What makes George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 so chilling is the fact that its futuristic setting is extremely close to our present. Orwell imagines a dystopian society with a totalitarian government, the Party, in which the people are woefully trapped under the hand of its notorious leader, Big Brother (who is, apparently, always watching), a mysterious figure only seen on posters.
Winston Smith’s homeland Oceania is in a state of constant war with the other two reigning lands, East Asia and Eurasia (who both have similar governments). This forces all supplies to be channeled in supporting the war, and thus the rest of Oceania remains poor. Winston Smith is a member of the lower tier of the government, and works for the Ministry of Truth, rewriting past articles so that history always supports the Party. There is to be nothing in the past showing that the Party has made mistakes; the Party must always be right. The Party is always in rule. The Party maintains a strict rule over the Proletariats (the lower-class citizens) by four main operations, located in four vast pyramid-like governmental structures overlooking the land: the Ministry of Truth (Winston’s workplace), which alters history (and consequently, reality), the Ministry of Love, which dealts out torturous punishments to criminals, the Ministry of Peace, which ensures constant warfare, and the Ministry of Plenty, which deals with economic affairs and checks that Oceania is in a state of endless starvation. We can see the irony in the buildings’ names.
Besides editing the past, the Ministry of Truth works hard each day to condense the language of Oceania (called newspeak) more and more, until it is it to be something that is merely a simple form of communication. This way, with less and less words to work with, the human mind shrinks and becomes less complex; this is one of the twisted ways the Party manipulates its people to become more and more ignorant, until they are nothing more than an animal.
The Party’s three slogans are: Slavery is Freedom, War is Peace, and Ignorance is Strength. These statements reflect the philosophy of doublethink, in which a person holds two contradictory beliefs as simultaneously correct; in doing so, we can see that the person lacks the ability to conscious awareness that these two ideals conflict, that the person lacks the ability to think. With their intelligence gone, the Proletariats are helplessly subject to any action of the Party.
Winston is one of the few people who are still fighting against the Party, desperately trying to hold onto his soul, waiting until the day the Party comes to take it away. And each day, the Party takes a small chuck of humanity away from the Proletariats. He eventually meets Julia, a young, lively woman with free will like him. Together, they team up and think of ways to take down the government.
But in a world so twisted, such a happiness can never last. Winston and Julia will fall, back into the dark, embracing arms of the government, welcoming them into a comfortable life of true sanity, where the only things that matter are the Party and Big Brother…
Although the society of 1984 sounds too scary to be true, our community today bears some striking similarities. The government is slowly taking over our privacy; with surveillance cameras in unknown places and with the Internet being tracked constantly, we can no longer trust that our backs aren’t being watched. And when will the government stop, if it is willing to? The Fourth Amendment, our right to privacy, is already being invaded; will a time come when it is completely abolished? And what about the First Amendment, our right to free speech? Will a time come where the government will begin to reduce our language, our ability to think? Alter our history, our reality as we know it?
1984 is a must-read for all those who loved Hunger Games, Unwound, or any science fiction book. It contains a strong political message cleverly woven in a dystopian novel, and scarily accurate predictions about our world’s future. Orwell wrote this book during the times of World War II, and shows us the bitter consequences of totalitarian government. Although democracy still stands in America, we can already begin to see the effects of a too-strong government. Orwell calls out to all of us, to remain strong and to persevere. We must keep fighting for what is right, for what is ours. We must not let the future fall into the wrong hands.