When I was younger, I thought 1984 was a sacred classic book full of difficult English vocabularies which I’d never be able to read. I just finished reading it yesterday — it was actually comprehensible. I’ve known about the book since a long time ago, ever since I finished reading Murakami’s IQ84 (IQ84 is generally based on Orwell’s 1984). At that time, I found it impressive how Orwell was actually writing the novel during the 1940s, as if he was a clairvoyant. Orwell’s sole purpose of writing 1984 was to criticize nations such as the Soviet Union, Spain, and Russia, that used totalitarian regimes. Little did he know that now in 2016, 70 years after 1984 got published, North Korea still portrays most aspects from the book.
The novel takes place in a dystopian London — a city inhabited by poor citizens (the proles) and rained with random bombings due to a constant war that no one really understands. The government is called IngSoc, or English Socialism, with a clandestine man named Big Brother as the leader. The citizens’ activities and thoughts are constantly monitored by the government with the help of recorders and telescreens. Anyone who commits crime, even “thought-crime”, will be captured by the Thought Police, and sent to labor exiles, prisons, and interrogation room (Room 101). In Big Brother’s world, thinking against the government is considered a serious crime with deadly consequences. Terrifying, isn’t it?
1984 revolves around the life of Winston Smith, a 39-year-old working for the Outer Party of IngSoc, in the Ministry of Truth. His job is basically to alter every past events that have happened according to Big Brother’s own predicament. Through Winston’s job, Orwell wants to depict how in totalitarian regime, the leader can shift factual data. Winston’s life is supposedly better than those of the proles, considering that he works for the government. Nonetheless, his life is pretty much apathetic. Winston realizes the fallacy of the government, and decides to rebel against the Party. Alongside with his girlfriend, Julia, Winston does things that are strongly opposed by the Party: doing adulteries just for the sake of it, making vague plottings to topple the government, buying things from the black markets, having surreptitious meetings together in a secret hiding place (the room above Mr. Charrington’s antique shop). Julia may look like the usual conservative Party member — leading the Junior Anti Sex league, joining the propaganda passionately, bashing the Party’s rival — yet, she also rebels against the government. Both of them even attempt to meet up & conspire with a member from the Inner Party named O’brien, whom they naively think have the same ideology as theirs. Unfortunately, Winston and Julia get captured in their hiding place as Charrington is not an old prole/citizen — spoiler alert, he’s a 50 year old Thought Police, and the “secret room above the antique shop” is wired with hidden telescreen. Winston and Julia then be brought to the prison and Room 101 for interrogation, where they eventually betray each other. The novel ends with a brain-washed Winston who now has deep affection for Big Brother. Having released by the Thought Police, he proceeds on living life without truly living.
What surprises me the most is the character named O’brien, a member of the Inner Party, who tricks Winston into believing that he also opposes Big Brother. Throughout the novel, he seems extremely legit; giving Winston a guide book consisting revolutionary ideas, and even inviting Winston to his house for a discussion. O’brien turns out to be a Thought Police himself, who proceeds to brainwash Winston for the sake of the Party. Moral of the story: never trust anyone. The prominent theme of 1984 is Doublethink — an act of of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct. That’s why the Party’s propaganda includes 3 contradictory themes: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength. Even the Ministries’ purposes are contradictory:
- The Ministry of Truth is intended to spread lies (propaganda)
- The Ministry of Peace is intended for wars
- The Ministry of Plenty is intended to ration limited supplies for the citizens
- The Ministry of Love is intended for law and order, which contains prisons and the interrogation room (Room 101)
After being severely brainwashed, Winston is not an individual anymore — he merely lives to adore the leader (Big Brother). 1984 is written as a warning towards the danger of society that has lost traces of individuality, love, critical thinking, in which people of totalitarian regime don’t realize due to Doublethink. A defector from North Korea was surprised at how similar the dystopian London in 1984 is when compared to Kim Jong Un’s regime, as if the history is repeating itself.
It’s a brilliant politic-oriented novel; too bad George Orwell wasn’t a saint himself. He was an openly narrow minded homophobe, although he opposed conservatism. He wrote plenty of novels that bash on conservative totalitarian regime, yet he lived as an authoritarian teacher, beating on pupils that did not respect him. Those pupils still considered him as the best teacher ever, though. Does this mean he also adopted the notion of Doublethink? Well, at least he opposed the Nazi and thought anti-semitism as irrational.