Friday, April 17, 2009

1984 by George Orwell

In the year 1948, George Orwell wrote a book called 1984. Since its release, the book became widely known as a warning to all people and governments of the world. The appeal of the book is not only due to the fact that 1984 is written so expressively, movingly, and with such foresight into the future, but also because it makes a bold statement about humanity — humans must have the freedom to think rationally and independently.

The main character of 1984 is Winston Smith. Winston is a man who doubts the righteousness of the totalitarian government (led by the imaginary Big Brother) that rules Oceania. Oceania is one of three superstates in the setting of 1984. The book begins with Winston realizing that he despises the government, the party, and Big Brother. Winston works in the Records Department, which is an institution that literally erases history through its communication, whether it is books, magazines, art, films, etc. The object of erasing and changing history is so that anything that the Party considers unorthodoxy is to be wiped out of existence, or vaporized. For example, if a person is vaporized, than the records department has to make sure that any record of that person is filtered and changed to make it so that person never existed in the past. The government of Oceania runs on the principle of “Ingsoc”, or English Socialism. The method of governing that the Party uses to retain power is by keeping a constant watch over its citizens via the Thought Police. Oceania has telescreens and hidden microphones in every public place, and every citizen’s dwelling. Thus, every citizen in Oceania is constantly watched day and night, every word, action, and even thought. Thoughts are being monitored for thoughtcrime, the worst crime of all. Thoughtcrime is the crime of thinking about anything against the Party. Oceania is at continuous war with the other two superstates, Eastasia and Eurasia, and needs to channel the thoughts of its citizens against the enemies. The government has also developed its own language, Newspeak, which is the official language of Oceania, and has its sole purpose in abolishing all unorthodox thought. Newspeak is derived from Standard English, and most vocabulary and grammar is eliminated so that the stream of one’s thinking is narrowed, making it impossible to commit thoughtcrime.

Orwell was very good at foretelling the future. He was obviously warning the people living in democratic societies about the control of totalitarian governments. The people needed to know about the cruel and unfair dictatorship of totalitarian leaders, such as that of Stalin. Later in the book, Julia (Winston’s coworker) and Winston become lovers and eventually confess their feelings of rebelliousness to O’Brien, a fellow coworker of the Inner Party who is believed to be a member of a rebel group, the Brotherhood. O’Brien gives a book to Winston and Julia that they must read in order to be members of the Brotherhood. In 1984, there are two chapters from the book that was given to Winston and Julia, which in my opinion fill fifty long and boring pages in 1984. I think that is was completely unnecessary for Orwell to include those excerpts from the book because everything that was stated in those excerpts was realized and narrated by Winston throughout 1984. Winston and Julia are then caught by the Thought Police, being betrayed by a seemingly trustworthy friend, and are sent to the Ministry of Love, never to see each other again. The Ministry of Love is the torture center and prison of Oceania, where all the thought criminals are taken to be vaporized. Winston is tortured in the Ministry of Love by O’Brien, who admits that he has been spying on Winston for the last seven years. The object of the torture is to get Winston to understand the Party’s motives, to accept the Party’s mannerisms, and to love Big Brother. "’Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else,’ says O’Brien. ‘. . . In the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth.’" After months of torture, Winston is strolling through one of the halls in the Ministry of Love, where he finally admits to himself that he loves Big Brother, and is promptly shot in the back of the head.

At the end of the book, Orwell has included an Appendix, which explains the grammar and formation of words in Newspeak. Newspeak has already been thoroughly described in the actual story, so I don’t understand why Orwell needed to include this part. These thirty pages of the book are very boring and they would induce glazed eyes of the younger generation of readers.
Overall, I very much enjoyed 1984. Orwell was very skilled at making a mental picture in my mind on what things would really be like if this had really happened. Not only was it completely realistic and capable of happening, but Orwell’s use of the right words and phrases made me feel the Winston’s agony in prison and during his torture. Though the book was dry at times, I could not put it down because of its level of interest. My biggest question is what would the world have been like if Orwell had not written 1984? Political tragedies, such as this, are published all of the time, but 1984 is one of the few that has remained timeless and will always be seen as visionary. The book reminds us of all that has gone wrong, all that can go wrong, and what will go wrong when government becomes all-powerful. It is because of this political and social insight that 1984 is, in my opinion, one of the best books ever to written.

We see some of Orwell’s foresights come true even in our present democratic society. There is tapping of phone lines and surveillance of public affairs. I think that Orwell’s prediction might come true — that the full invasion of privacy is inevitable. As our technology becomes better and better, and terrorism is occurring more often, the government will need to spy on its own citizens in case of future terrorist attacks. However, I think that the US government will be trying to protect the people and not its own power (since it’s a democracy). No matter the threat, I still believe that it’s wrong to monitor the citizens’ every move, the surveillance is necessary but only to a point. The real debacle is over whether people want to be secure but have their freedom taken away, or whether they want their total freedom.

I think that it is necessary for people to have the capacity for rational, critical thinking. The greatest threat is when people are brainwashed by ideologies, political and revolutionary leaders, corrupt and totalitarian governments, and they lose the ability to think for themselves. This could be the take-home message that we could take from the book, and it is still relevant, even after the collapse of communism worldwide. Even in our democratic society, we should be on a lookout for factors that suppress our freedom of thought and expression.

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