Saturday, March 4, 2017

Nineteen Eighty-Four 1949 by George Orwell

“Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes a revolution in order to establish a dictatorship.”

In November of 2014, I began reading through a list of 100 novels created by Time Magazine in 2005. The first one on the list was To Kill A Mockingbird, and I wrote a blog post about it here. The next book was 1984, by George Orwell, which I had never read before. It was interesting, though a bit disturbing.

The premise of the novel is a description of the world in 1984 (thirty-five years in the future at the time it was written), a post-nuclear war world ruled by only three superstates:  Oceana, Eastasia, and Eurasia. At that time, the world was in a constant state of war, although it wasn’t always clear who was at war with whom, and the battleground is always somewhere far away from the home and life of the main character, Winston.

Another piece of this society is one of the most commonly known today, the surveillance system known only as “Big Brother”. In the book, there are tele-screens that are actually dual-purpose devices, playing a steady stream of propaganda while simultaneously recording everything that is going on.

A few other interesting aspects of this future world are “newspeak”  and “doublethink”. “Newspeak” is a truncated version of English in which words are strung together and abbreviated to create new words, similar to text language today. It was deliberately limiting, intended to make revolutionary thought impossible because the words were literally gone from the common vocabulary.

“Doublethink” was also meant to squash independent thought. It was “to know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it.”

Upon finishing the novel, I was left with a feeling of sadness when Winston was finally “assimilated” into society; it’s not often I’ve come across a novel without a happy ending. It was also quite disturbing to compare the events and suppositions of the story to society today. How many citizens of the world are being forced to think a certain way or speak with limited vocabulary without even knowing it? How much of our lives is actually our own, and how much is being watched in one way or another?

I know with the recent election of Trump as President, many people have been comparing the world to Orwell’s imagined future. I’m not saying I agree with that, but I do believe that words are a very powerful thing, and that if we aren’t careful, “dystopian” will become more than just a genre of literature.

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