If asked for my personal opinion, I would put George Orwell’s acclaimed novel, 1984, in the genre of Horror. The book, which is a cult-fiction of sorts is not only prophetic but also invokes deep feelings of fear. 1984 is a novel in three parts, and my interpretation of these three parts can be summarized as follows:
Part I: Rebellion in thought against a prevailing system
Part II: Rebellion in action
Part III: Subjugation of the rebellion displaying the vulnerabilities of man in the face of a larger than life system of control and brainwash
The book begins on the premise of constant fear and a nagging desire to rebel against a political system based largely on absolute power, control, and falsehood. The protagonist Winston Smith, is shown to live in the year 1984 where a political party, Ingsoc, lead by a figure called Big Brother, is controlling the lives, actions and even thoughts of the masses. Basic human faculties of free thought, debate, discussion, self-improvement, professional growth, and social upliftment is suppressed through mental conditioning by a political power that demands unconditional “love” and allegiance to Big Brother.
So much so that even facial expressions and consequently thoughts are closely monitored, and any signs of mistrust, or misconstrued behavior are severely punishable offences under the title of “Thoughtcrime.” Ironically, the brute force that controls the punishment and retribution of Thoughtcrime, is called the Ministry of Love, for the aim of crushing Thoughtcrime is to invest the masses with unconditional “love” towards the philosophy of the Ingsoc, and the political figure of Big Brother.
1984 is the story of a time, where there is total polarization of global economies and culture, into three geographical segments – Oceania (where the protoganist resides), Eurasia and Eastasia. While the three superstates are at constant war trying to maintain a sensitive and fragile balance of power, and control over resources, the lives of the people is enmeshed in a daily existence of rationing, propaganda, thought control and subjugation. Science and technology have reached a stagnation wherein their only use is to perpetuate the war, to keep an eye on any instance of rebellion or desire for change, and to ultimately brainwash the rebellious to realize that existence beyond the existing political mechanism is impossible.
Orwell’s work is dark and highly prophetic, considering that it was written in 1950. It depicts the complete shredding of organized society and the growth of a singular tyrannical rule where life, rather free life as a concept is obsolete. It is the story of a society, where trust and love as we know today, between human beings, has been totally wiped off. Children are trained early on war tactics, spying and even going against their parents, all in the name of dedication towards the totalitarian state. Social life is divided into three: the privileged Inner Party, the less privileged Outer Party and the outcastes or Proles, and through these three hierarchies, the social classes of High, Middle and Low are perpetuated.
History is rewritten shamelessly, facts are manipulated, professional life is mechanical, devoid of privacy, and directed only towards the benefit of the political mechanism, food is rationed, technological progress is abandoned, personal life is espied upon through telescreens and leisure time is forced and only possible through state-run community centers. Information is biased and flimsy and even maintaining a personal diary is a punishable offence. Marriage is only for procreation for sexual energies are suppressed only to be directed as unconditional and mindless allegiance towards a State that is based on slavery, fear and war. Even language is manipulated and its scary to see that today’s mobile-based sms language could very well be the counterpart of the Newspeak – the language perpetuated by the Ingsoc, where new words are concocted, spellings invented and the usage of verbs discouraged.
The three guiding principles of this Totalitarian state in Oceania are:
• War is Peace
• Freedom is Slavery
• Ignorance is Strength
Part II of the book is dedicated towards explaining how the oxymoron translates into actual workings under the aegis of the State. Its interesting to note the power of wordplay and is a constant reminder that how political parties use words to manipulate thoughts and convince the ignorant into ways of life that only detrimental to individual progress as well as the cumulative growth of humanity.
It is in such a premise that Winston Smith dares to pen down his thoughts, seek likeminded people in an attempt to regain his freedom of thought, action, and speech, dares to love and in the end loses all at the hands of a system that is so corrupt and so widespread that love and trust are only a vehicle to perpetuate the political motives. It is the power of brainwashing, and of the corruption that only absolute power can entail. It is a world straight out of the sweetest dreams of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini; a world that we may very well see ourselves plunging into in the face of political polarization, communal philosophies, natural resource based economies and the misuse of science and technology. It’s a world out of the darkest recesses of our mind, and 1984 is a mirror of this world.
As the novel ends, I am thinking that is not possible for a person to rebel against a system that is strong and ruthless. Is there no logical answer to or successful redemption against repression? Maybe there isn’t! So, what does one do to safeguard one’s freedom, and sanity? The answer is to not allow repression, and absolute power to take control. As the old saying goes Prevention is better than Cure. Alertness and insight can prevent totalitarian philosophies to take control of our lives. For once, we are citizens of a Totalitarian state, in a world that is based on War and Terror, there is no hope. The key is to nip evil in the bud.
1984 is a political allegory and a prophetic warning against the misgivings of a Totalitarian state. In today’s world its all the more important to read this book because it can be an insight into times to come, only and if only, the individual loses awareness of the prowess of consciousness and goodwill, and allows himself to be manipulated by political brainwash. 1984 is a shrill war cry- a cry to remain vigilant and jealously guard individual freedom.