Nineteen Eighty-Four


Cover of "Nineteen Eighty-Four"
Cover of Nineteen Eighty-Four

 

I’ve already told you that my goal is to read 50 books this year. I realized I have been propagating this goal (or resolution) frantically, all the while believing inside me that it is quite unattainable. Well, at any rate I am currently on track, having finished Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.

Written in 1947-48, this book talks of a negative utopia. Be forewarned, this book can drain all optimism out of you. Even though we are in the second decade of the twenty first century now and this book was written in the middle of the last one, when the world was struggling to emerge from a complex political scenario and questions regarding the best form of governance were far from reaching any culmination, the mere idea of the kind of world this book represents can be very scary.

Winston Smith lives in Oceania, which is a nation (for want of a better word) ruled by the iron hand of  the Party. The Party is headed by Big Brother, who may or may not exist but is the symbolical representation of everything the Party represents.

The Party follows the slogans:

War is Peace

Freedom is Slavery

Ignorance is Strength

These slogans may confuse you at first, but as you read through the book, they become clearer.

In this superpower of Oceania, the language of Newspeak is officially used. The fundamentals of this language can be understood through the following passage in the book:

“It is a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take “good” for instance. If you have a word like “good”, what need is there for a word like “bad”? “Ungood” will do just as well-better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of “good”, what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like “excellent” and “splendid” and all the rest of them? “Plusgood” covers the meaning, or “doubleplusgood” if you want something stronger still…..”

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word…”

 

And in Oceania, thoughtcrime is also severely punishable. Your every move is monitored from the moment you wake up until the moment you turn off the lights at night, your facial expressions and gestures are studied and can be enough to convict you.

And what is done to traitors? They are “vapourised”. All proof of their existence is destroyed, their records cease to exist and people who knew them pretend they never did, because otherwise the same thing could happen to them.

Children are trained to report their parents and be loyal to the party. Women are taught that sexual intercourse is nothing but a duty towards the party and is thus a necessary evil.

There are four ministries in Oceania; Winston works in the Ministry of Truth. Their job is to ensure that every piece of information released to the public conforms with the Big Brother’s ideologies  In other words, the past is alterable if the present changes. If the Party’s announcement on one day differs from what occurs on the next, every single newspaper or article or announcement that carried the older version needs to be altered in order to accommodate the present one. The world before the Revolution (which is when the Party is said to have come to power) is described as a dingy, loathsome place and everyone now is said to be equally distributed.
Winston is exposed to the true nature of the world. He wonders about a lot of things, he wonders about life before his parents and sister were ‘vaporised’. He wonders what it would be like to be free and then he learns that a sort of ‘Brotherhood” is in existence, fighting the current order.

Winston learns about the Party’s policies.

War is Peace. The world is divided in three almost equal superpowers; Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. These three are constantly at war with one another. All three are highly self-sustaining because they control vast resources and need not depend on one another for anything at all. But if peace existed, stability would be impossible.

Mankind ran on a cycle of sorts. The high class held the power, the middle class and the lower class struggled for equality. But when the middle class staged a revolution, the lower class helped them. On defeat by sheer numbers, the old higher class became the middle class and the lower class was pushed back down wheras the middle class gained control. But if economic equality was attained, this hierarchy would be lost and stability compromised.

The only way to keep a balance was to be in a constant state of war, such that all surplus goods and services would be wiped out entirely in catering to war needs. Rationing would not be questioned and even the smallest of liberties would be highly appreciated.

Ignorance is strength. A totalitarian government which controlled all propaganda, all print, could easily control the strength of a nation. If a country is told that no other form of living has ever existed and slowly, all forms of protests are eradicated, all work which does not conform to this belief is wiped out, the common public will have nothing to turn to. Without a standard of comparison, how can a people know whether or not they are being oppressed? The trick is to control the past and the present in order to control the future.

And so, as Winston falls deeper and deeper into the tendons of thoughtcrime, he gets closer and closer to detection. Risking everything to fall in forbidden love with a young girl, he knows beyond doubt, that he is a dead man walking.

And then finally, he is caught.

He sees the true nature of the face behind the mask and he surrenders to it.

A hauntingly painful end awaits.

Big Brother's face looms on giant telescreens ...
Big Brother’s face looms on giant telescreens in Victory Square in Michael Radford’s 1984 film adaptation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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