So I decided to re-read 1984. I first read it about thirty years ago as a teenager, and I remember it being dreary and with a bit of horror at the end. Reading it now, I see it somewhat differently…
Honestly, I’ve been taken aback while reading this novel. I had underestimated the power of George Orwells writing. He portrays probably the most terrible dystopia that I’ve seen in any fiction. Compared to this the dystopias of “The hunger games”, “Divergent”, “Maze Runner” and most of the other Young Adult fiction that I’ve seen are lightweight fantasies of a slightly nasty world. Even cyberpunk literature of the last thirty years is pretty tame in comparison.
Orwell describes a world where The Party uses every mechanism in its power to grind down the population. There is oppression by every means to dehumanise people and to control them. The picture that is painted of the ever present war (who is it that we have always been fighting? Is it Eastasia or Eurasia? Whichever it is, one has always been our ally and the other has always been our enemy). Impoverished by the ministry of Plenty, in fear of the thought police of the ministry of Love. Surrounded in every building by telescreens which watch you, and by microphones in even the wildest of places. Everyone lives their entire lives under surveillance. Event the children have a childrens club called ‘spies’ where they are taught to spy on and report anyone who is suspicious – even their own parents.
Those who are judged to be suspicious do not just disappear – they are ‘vaporised’ in the terminology of the book. They are made as though they have never existed.
Winston works for the ministry of Truth, whose job it is to fabricate lies. Every day he is rewriting history to make it accord with the current pronouncements of the Party. He is deeply aware of the fact that objective history is being removed to prevent people thinking about it, and he works with people developing Newspeak, the language which makes it impossible to think some things (a process which I now know is often referred to as the Sapir-Worf hypothesis ). The regular Two Minute Hate is as much a part of everyones day as the “Victory gin” and “Victory cigarettes” – vile and horrible.
I found the cautious relationship he develops with Julia quite emotionally moving. The palpable air of secrecy, their little forbidden rebellion and choice moments of happiness snatched from the horrors of daily life came alive in the writing.
The sense of betrayal at almost every point is quite compellingly horrible, leading to the finale where he and his lover know that each of them has willingly betrayed the other.
I guess one of the other things that occurs to me after completing this re-reading after thirty years is how much more comprehensively our our technology could accomplish this future world should it be allowed to. That’s why I’m grateful for what Edward Snowdon revealed and I keep a professional and personal interest in all kinds of privacy and security technology.
Thanks for reading.
Cover Photo by v2osk on Unsplash