Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) is a dystopian novel by
George Orwell published in 1949. 1984 takes place in a
socialism). The prophecy has not turned out to be true
for England. The premises of Orwell’s dystopia – his
knowledge of the Soviet Union and communism at the
time - enable him to foresee the evolution of the
totalitarian system in the countries where it took over.
What seems obvious today, when most of these countries
have struggled out of it and we can consequently talk
freely about 1984 , is that no advanced capitalist
country outside the Russian sphere of influence could
have joined it.
In contrast to Huxley’s world of comfort, leisure,
affluence and well being, the image of Orwell’s future
wretched. Poverty is a major theme, and it darkens
everything. It is a poverty totally opposed to Huxley’s
chocolate. We know these things only too well. Only the
most important members of the so- called inner Party
privileges, such as good cigarettes, wine,
abundance, however: the telescreen. The telescreen is a
surveillance device and propaganda tool, as well. It
watched, one is never alone, there is no privacy,
Party knows everything.
The constant fear of being seen or heard, betrayed
by one’s own wife or even children, is so painful to us
because we have experienced it until so
Orwell it is exaggerated beyond everything bearable. He
devises the word ‘thoughtcrime’, which means to rebel
against the Party in your mind. Even that can be seen,
from gestures, countenance, a
whisper in one’s sleep.
There even is such a thing as the Thought Police.
Nothing is private. Just like Huxley, whose characters
clamoured that everybody belonged to everybody else,
Orwell’s heroes are doomed to belong to the Party.
The view is so drab that it renders even the reader
helpless. People are like hopeless animals driven to work.
While reading this book, you feel
constantly on the
verge of tears. They are tears of sadness for the
lives, of humiliation and, at last, of utter
despair. The face of ‘Big
Brother’, ‘the face of a man
of about forty- five, with a heavy black moustache and
ruggedly handsome features,’ made to stare at you from
whatever point you look at it, watches everyone all the
time. Nobody has
ever seen or heard Big Brother, he
may as well be dead, but he is the chief
of the Party
and must be worshipped. All Party members have to wear
identical blue overalls, to love Big Brother and hate
fanatically the enemy
Oceania is at war with (Eastasia or Eurasia, as it
The telescreen in every room cannot be shut
off completely, it can atThe telescreen in every room
cannot be shut off completely, it can at best be dimmed.
It registers everything, so you are never alone, you must
always watch your face, your lips, your gestures, your
Winston fails to keep up with the
morning gymnastics on the screen (which sounds just like
North Korea), he is promptly scolded. The absolute lack
of privacy as seen by Orwell is just as maddening as that
Huxley, only it is more painful because it
experienced in such grim surroundings:‘The telescreen
received and transmitted simultaneously.
Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a
very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so
long as he remained within the field of vision which the
metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as
heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether
you were being watched at any given moment. How often,
or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any
individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable
that they watched everybody all the time. But at any
rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted
to. You had to live – did live, from habit that became
instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made
was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement
Winston Smith, like Huxley’s savage John, reacts
fiercely against this compelled dehumani za tion and
decides to keep a diary. There is a dark recess in his
room, where he thinks he cannot be spotted by the
telescreen. He buys an old, beautiful notebook, and
starts writing with difficulty. His mind finds it extremely
hard to struggle free from fear, which fear, he now
realizes, slowly destroys his intellect, prevents it from
prolonged hours) for the Ministry of Truth – Minitruth,
as it is called in Newspeak, the new, official language of
Oceania. This Ministry of Truth is busy concealing
reality, in fact. A huge number of people are busy
rearranging old articles in old papers, in order to bring
them up to date, to eliminate the contradictions between
past and present statements. The memory of a whole
nation is deliberately annihilated.
We have come out of
a communist regdeliberately annihilated. We have come
out of a communist regime and we know only too well how
exaggerates, that nobody can destroy man’s last refuge,
his mind. Thoughts have been and will always be free.
Communist countries did have a kind of Thought Police,
though, in psychiatry hospitals sometimes. There the
mind was tampered with until fear became so strong that
it left the patient speechless.
In Oceania there are four Ministries, described as
follows: ‘...the Ministry of Truth, which concerned itself
with news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts;
the Ministry of Peace, which concerned itself with war;
the Ministry of Love, which maintained law and order;
and the Ministry of Plenty, which was responsible for
economic affairs. Their names, in Newspeak: Minitrue,
Minipax, Miniluv, and Miniplenty.’
The description sounds depressing to anyone who
nothing to do with what activities actually take place
inside them. The virtue of lying is a major achievement.
When Winston feels overwhelmed with the distortion of
truth, he attempts the highest offence possible, he
‘opens’ a diary. He knows that any thoughts directed
otherwise than towards the Party could bring him death
or the forced labour camp. Yet, he starts writing on the
4th of April, 1984. It may be hard to remember what
each of us was doing on that day. The only certain thing
for which Winston can swear is that he is thirty- nine
As we go along, accompanying him to destruction, we
cross a land mainly inhabited by two groups: the Party
members and the proles. The proles are unimportant.
They are uneducated and even poorer than a common
Party member. The hope that they might overthrow the
system is absent. They are freer, though, and are not
compelled to take part in the daily ‘Two Minutes Hate’,
for instance, when everyone is supposed to prove fanatic
loyalty to Big Brother.
Emmanuel Goldstein is shown on the screen, as the
Enemy of the People. He was once a Party leader, but
betrayed it and disappeared. He is shown denouncing the
dictatorship of the Party, demanding freedom of speech,
freedom of the press and of thought, crying that the
revolution has been betrayed. Reading all this, some feel
how depressing it is to realize we have lived through all
that and seem to be living it now all over again. History
The Thought Police unmasks spies and saboteurs
every day. The oppressive atmosphe re of this book
reminds us only too well of our own world of lies until not
long ago. It may not even be dead yet. Winston feels
more and more crushed by the necessity to hide his
thoughts, reactions, feelings, even to control his face.
And when he fails to do so, when, just for once, he is
honest with O’Brien (a colleague of the Inner Party), he
makes a terrible mistake. Instead of a fellow conspirator
against the Party, as Winston deems him to be, O’Brien
turns out to be the man who tortures Winston in the end
till utter annihilation.
When, at the end of the book, Winston ceases to
be himself, after prolonged torture and brain- washing
at the hands of O’Brien and the Thought Police, we also
Brotherhood included) may exist within such a perfectly
organized repressive system. In a way, we sigh with
relief: this is, however, more than we have experienced.
The loneliness of the characters in Orwell’s book is more
dehumani zed than ours was. Yet it is not so very far
away from it. Thought crime is a fear that may have
survived communism. So have the arrests that ‘invariably
happened at night’. People disappeared at night – do they
still? – , nobody came to know how or why, no trials,
they were ‘vaporized’, and all their traces were lost.
A world teeming with secret agents, in which even
children spy on and betray their own parents, as in the
case of Winston’s neighbour, who shouts in his sleep
‘Down with Big Brother’, although he seems perfectly
adapted to the system. His children denounce him, he is
thrown in prison, and yet he is very proud of their
‘You’re a traitor! (...) You’re a thought- criminal!
You’re a Eurasian spy! I’ll shoot you, I’ll vaporize you, I’ll
send you to the salt mines!’All children belong to the
Organization called the Spies. They learn at a very
tender age the ‘discipline of the Party.’ They frighten
their parents. In school girls have sex- classes, during
which they are taught thatmaking love in order to bear
children is their ‘duty’ towards the Party. Orwell is a
master at creating images for lives wasted from the
cradle to the grave.In front of the slow death of the
human brain, Winston takes refuge in his diary, which he
hardly knows how to use. For whom does he write it? He
has no idea:
‘To the future or to the past, to a time when
thought is free, when men To the future or to the past,
to a time when thought is free, when men are different
from one another and do not live alone – to a time when
truth exists and what is done cannot be undone:
From the age of uniformity, from the age of
solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of
double think – greetings!’He works for the Party. He
helps ‘control the past’ and promote doublethink, by
different from what the present states. His memory
rebels against all this. His whole being reacts. His most
manifest act of protest is falling in love with Julia.
Feelings are not allowed. Marriages should be loveless.
Besides, he is already married and merely separated, not
divorced. Orwell’s model must have been the Stalinist
society of the 1940s.
Had he been a more subtle thinker or analyst, he
would have felt that human beings never fail to find
spotWinston begins by meeting Julia in a country spot.
She is twenty- six andknows absolutely nothing about any
other world than her own. Winston can at least think of
the previous (capitalist) society, and even dreams of it,
desperately wants to learn more. He clings to the past
with the hope that it might come to pass again.
Later, they rent a small room in a prole district.
They think they are safe there, but in the end it turns
out later that everyone around was a spy. Even the mildlooking old man who gave them the room and sold
Winston the copy- book for his diary. Even the small
prole room, with ancient capitalist perfume, where they
think there is no telescreen to spy on them, has a screen
hidden behind a picture. Absolutely nothing is safe.
Both Winston and Julia are taken to prison and
reformed beyond recognition. They meet again in the
final pages, as two beings who have no life left, two
robots who politely ignore each other. Orwell’s novel is a
handbook of despair.
essayistic, descriptive book? He enumerates evils and
incidents. He does not venture inside a character,
except to show it is empty, there is nothing alive in it.
The plot is meagre, just a pretext to describe the
surrounding world. He builds up a negative utopia, a
dystopia, just like Huxley.
In many ways it is unfair to discuss the literary
value of a dystopia. Orwell focuses upon building an
essential image, a synthesis, like a definition of the
totalitarian system. The literary ingredients he uses are
meant to help us swallow his thoughts. His postmodernity
mixes literature with journalism and political theory. He
frustration. Had we not lived through most of what he
describes, we would merely have been afraid.
is haunting. As
saddened beyond speech. Saddened that his imagination,
even as early as 1949, worked well, yet nobody in the
communist countries had the power to do anything about
it.We could easily have been the heroes of this book, if
the terror had continued. We had already started
Orwell may not have been a perfect novelist in 1984 ,
but he was an accurate visionary. For the relief people
encaged in communism felt when reading his book, for
the sadness that part of our own life has been wasted so
far, and for the faint hope that we may still see better
times because we have emerged out of 1984 alive,
Orwell is a writer whodeserves our support at least, if