Overview: I have been meaning to read this book for quite some time now. I am sure most people have at least heard of this work by Orwell, as it is a classic. The main character, Winston, lives in a world where everyone is controlled by a form of government known as “Big Brother.” Any actions or thoughts that go against the government are punishable, and the citizens are constantly monitored by microphones and cameras known as telescreens. All recorded history has been altered to fit the agenda of Big Brother and actual recollections of events only exist in the mind, which is constantly being manipulated. Winston is one of those who realizes that all elements of his existence are being controlled, and has hopes that someday there will be a successful rebellion against Big Brother and that life may return to the state it was in before the rule of Big Brother. As the story progresses Winston meets a young woman named Julia who is also against the party. They enter into an illegal and secretive relationship with one another, which eventually leads to them getting caught by Big Brother. The punishment they receive displays the sort of mind control that Big Brother attempts to impose on the population. It is said that this book was Orwell’s vision of the future, and is popularly compared to Huxley’s Brave New World. 1984 is a worthwhile read for everybody, regardless of interests and dispositions.
Lessons: With the recent NSA scandal and the discovery that the government is spying on all communications of the American people (and perhaps in some instances non-American people) this book is surprisingly relevant to the present. It was published in 1949. The lesson here is that it is very possible for a government to control the minds and actions of a large mass of people. With the right meaningless distractions, a convincing all-knowing higher power, extensive surveillance tools, and ability to create fear in people, a Big Brother-like world could still be possible for the future.
Important passages (Per Sean):
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 scrutinised.
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.
He was a lonely ghost uttering a truth that nobody would ever hear. But so long as he uttered it, in some obscure way the continuity was not broken. It was not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried on the human heritage.
Why was it that they could never shout like that about anything that mattered? He wrote: Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.
They were born, they grew up in the gutters, they went to work at twelve, they passed through a brief blossoming-period of beauty and sexual desire, they married at twenty, they were middle-aged at thirty, they died, for the most part, at sixty. Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer and, above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.
The capitalists owned everything in the world, and everyone else was their slave. They owned all the land, all the houses, all the factories, and all the money. If anyone disobeyed them they could throw him into prison, or they could take his job away and starve him to death. When any ordinary person spoke to a capitalist he had to cringe and bow to him, and take off his cap and address him as ‘Sir’. The chief of all the capitalists was called the King,
In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. By lack of understanding they remained sane. They simply swallowed everything, and what they swallowed did them no harm, because it left no residue behind, just as a grain of corn will pass undigested through the body of a bird.
In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.
In our own day they are not fighting against one another at all. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word ‘war’, therefore, has become misleading.
Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. The old civilisations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph and self-abasement.
He took up his glass and sniffed at it. The stuff grew not less but more horrible with every mouthful he drank. But it had become the element he swam in. It was his life, his death and his resurrection. It was gin that sank him into stupor every night, and gin that revived him every morning.