended to act as a possible future. The reader is able to learn about the protagonist, Winston, by observing his idiosyncrasies, relationships and personal values, all of which contributes towards his identity and the reader’s perception of it within the context of the dystopian genre. The ultimate aim for society is to be a utopia; but Orwell has created a world of oppression where the freedom to do the things we take for granted is denied. The past holds great significance in 1984; it is used by Big Brother as a means of control and the digressions in the narrative allow the reader to learn not only about Winston but also the discrepancies and flaws in the claims of the political party. The party intends to control not only the present but the past and the future. This is accomplished by rewriting history and eradicating anything that does not work in the favour of justifying the actions of the party in the present. The manipulation of the past ties in with ‘doublethink’ and the psychological manipulation of the population controlled by Big Brother. Information given is swallowed without being questioned even though memories can prove the facts are not true. Together, the memories of the citizens can bring down the party but the fear embedded within the society is too great.
Telescreens are used as a surveillance device to watch everyone at all times and even the thoughts of citizens living under the regime are monitored by the thought police. Language is yet another form of control. The party aims to shrink the English language and by 2050 it is expected that Newspeak will have completely engrossed Oldspeak, and the English language as it was known in 1984 will have become archaic. Newspeak eliminates words that they deem unnecessary and therefore limits thoughts, ideas and the way people are able to express themselves. The idea behind this is that the party will be able to stay in power since there will be no thoughts of rebellion and hence no acts of rebellion. In a world where ‘War is Peace, Freedom is slavery and Ignorance is Strength’ Big Brother differentiate themselves from other totalitarian governments such as the Russian Communists in that they will not make the mistake of creating martyrs. The dead men killed by the Russians became martyrs despite the public humiliation and torture they were put through and according to the Party there was a reason for this. ‘In the first place, because the confessions that they had made were obviously extorted and untrue. We do not make mistakes of that kind. All the confessions that are uttered here are true. We make them true. And above all we do not allow the dead to rise up against us. You must stop imagining that posterity will vindicate you, Winston. Posterity will never hear of you. You will be lifted clean out from the stream of history. We shall turn you into gas and pour you into the stratosphere. Nothing will remain of you, not a name in a register, not a memory in a living brain. You will be annihilated in the past as well as in the future. You will never have existed.’
Although written for the audience of 1949; 1984 is certainly appealing to today’s audience regardless of your political stance. The narrative is incredibly engaging and I believe this is a book everyone should read. The events unfolded will surely stay with you a long time as well as the haunting slogan of the party ‘War is Peace, Freedom is slavery and Ignorance is Strength’ and the twisted ending to the novel. Orwell succeeds in building up the hope of the reader along with that of the protagonist, Winston’s. There are symbols littered throughout the narrative, and the singing of the lady he repeatedly hears outside the window can be seen as a symbol of hope and freedom albeit false hope. The is no dystopic novel quite like Orwell’s and if you enjoy this genre then this novel would without a doubt be enjoyable to you. What is most stunning about 1984 is the debt of which Orwell has created not only a society but a world in which he was developed structured economies and governments unlike most other dystopic novels. The layers in the narrative are far more complexed than the political face value, psychology is a key theme and relativism and morality are brought to the readers attention leaving your mind tickled with thoughts, questions and a sense of awareness.