There was a time when I claimed George Orwell to be my favorite author. I like his pessimism, which is not very surprising since I am, I think, a natural pessimist. And of course, I like this novel.
I read this book mainly because I was born on the same year. What happened in 1984? What was supposed to happen in 1984? Although the cover of my copy is a bit dark and foreboding, I totally had no idea that this book is going to shake me for some time.
So it is that intense. Although I like this book, I can’t say that I understood it as deeply as a serious literature professor would do. But I think I understood it enough for me to like it.
Alright, so I was yakking about how I liked this book and all, but I vaguely remember the details. I think the protagonist is Winston, but the most important character, if it is to be considered a character, is Big Brother. I say it because it seems that Big Brother is genderless. Big Brother is the government. We assign the female sex to nations, but what of the governments? Apparently, the male sex might be it. The name Big Brother says it all, not to mention the overpowering and extensive reach that the government has over the citizens.
So Big Brother is omnipresent. He sees everyone’s movements thanks to the security cameras installed everywhere. Well, they are not really security cameras. Were they called intercoms? Again, I am not sure with that detail, but you get the drift. This is the futuristic era where all your movements, however slight they may be, are under scrutiny.
War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. These are the three motifs that are all over the book. These contradictions are expounded further. I no longer remember them, and I will make it a point to reread that part. What I remember is that by waging war, peace is somehow attained due to the paranoia that is sustained with the impending war when in fact, there is no war at all. I might be wrong, but I think what I am saying has a little truth in it.
So Winston struggles to fight against this controlling and manipulative Big Brother, who is turning the citizens into mere machines incapable of thinking aloud and even expressing without the fear of being accused a traitor. In the end though, Winston loses the battle. I think he even declares his love and loyalty for Big Brother. Thus, a bleak future for them and for the future generations to come.
I think the book was written as a warning. The author must have come up with this vision thanks to the way the political systems were going during his time. I think he succeeded for we are still enjoying whatever rights we have. We can still purse our lips in dismay, raise our eyebrows in mockery, and say our thoughts without any person from the government arresting us and manipulating our thoughts to love the authority in return.
But is this future of ubiquitous controlling possible? As long as there as people in each generation who have to capacity to speculate on such matters and the tenacity to warn others, it can be warded off and even put it further to 2084, 2184, 2284. But in the unlikely event that a generation just succumbs to whatever is being told of them without the slightest trace of hesitation, Big Brother will take surely over. And George Orwell will rise from the grave with a shaking head saying, I told you so.
This work is a classic example of negative utopia. When this book is brought up for the sake of discussing negative utopia, another book surfaces, which is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I have already marked that book for my next read. I should have read it way, way back, but I was only able to get a copy recently. I have read 1984 maybe four years ago. I was meaning to compare the two, but it might not be really possible since I only have a few remnants of what I know of 1984. Unless I reread it.
I am in no condition to reread it though. There are just some books that however good they are, they are just hard to reread. This is not because of the tough prose, but the dreadful feelings and images evoked are just unbearable. An example would be Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
But if I can’t reread as a whole, I’ll revisit the chunks. I would like to be one of those people who would ward off Big Brother. The simple act of reading is enough.