Thursday, July 21, 2011

88. 1984 by George Orwell

1984 (1949) is perhaps the greatest work of English Author, Essayist, Journalist and Political and Literary Critic, Eric Arthur Blair, writing under the pseudonym George Orwell. This 'futuristic' dystopian book is more of a prophecy than a novel. It is everything but fiction.

In Orwell's 1984 world of Oceania, present day England, society has lost its humanity to politics and the rule of the all-knowing, all-seeing, immortal Big Brother is in full swing. The proles have been conditioned to accept whatever Big Brother tells them and because Big Brother controls all sources of information and able to rewrite the past, his control over the thoughts and minds of the people is complete. In Oceania 2+2 could be 5 if Big Brother says so. Similar to most Socialist countries, production is centralised and all human needs and wants are rationed and even though there are shortages the people do not notice it because Big Brother speaks of over-production and meeting production, not shortages. So great was the control and dominance that a new language, Newspeak, was created to eliminate ambiguous and double-entendre statements. In doing so, the past was reshaped and rewritten, or in most cases entirely erased for lack of words to describe it. 

The key to survival is to adopt doublethink so that Ignorance is Strength, Freedom is Slavery, and War is Peace are boldly espoused by the Party, INSOC or English Socialism. And when individuals are arrested they are sent to the Ministry of Love for torture and sometimes sentenced to hard labour at Joycamp. Doublethink is the ability:
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself - that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word 'doublethink' involved the use of doublethink. (Chapter I; Section III, Page 32/33)
Orwell (1903-1950), having lived through two world wars and several conflicts and unrest, all inspired by ideological differences and their imposition on the people, became weary of the political system of the day. Governance system such as Socialism and its varied forms in Stalinism, Communism, and Nazism were at both their nascent and dying stages. What Orwell did was to extend anyone of these variants and follow it through to its logical conclusion. 

In the novel, we meet Winston a worker at the Ministry of Truth where documents are 'corrected' of 'errors' so that they are in-tune with actual happenings. Winston is struggling to hold onto his sanity by holding part of his past with him. He seems to be one of the few who still remember life before the revolution. 

Though written in 1949 for a world perceived in 1984, Orwell's fears are as much a part of today's world than any other book. If doublethink was the key to the Party's survival and, by extension, the survival of the proles, then the party is more visible today than ever. Most dystopian novels begin with a revolution, which ends with a new form of governance system supplanting the old one, which in most cases is democracy. In Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, a somewhat theocratic government supplanted democracy, in this novel it is socialism. Thus, people have always imagined such dystopian world to be possible only under authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. Yet this is not the whole truth. Totalitarianism in today's world has evolved in democracies and the actual beneficiaries or rulers aren't political parties or families or even blood relations but capitalist corporations. Corporations that can and do fund both sides of wars; that are neither Democrats nor Republicans, Labour nor Conservative, Property-owning nor Social Democrats; that have lost all sense of humanity and would go to all lengths, required, to wield absolute power. They fund all competing political parties and their candidates in an electoral and gubernatorial campaigns. These are the Big Brothers. These are the ones whose policies go through parliament and approved by government as laws because they are able to pay huge sums to lobbyists or make some important phone-calls; and in the end such policies are seen as the people's decisions. Sometimes they get the support of the people by causing fear and panic. They  determine the kind of 'truth' to give to the people and how to discredit all other sources of information. So that any who do not hold in truth their 'truth' become a Winstonian, a raving mad man.

Today, we are grappling with phone-hacking scandals in Britain, the setting of Orwell's book, which in the end would see no one, especially those at the top, in prison. 

It is these powers of mind control and the use of doublethink that make a 'peace-loving' country create wars in other countries; that make the production of weapons the largest contributor to GDP even as they go about spreading their "peace". It is this doublethink mentality that makes pastors pray for soldiers departing their homelands to fight in other countries.

Is Big Brother watching? Today, in democratic countries, emails are read at will, phones are tapped and security cameras and scanners monitor our every move and search individuals to the bone, thanks to 9/11. Softwares to impersonate multiple people on forums and spread their information, tweaking public opinion, directing what the masses should think have been developed. Privacy is not a word in Oceania, a country rife with telescreens, and is definitely not a word in today's world. Countries which are signatories to anti-torture laws, or which even participated in the writing of the laws employ torture, sometimes leading to the deaths of victims, when it suits them and then investigate torture claims and set all involved free for lack of evidence.

Today, Big Brother can make legitimate and illegitimate leaders. So that rebels could become governments and governments rebels, whilst massaging the unified mind of the people through filtered and targeted news, completely false news and half-truths whilst, simultaneously emasculating all other sources of news. If you are against BB, you are an enemy that has to be eliminated. If you lick his burnished boots, you are the friend whose back is patted. There are only two choices: be with them or against them. In response to questions, they refuse to be straight, confusing the proles with garbled messages full of doublethinks to hide their intent. After all,
[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know. (Source)
1984 is a book we must all read for in it, George Orwell has shown us how our governments, every government for that matter, operate.
In our societies, those who have the best knowledge of what is happening are also those who are furthest remove from seeing the world as it is. In general, the greater the understanding, the greater the delusion: the more intelligent, the less sane. (Page 177)
Read for the Top 100 Books Reading Challenge 


  1. I remember reading this in high-school and being scared and shocked. It was a really interesting book, and a lot of the things that were discussed in the book seem to be making their way into society nowadays. This is something that I need to read again. Having had a few years of experience with the world may change the way I think of it. Fantastic and erudite review, Nana. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. It's been years since I read this, and would like to go back to it again. I love Orwell's clear-sighted approach, and you're right that 1984 is still a very important book to read today, as Donald Rumsfeld adequately demonstrated! I read another of his books, Homage to Catalonia, recently, and although the events it deals with are a long way in the past, it still feels very relevant.

  3. Very interesting! I love that book. I had forgotten all about double think and double speak, a great part of that book.

  4. I have been convinced on a number of occasions by friends to pick up this book, so therefore thanks confirmation.

  5. @Zibilee... thanks and I believe this book should be read at least once a year, to keep reminding ourselves of the possible paths our governments could take us and their various probabilities.

  6. @AB, I have not read that one. I have read Animal Farm and it is still with me. That man clearly had insight into how human behviour works. I read an article which presupposes that he was spied on by MI5 for fear that he was a communist or had communist tendencies.

  7. @Sarah... you shouldn't for them, for they are still with us. The lies and the garbles to cover the lies.

  8. this convincing is worth it... just give it a try.

  9. Read 1984 when I was 15 years old. Even at that young age I found the Big Brother concept fascinating,awe-some and a little disturbing. I think I would definitely have to read it again especially since a Big Brother world is now a reality.

  10. @Abena... imagine a Hitler in today's world, with all the satellite technologies and nanotechs. Yet, I believe that it wouldn't take such obvious intervention to fully realise Orwell's 1984. It has been realised subtlely by individuals working behind the scenes, pulling the strings and not by politicians.

  11. Great review and so true that it is scarily relevant today. Eecks.

  12. thanks Amy. I hope we all see the threat to our freedom.

  13. Great review!

    The comment about "knowns unknowns" severally and in combination had me in stiches. I could not believe what I was hearing the first time I saw Murdoch and son sprouting the 'holy verses' before the UK MPs. Simply amazing!

    Animal Farm another great one, if that book does not just scream modern-day Africa...Orwell had some frighteningly accurate insight and foresight.

  14. @Inmyownwordss... agreed. Orwell saw all these except that most of us have chosen to see it as 'fiction'. yet, with the current global events one cannot but visit Orwell in his tales and accept the truth that his fiction provides.

  15. "1984," a masterpiece, a masterpiece that shows the world of totalitarian regimes "uncut."


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