It can sometimes take a while for a book to grab your attention; 1984 is not one of those. If you’ve ever been concerned about privacy, ever questioned political systems or given surveillance a thought, this book will get you hooked pretty early on (I’m not gonna lie though, it also lost me towards the end).
I was in the process of writing this when I found out that sales of 1984 have actually surged since Kellyanne Conway (D. Trump’s advisor) used the expression “alternative facts”. Say what? There is no such thing. You can watch the excerpt here. And so it seems that newspeak* has become a reality.
*Newspeak is the name Orwell used to represent the official language in a fictional totalitarian society.
The book tells the story of Winston Smith, who works a menial job in the Ministry of Truth, where lies are manufactured (he is responsible for rewriting history and news). Big Brother is watching him and everyone else, even while they’re asleep (it’s not uncommon for people to talk while asleep and they must know if you’re conspiring while dreaming). This oppressive regime is patrolled by the Thought Police, which judges people guilty before they’ve committed any crime, and is governed by three other ministries: the Ministry of Peace which wages the war, the Ministry of Plenty which rations food and the Ministry of Love which is in charge of torture.
The country is at war, but no one really understands why or who with as the enemies change so often. People are controlled with cameras and microphones everywhere, and no one is allowed their own ideas – all information is fed to people and for the ones with innovative thoughts, they have torture rooms. Big Brother is watching you and he controls you by feeding you propaganda so intensely that you barely have time to formulate your own thoughts. While Winston was already secretly opposed to the system, it is when he meets Julia and O’Brien that they begin conspiring against it, but can they really trust each other?
If like me, you’ve thought of smartphones, computers, CCTV and wiretapping, modified food, secret services and modern death penalties, then you see it too.
I find that this plot is as relevant today as it was when it was first published, in 1949. Sure it was very fitting in a post-war world and during the Soviet Union era, but history repeats itself and there are definitely a lot of similarities with today’s world. If you think about the year when it was published and most importantly, the years during which the book was written, it makes it a complete masterpiece.
It seems that Orwell had this dystopian novel in mind since the Spanish Civil war, but he was mostly inspired by the Tehran Conference of 1944, when he was reportedly convinced that Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt were planning to divide the world. Wartime London and his own illness set the mood for the (dark!) book, resulting in a novel that will genuinely make you feel watched, wary and surprisingly, even a little bit apathetic at times.
Highly recommend it!
Author: George Orwell | Publisher: Penguin