Will security grow if you surrender your freedom? 1984 is about the danger of governments becoming totalitarian, and taking away your freedom, dignity and individuality.
George Orwell had a vision – in 1948, after seeing all sorts of horror in World War II, and the beginning of the Cold War, he described a dystopia in the near future – the worst society that can be imagined. He saw dictatorship that changes history, individuals monitored 24h per day, and massive propaganda.
|British first edition cover|
Main character is Winston Smith, a thirty-nine-year-old worker in the Ministry of Truth, and a (minor) party member. After listening propaganda for his entire life, he suddenly decides to write a diary, because he is filled with hatred for totalitarian control and repression, and needs to put his thoughts on paper, otherwise they will be forgotten.
„He who controls the past, controls the future“ is the Party's slogan. This slogan provides Winston his job, which is changing history by changing old newspaper records so that they can match the new Party's policy. But this is probably the reason why he realizes the truth and wants to do something about it.
Oceanian society is lead by the Party that has absolute power over people and teritory. Party controls minds of the Oceanian citizens, and they are under constant surveillance. There are three states that control the world: Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. Oceania is sometimes in war Eurasia and sometimes with Eastasia. If Oceania changes it's foe, it's citizens will have to forget about their previous war and think that they have been in war with the same state from the start. Because „The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.“
This ability to forget facts or to make up the new ones, is called Doublethink.
In the center of society is Big Brother. He is the ruler of Oceania, and the most important and most trusted person in his country. His image haunts everyone's life – it's on posters that say „Big Brother is watching you“, it's on coins, book covers, telescreens in people's homes. Bur he never appears in novel, like a real character; perhaps he doesn't even exist. But he is a cult and a deified Party leader.
1984 descibes a manipuation of the thoughts. If you don't think the way Party tells you, you will be guilty for thoughtcrimes. You are tortured until you start convincing yourself that they are right; then they will set you free so you can tell everyone that you were guilty and admit many things that you didn't actually commit. Then the Party can erase you from existence, and no one will even remember you. Other citizens are convinced that everything that Party does is for the sake of the greater good.The political system in Oceania is called English Socialism – Ingsoc. This might reffer to Stalinism.
|Stalin with Nikolai Yezhov|
|Yezhov was edited out of the photo by Soviet censors|
It controls life: „If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.“
Newspeak is the new language of Oceania that is still developing. It's purpose is to decrease the number of the words that should be used in speach and writing, which will also narrow the range of the thoughts. The lack of vocabulary makes conciousness a bare skelet with no ways to think more than you are supposed to. Newspeak applies different meanings to things and actions by referring only to the end to be achieved, not the MEANS of achieving it. For example, Ministry of Peace (Minipax) deals with war, and the Ministry of Love (Miniluv) deals with brainwashing and torture. Peace is achieved through war, and love of Big Brother is achieved through mind control.
The social class system of Oceania is threefold (although it is called „socialism“):
- Inner Party, the upper class and the ruling minority
- the middle-class Outer Party
- the lower-class Proles (from „proleteriat“ or working class), which is 85% of the population
In The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism Emmanuel Goldstein explains how these classes work: the goal of the upper class is to stay as the ruling minority. The goal of the middle class is to change their places with those who are the ruling minority. The goal of the Proles is to make everyone equal without class system. Middle class needs to make Proles fight on their side, claiming that they fight for freedom and justice. When they win, they become the upper class, and the previous upper class becomes a new middle class. Proles always stay where they are. If the ruling class could know how to win against enemies from the outsdie, if it could rule carefully and didn't let masses to rebel, if it didn't let middle class to become strong enough to rebel, and if it didn't lose it's confidence and will – this type of ruling class could rule forever.
The society of Airstrip One lives in ruined cities and towns, which are the consequences of many wars. They got used to hunger, disease and filth. The standard of living is very low, except for the ruling class. Masses don't really realize that they are being exploited before they are let to find a criteria to compare themselves with others. If the ruling class doesn't let them develop their intelects, masses can't think and decide. „To not think, means to be ideologicaly correct“. The party uses patriotism as a way to exploit masses, for example, to work longer.
With the Junior Anti-Sex-League, the Party encourages its members to eliminate their libido. Lack of sexuality leads to hysteria which can be transformed into militancy and worshiping their leader.
Like many other books that deal with dystopia and dictatorship, such as We (1924) and Brave New World (1932), 1984 was considered intellectually dangerous to the public, and even banned.
The title of the novel indicates that the story represents a real possibility: if totalitarianism is not opposed, some variation of the world described in the novel could become a reality in the near future.
Do you ask yourselves did Orwell miss by a few years, and are the situations and regime described in the book absent from modern day society, or are they more than ever present, but only subtle than in the George Orwell's novel?
„Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.“
You can also check out an animated movie Metropia (2009), that will pretty much get you closer to understanding the treat to the society you currently live in.