George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

Nineteen Eighty-Four tells the story of Winston Smith’s life in a (for us) dystopian society. Everything, eating, working, exercising, even your thoughts if you’re unlucky, is controlled by the state. They control absolutely every single thing, even the past since they, Winston is one of the writers, re-write newspaper articles and other sources so that these confirm the present and the regime. It’s truly a thrilling, horrific read.

Everybody seems to be (re-)reading Nineteen Eighty-Four and since I hadn’t read it (shame on me) I thought it was high time to buy this novel. Another thing that persuaded me: the beautiful Penguin edition where the title and Orwell’s name are ‘censored’ and blackened out.

Nineteen Eighty-Four makes you imagine a world in which every little movement, every eye twitch or frown, is watched by the state. If, as they call it, the ‘thought police’ doesn’t like what it’s seeing, you’re taken away and removed from all records – as if you have never existed.

Winston feels uncomfortable (doh) within this society and he starts to question it more and more. His job, for which he has to rewrite past newspaper articles, keeps confronting him with the real truth. His nation, Oceania, hasn’t always been fighting Eurasia, as the records tell the people, but have been in peace with them for many years. Winston keeps destroying this evidence of the ‘real’ truth as quickly as possible, but he finds it more and more difficult to remove it from his mind as well – which he’s supposed to do with using ‘doublethink.’ Doublethink is a technique to essentially brainwash yourself (and then remove the fact from your mind that you brainwashed yourself). In this way, the Party can tell people anything they want to. A recurring example is: if the Party tells you that 2 + 2 = 5, that is the truth. This something Winston has a lot of trouble with to belief.

Winston cannot take it any longer and he does something very, very dangerous: he starts to write. In one little corner of his room, where the television cannot see him (yes, the television can do that), he begins to write down his thoughts:

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows”

And this is where the novel really begins.

I don’t want to say too much about the story itself, because that would contain major spoilers, but I do want to tell you about one of the most terrifying things in the book: the children. When you think of a dystopian society where everybody is brainwashed, you might overlook the children. What would happen to them if they kept hearing they should be loyal to the Party? That violence, torture and hangings should be used in order to defend the Party? Would they become cruel little thought police members? Some do. And they are absolutely horrific. They don’t have a clear notion of the truth anymore and report everything they find ‘suspicious’ (such as a man walking in the woods). They pretend to be the real thought police and arrest each other. They even turn in their parents, saying they betrayed the Party (even though that is probably not true).

Nineteen Eighty-Four is a great read. It makes you think about the consequences of modern technology and how a regime can use this to maintain control – to get too much control. To conclude with a version of the most famous words of this book: Thankfully, Big Brother isn’t watching.

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