Book Review: 1984

When friends shared memes saying that 1984 was not a how-to manual, I didn’t understand but now I do. It became time to read 1984 when Susan Henking suggested it in a Facebook post in which she tagged me. Having never given much thought to the book, I did know it was about the idea of government eavesdropping but not much more. I always heard that Big Brother was watching. I understood it to mean that your conversations could be listened to and that you had less privacy. The world of 1984 was much more. I found the book to be unnerving especially in 2017.George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1949. It is about a dystopian world that is at constant war. It does not need to be at war, but it is one of the many mechanisms to control the general population. War is only one strategy The Party uses. Other strategies include the rewriting of history, constant falsification, the dumbing down of society, increasing a nationalistic frenzy, and the loss of privacy.

1984 is 236 pages long and organized into three major parts and 24 chapters. The book follows the life of Winston Smith as he describes his world and what he thinks about it. Winston Smith a regular guy who does not buy into what is happening around him. He questions what is going. In the end, the Thought Police bring him in for reprogramming.

The Party

A central character in the story is The Party. The Party is a main character and serves an adversarial role. There is a hierarchy in The Party. The very upper part of The Party is the inner-party. The primary workers of The Party are in the outer party. Finally, there is the common people or the proles. The Party is interested in absolute power. “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power” (Orwell, 1977, p. 208).

The Party will falsify the truth and eliminate enemies to stay in power for the sake of being in power. This sounds awful familiar.

Falsification

Central to the party’s ability to maintain control is to rewrite its history. In the dystopian world of 1984, Oceania, a superpower, iy at war with either Euroasia or Eastasia. Every few years ,Oceana changes who they are fighting. Immediately all the history that has been written is rewritten to present a new reality. “The invention of print, however, made it easier to manipulate public opinion, and the film and the radio carried the process further” (Orwell, 1977, p. 161).

Rewriting history and the pursuit of ignorance – http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/education/233911-rewriting-history-and-the-pursuit-of-ignorance

Maintaining Ignorance

One of the goals of falsifying information was to keep the public ignorant. The party would lie and falsify information. Because of the constant rewriting of history, no one can prove otherwise.

“Day and night the telescreens bruised your ears with statistics proving that people today had more food, more clothes, better houses, better recreations—that they lived longer, worked shorter hours, were bigger, healthier, stronger, happier, more intelligent, better educated, than the people of fifty years ago. Not a word of it could ever be proved or disproved.” (Orwell, 1977, p. 57).

The party could only remain in existence if The Party kept the society ignorant. The Party did this by removing any mechanism that could point to the past, provide history, or to provide truth. “There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science” (Orwell, 1977, p. 211). Sound familiar?

Oversight

In Oceania, there was constant oversight. Everywhere you went there were telescreens that could see and hear everything. The Thought Police monitored these telescreens. The Thought Police prevented potential crime by arresting and eliminating people who could create a crime because of what they were thinking.

Nationalism and War

In Oceania, The Party used war as a distraction. The Party uses war to keep the proles in a constant state of frenzy; playing on their sense of nationalism.

“No attempt was made to indoctrinate them with the ideology of the Party. It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations. And even when they became discontented, as they sometimes did, their discontent led nowhere, because, being without general ideas, they could only focus it on petty specific grievances.” (Orwell, 1977, p. 55)

War kept the inner-party living a good life without creating real wealth. War was a ruse. Because the three major superpowers understood that they would not go to all-out war, they used it as a way to stay in power. Because of blind nationalism, they got away with it. “The consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival” (Orwell, 1977, p. 150).

Thoughts

As I read 1984, I couldn’t help but think about 2017 and what I watch every night on the news. In the news, there is an attack on the press. There’s an attack on the Sciences. There is an effort to defund the art and literature. There is a great effort to rewrite history and presents falsehoods as truth and truth as falsehoods. In 1984, Orwell wrote, “Practices which had been long abandoned, in some cases for hundreds of years—imprisonment without trial, the use of war prisoners as slaves, public executions, torture to extract confessions, the use of hostages and the deportation of whole populations—not only became common again, but were tolerated and even defended by people who considered themselves enlightened and progressive.” (Orwell, 1977, p. 160).

The world of 1984 is a very scary world to me. What really scares me is how we are making the world of 2017 like 1984. 1984 is definitely a thought-provoking book.

Additional Reading


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