Upon reading 1984 recently I could not help myself from wondering what harsh environment or upbringing Orwell must have experienced to construct such masterpieces as Animal Farm and 1984. In reality I couldn’t care less what made him write these books but his mind must have been a maze of intricate theory and ideological debate. One thing is for sure, I’m very glad he put his ideas down on paper to be enjoyed by all. I can’t think of a book more relevant than 1984 when it comes to today’s society.
Winston Smith is the free prisoner of Oceania, living his life of toil and misery in post-atomic London. His life is one long struggle under the rule of the most barbaric government imaginable. There is no privacy, no free speech, no free thought as ‘Big Brother’ maintains a watchful eye. I found the book a desperately bleak read but compelling nonetheless. I know the book is a comment on the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union but there is more in the book that mirrors today than ever before.
One could draw many parallels with the world in the book with a regime like North Korea where freedom of speech and free will is mercilessly crushed but I think Orwell’s portrayal of information and how it is used is a far more relevant parallel with western society. Orwell must have seen the rise in popularity of televisions as an evil in his life, this whole idea of being permanently connected with the outside world. It is clear to see that he viewed the ability of televisions to ‘see’ into sitting rooms as a forthcoming evil. Little did he know that the invention of the internet would bring his horror dystopian society of 1984 closer. We live in a much documented society with Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp etc privacy is no more, constantly connected, with little or no buffer between us and the outside world. We are bombarded with images and sounds, videos and songs no matter where we go. If you reject this world you are now viewed as an outsider, someone who rejects society. Winston Smith lives in a similar society where:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
This is the mantra of Smith’s world. The whole ideology of the government in 1984 is fascinating, people are told how to feel and think, those who control the information have the power, that a government can simply rewrite history. History is often called ‘the story of the winners’ and I believe it is exactly that-one sided. There is even an effort in 1984 to demolish the English language, an effort to get it down to very basic words as the rest of the vocabulary is seen as irrelevant, I for one can see no difference between this effort in the book and that being made today to include ‘texting’ as an acceptable form of academia.
Orwell greatly believes in the power of the mind and that is portrayed brilliantly through Winston Smith who rejects despotism and believes in his own free will despite what is instilled in him. Smith is bombarded with ideology and begins to question his sanity and past as he is told it is incorrect. Smith eventually ends up in ‘Room 101’ where he is re-educated, I thought this was a brilliant example of how the mind could be shaped and crafted by malevolent forces but also an example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.
The book itself is so thought provoking that it warrants a few more readings. I’m not sure I fully understood the complexity and beauty of what this book aims to achieve. I would love to read it in another fifty years time and see what new relevance the book has achieved. It has so many cultural references such as Big Brother, Newspeak and Room 101 which I now fully appreciate in modern societal commentary.The book is so filled with hate and misery that it almost overwhelms you but the small kernel of hope always comforts the reader-that the freedom of the mind and human spirit can never be conquered by institutions.