George Orwell’s 1984 was one of those classics I had never read, just one of the countless books that escaped my summer reading list, my high school syllabus from year to year, and my desire to explore another outdated work of literature. While visiting some college friends last weekend, we got on the topic of the famous classic novels and when my friend recommended 1984, I decided it was worth a try. Plus, a couple of movie versions had been made in case I couldn’t get past the second page.
The small paperback copy was covered in dust when I extracted it from the shadowy depths of my basement. I turned the yellowed pages with care–my mother’s textbook from 1970–and wondered how such a small and dated book could possibly have relevance to modern society. My predictions could not have been more wrong.
The story follows Winston, a middle-aged man living in a negative utopia of Oceania. Oceania is controlled by the Party and symbolized by an idealized figurehead referred to as Big Brother. The mustache-ed face of the leader is plastered on billboards, buildings and walls across the city of London. Winston’s every movement and facial expression is closely monitored. At work, it is by his co-workers. At home, it is through the telescreen that remains on day and night. Winston struggles to remember life before the Party and begins to reject the Party’s key slogans: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. Winston’s internal dialogue against the Party and quest for love develops into a dark and unforeseeable search for truth and reality.
The content is deceptively heavy and forces the reader to think way beyond a fluffy summer read. The book was published just after World War II and the rise of both Hitler and Stalin. I was pulled into a world Orwell created and couldn’t help but notice the parallels to our society today. Have we become emotional slaves blindly following the majority, repeating accepted ideologies, and repressing knowledge of repeated history for the illusions of conformity? I stayed awake reading until the clock glowed 1:40am and I was forced to remove myself from the internal struggles of Winston in exchange for unsettled sleep.
Orwell did not write a book to predict the year 1984 or 2000 or 2012. He wrote a warning to people of every era by creating a plausible future within slightly altered circumstances. In a world where war is constant, freedom of thought is removed and the Thought Police governs our every movement, passion, love and creativity are null and void. We as humans cannot let allow this to happen. Now or ever.
Read 1984 and tell me you agree. Or tell me you don’t. Such is the power of freedom of thought.