The novel 1984, by George Orwell (1949), explores the total oppression of freedom– both vocal and mental– through a vividly depicted totalitarian state. It is relevant today, more than ever. The book is centered around the life of Winston Smith, an outer party (middle class) worker who lives in London, Oceana (a new super-state) run by the elusive “Big Brother.” This new country cracks down on all freedom of any kind: there are cameras and microphones everywhere– nothing is private. Winston works in the Ministry of Truth which is responsible for literally rewriting history. In any given day, he will change past records of certain events, so that they fall in line with the government’s needs. Unlike many other workers, however, Winston is not totally loyal to the party. He is sceptical of their propaganda (given that he is partly in charge of making it), and he disagrees with the main pillars of this dystopian society. He believes in privacy, peace, love, and, above all, truth. Luckily, Winston is not alone. He finds love, a secret apartment, and an inner party member who he makes a connection with. Will Winston and his associates be able to stand up to the absolute power of the party, or will Big Brother toss them aside like so many before?
One of the main themes of the book is “those who control the past, control the future.” Throughout the novel, the party ignores provable facts, branding them as lies, or, better yet, simply changing them. After all, if everyone believes something, isn’t true? Through this type of thinking, the Party is able to control its people: they rediscover, rebrand, rewrite, reteach, relearn, reknow history. This idea of “alternative facts” is obviously prevalent today. With fake news abound and propaganda-run foreign dictatorships taking form, it is important more than ever that we remember that a fact is a fact– no matter what others might tell you. The problem is, if there is no one to fight back, no one to see truth, no one to see justice because dissent is suppressed, then truth doesn’t really mean anything. More than anything else, 1984 teaches us the importance of resistance– the importance of standing up to authority before it’s too late.
1984 is, clearly, rather heavy. With torture, oppression, and surveillance featuring constantly, this book is not a walk in the park! That being said, it is a must-read book that will have you turning page after page. Although it is dystopian, it is still literary (I don’t count The Hunger Games or Divergent as literary!) and complex, and it appeals to lovers of all genres. I wouldn’t, however, recommend this book for a younger student as it contains genuinely disturbing scenes as well as some sexually suggestive bits. Besides, a younger student might not be able to appreciate or understand the true implications of this described totalitarian world. On a scale to 100, I would give it 98 because of its seductive narrative and ever-present universal themes. As Jo Brand writes: “[It’s] more relevant to today than almost any other book that you can think of.”