Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Nineteen Eighty Four

Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
Penguin Books

Maybe I’m being overly paranoid, but Nineteen Eighty Four has inspired in me a sense of dread I’m finding impossible to shake off. George Orwell’s account of the ultimate surveillance society, where a person’s every move is monitored, down to his or her facial expression, is absolutely terrifying and uncomfortably familiar.

Writing in 1949, Orwell imagines the world in 1984, now split into three super powers: Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. Winston Smith lives in Oceania where the ruling power is the all-seeing Big Brother. He works at the Ministry of Truth rewriting history to ensure Big Brother’s interests are always served. Party members are at all times monitored by two-way telescreens, helicopters patrol the streets, and the Thought Police are constantly on the look out for subversives.

When Winston starts a diary (strictly forbidden), and then a covert love affair with Julia, he knows it’s only a matter of time before they’ll both be arrested and “vaporised.” But it doesn’t stop him hoping that his small act of disobedience will one day contribute to a greater uprising. Unfortunately, the violence and ultimate horror Winston is finally subjected to demonstrate just how powerful Big Brother really is. O’Brien, at once both Winston’s tormentor and saviour says:

“’How does one man assert his power over another Winston?”

Winston thought. ‘By making him suffer,’ he said.

‘Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? 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.’”

In Orwell’s rules for writers he states: “never use a long word when a short one will do” and because he follows his own edict his writing is both highly accessible, and absolutely petrifying. There are of course many parallels between today’s world and the imagined society of the story. We must swipe a registered card each time we get on the bus or tram, CTV cameras follow our every move, and our use of mobile phones, credit cards, Facebook and the Internet make us so easily traceable. WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH, and Big Brother is most certainly watching.

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