By Athalie Armon-Jones

1984 is a dystopian novel, written by George Orwell, centring thematically on the relationship between politics, truth and fact. Contrary to the popular opinion that Orwell was writing specifically about Soviet Russia, the novel instead is often seen as a satire of totalitarian governments, Western and Soviet alike. 1984 is one of my top five favourite books, and for good reason: it is simultaneously a work of art and a political essay – what’s not to like?

Set in the fictional superstate Oceania in the year 1984, Winston Smith works for the all-powerful ‘Party’ led by the enigmatic Big Brother. The Party uses many methods to systematically control and repress its people, including the ‘Thought Police’ and the concept of ‘thoughtcrime’, as well as the creation of ‘Newspeak’, a language that is constantly being reduced in size (the idea being that restricted vocabulary limits an individual’s ability to think freely).

1984 is not an easy book to read and there are some rather disturbing moments. One of these is the daily ‘Two Minutes Hate’, in which every person is forced to experience feelings of deep rage and immutable, undirected desire for violence. Winston describes it as a “hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness” that no-one seems to be immune to, including himself. Another is Winston’s experience in the infamous Room 101, in which one faces the thing they fear most in the world. I won’t give away what Winston fears the most, but it isn’t a pretty picture. 

Despite all this, the book is filled with strange moments of beauty and a deep appreciation for the world that we live in. Through Winston’s eyes, we feel a strong attachment to nature and the little things in life, as he thinks frequently of bird song, the smell of coffee, and above all, the woman with whom he starts a torrid love affair.

Is 1984 still relevant today? Written in 1949, the novel serves a grim warning of the dangers of totalitarianism achieved through mass surveillance and repressive regimes, and at a first glance, it is easy to say that Orwell’s predictions never came true. However, with a closer look we start to see exactly what he was afraid of: the protagonist’s job of constantly rewriting and revising history and creating ‘unpersons’ (people removed from history and society) is strikingly familiar in the era of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’. This concept of changing history to fit a certain narrative better is also alarmingly prevalent today. Finally, with the rising wave of social media, the idea of mass surveillance is becoming an ever more normal part of our lives, as everything we do can be witnessed and documented. 

It is a novel that I believe everyone should read, and more than once. I promise, you’ll be hooked from the first few words… “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

Favourite quotes:

“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”

“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command”

Posted by:RAMpage Website

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