“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
1984 was like The Beatles for me. One of those books you've heard so much about that you really wonder if it's going to be worth the hype. Then you read it and you realise how deserved the hype really is. Firstly, Orwell's writing is so vivid that his scenes play out before you as you read. I found myself scared more than once during this novel, partly because of the realistic writing but mostly because Orwell has tapped into our biggest fear, having no control, and made it a feasible future; the citizens in 1984 are controlled entirely by their government.
The book was published in 1949, a time where everyone was thinking about the miracles the future could bring. Others, namely Orwell, however were thinking of the darker side. The country had already been controlled by the government immensely through the use of propaganda in war, and with the second world war having ended just 4 years prior to the publication of the book it's not a huge leap to assume Orwell took some inspiration from the way Britain was manipulated by the government during that period.
In 1939 Britain formed the Ministry of Information, which was responsible for publicity and propaganda during the war. In the novel, our protagonist Winston Smith is employed by the Ministry of Truth, which was responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism; Both essentially the same premise, though Orwell's name is obviously more mocking. The novel is set in a different world, though comprising of our map, for example, Oceania, where the novel is mainly set, is what we know as England (referred to as Airstrip One), America, Australia, Ireland, Iceland, New Zealand and South Africa. Oceania is in a constant state of war with either Eurasia (from Portugal to Bering Strait) or Eastasia (China, the countries South of it, the Japanese Islands, Mongolia and Tibet). When not at war with one of the Asia's, they are thought of as allies.
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”
Winston Smith, a citizen of Airstrip One, spends his days re-writing the past to fit in with whichever war Oceania is currently fighting. He wakes up, he goes to work, he takes part in "Two Minutes Hate" (a mocking of a minutes silence), he goes home. When the novel begins however, Winston changes this routine; he buys a journal.
In Winston's journal he lets his hate towards The Party (the government) and it's totalitarian leader Big Brother, out. He writes this journal in a small area of his flat where he believes he cannot be seen by the telescreen - an item in every home and public place which the thought police use to spy on civilians in order to seek out thought crime (thoughts that oppose The Party). After committing this private thought crime, Winston runs into a woman at the Ministry Of Truth, Julia. After handing Winston a secret note confessing love to him, he discovers Julia is also against The Party.
Julia and Winston begin an affair, taking separate trains out to the countryside to met up in secret. They soon rent a room above an antiques shop in Airstrip One, believing that is the safest place for their meetings as the building is so old and has no telescreen. During the course of this relationship, Winston's thought crimes against The Party increase, and he becomes desperate to discover the true past - rather than the ones he has reworked for years. Because of this desperation to unravel truth, Winston becomes involved in what he thinks is a brotherhood against The Party. But in a world where everything is controlled by a supposedly omniscient leader - is there anyone you can really trust? Is there anything you won't do to save yourself?
“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
I like to look at 1984 as a love story, because as I've said before; I like love stories that aren't all Hollywood romance, but that show something more realistic, which I think is the case in this book between Winston and Julia. They are desperate to feel something real; do they ever truly love one another? Who knows, is it even possible to feel something such as Love in a society where children turn against their own parents? Where Hate is a celebration? But they did give each other hope and closeness, something warm to cling to in a desolate place.
“In the face of pain there are no heroes.”
I do also however see this novel as a horror story. Winston goes through so many terrifying things - real terror through the infliction of his biggest fear, but also the fear of knowing his difference to society every day. Waiting every day to be discovered for having thought that isn't mass produced, terror at being found having memories of a pre- atomic past. Imagine living in that world, where your books are burned, your music taken away, everything taken away until you are no longer you - you are everyone else. And the scariest part, this could happen, and it would be so much easier now to find ourselves under absolute control. We all carry tracking devices in our phones, we are constantly updating our information, what we are doing, what we look like, what we feel like via social networking...if life as we knew it ended tomorrow, how easy have we made it for our countries to resurface in Orwell's world?
“Big Brother is Watching You.”