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Review of 1984 by George Orwell

Updated on November 13, 2016

George Orwell

George Orwell on the radio at the BBC
George Orwell on the radio at the BBC | Source

1984 by George Orwell

1984 or Fahrenheit 451?

There are many similarities between these masterpieces. Dystopian, totalitarian states with limited freedom of speech and privacy. Independent thought is suppressed in both worlds, In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, all books are banned and anybody that keeps them is tracked down and has their books AND home burned. In 1984, all literature is censored and history is continuously rewritten but worse than that, the state has a program to eliminate and distort words to make original thought impossible.

Bradbury's and Orwell's writing styles are quite different. Orwell is precise, logical and scholarly but he can be evocative, especially when he's writing about nature and beauty. Bradbury's writing style is poetic and lyrical. Rather than a detailed explanation of his world he makes you feel the suffocation and horror of living in a world without hope, love and beauty.

Orwell paints the picture with precision and you can see it clearly. Bradbury paints the picture with poetry and you step into it.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury 60th Anniversary Edition

Orwell's 1984 is a Brilliant, Challenging and Timely Rallying Call

Orwell's dystopian vision offers no hope and is a challenging read. The easy option would have been to offer some hope but this would have compromised the central message. Orwell believed that if there was limited or no free speech and no escape from state surveillance then there was no hope for mankind and no way back. '1984' shows how, once these basic rights are eroded, totalitarian states are driven to ever tighten their power until all notions of freedom and humanity are crushed.

His insights are especially relevant today. In most of the Western world we have democracy, free speech, the right of assembly and the right to protest. Until recently we believed that we had a right to privacy. Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA, GCHQ and mass internet surveillance have shown that our basic rights are under threat.

Big Brother

The first part of the book shows the paranoia and suffocation that results from a lack of privacy. The main character, Wilbur Smith, works for the Ministry of Truth. He re-writes the 'news' to show the Party in the best possible light. Although he enjoys the intellectual challenge, he knows it's wrong but feels absolutely powerless. He knows that his every action is being watched by Big Brother.

Eventually he starts a furtive affair with a fellow worker from the Ministry. Their stolen moments when they are free to appreciate each other, nature and beauty are starkly contrasted with their gray, soulless day to day lives. They make contact with a high ranking Party worker who leads them to believe that he's part of a resistance movement.

War is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, and Ignorance Is Strength

Orwell details the politics of his dystopian world. As you might expect about a prophecy for 1984 written in the late 1940s, some of his thoughts now seem dated and wide of the mark. In general he was remarkably prescient. He foresaw spin (doublespeak), career politicians and that transmit and receive screens would be used to subject everybody to total surveillance.

Orwell observed the horrors of Nazi Germany and Russian Communism and saw that absolute power does indeed corrupt absolutely. He used this experience and his knowledge of politics, human nature and philosophy to inform his nightmare vision. His insights are searingly perceptive and timeless.

Abandon Hope in Room 101

1984 offers no hope. It demonstrates the vicious circle initiated by the erosion of freedom. The State becomes ever more powerful while free thought and human spirit become ever weaker. The State is emboldened and ruthless and each generation less able to resist than the previous. In the end there is no freedom, no privacy and no resistance. Humanity is assimilated by the State.

There is no human spirit, no love, no appreciation of beauty. Media, communication and even language are bent to the will of the State. The only thoughts and feeling left are love of the State and Big Brother.

1984, Edward Snowden, NSA, Prism and 2014

Edward Snowden's revelations about the extent of NSA surveillance through the Prism (how very Orwellian) program show that 1984 is as relevant today as it's ever been. One way or another, our lives are recorded online and the government has access all areas. In many ways it's more invasive than even Orwell imagined.

Of course the government say that they don't look at content, only meta-data. This is disingenuous. They can see where you are, who you have connected to, what you've read, what you've commented on and what you've bought. This data enables the agencies to accurately profile whomever they want.

Much has been written about this surveillance. Many critics have focused on the fact that it's not pleasant to feel you are being watched. While this is undoubtedly true and disturbing, it's missing the main point and the essence of Orwell's warning. When a State is able to watch its citizens every move, the temptation to use and abuse that power is overwhelming. At some point that power will be used to suppress legitimate protest.

Any state that can control information and/or spy on its citizens and has the power to shutdown dissent is totalitarian. If a state has that power, however benign it appears to be now, then eventually there will come a time when a popular movement arises to oppose corruption or some other injustice. When that happens the state will not hesitate to use its power to ruthlessly suppress that dissent. The whole of history shows that this is evidently true.

Trailer for 1984 (starring John Hurt & Richard Burton)

What is Big Brother Doing Today?

Consider recent history. How would McCarthy have used 'Prism'? Would the CIA have used it to suppress the civil rights movement? How about Richard Nixon? Could he have been trusted with all that data? Would he have been tempted to use it to discredit his opponents?

Fast forward to today. Is the Occupy Movement being closely monitored? Would the establishment allow this peaceful movement to gather support and strength if it really threatened to undermine the banking corporations?

1984 Doublespeak

Doublespeak from George Orwell's 1984
Doublespeak from George Orwell's 1984 | Source


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    • Al Greenbaum profile image

      Al Greenbaum 9 months ago from Europe

      And now made famous all over again thanks to the Trump administration.