I know I was supposed to be reading first the books I put in my 2017 reading list but I just couldn’t resist reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four because I just fell in love when I read the first page.
The dystopian–or more conveniently Orwellian– plot is set in a post-war London that has been taken over by America, presumably after the First World War. The world is divided into three super powers–Eurassia, Eastasia and Oceania– that are constantly in a state of war in order to establish themselves as the strongest state, when in reality neither can defeat the other, even if two states fight as allies against one. The people live under what I can vaguely describe as a twisted, anarchic form of socialist totalitarianism called Ingsoc (English Socialism). The novel is mostly Anti-Stahlin and mocks at the dark side of Socialism and all the ways it can go wrong (cue forced-labour camps).
What really draws the reader is the possibility that this conditioning and hypnosis (or doublethink as Orwell calls it) could be prevalent in our present day society in an alarmingly subtle way. The Party slogan in Orwell’s dysfunctional world says WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.
The people are said to have committed thoughtcrime if they even think ill of the Party or their leader Big Brother. The people are caught eventually by the Thought Police, even if they suppress their anti-government opinions because under the stress they talk in their sleep at one point. Or they commit suicide before the Thought Police can get to them, fearing their brutal punishments. Telescreens are a norm in every room of every house, office and street, whence the people are under constant scrutiny. Even an unconcious look of dismay is noted and questioned. People learn to plaster a grin on their faces and shut their emotions from showing.
People are brainwashed to believe that Big Brother is their saviour and worship him for dragging the people out of the dark days, where the capitalist swines ruled and the poor were trampled upon. The irony lies where the same is happening in Big Brother’s new world order, only the people are too blind to see it. The kids are enrolled to become Spies as soon as they learn how to speak, and they end up spying on their own parents for possible thoughtcrime.
Primal human instincts are continuosly suppressed. Food is bland and minimal, cheap cigarettes and synthetic gin is how people survive the workload. Anti-Sex scouts wipe out the concept of affection towards the opposite sex from a young age, producing impregnable women and hungry men. Falling in love is looked down upon as an act of the uncivilized “proles”. The only purpose of marriage ought to be to produce offspring who will later serve the Party. Half the population goes barefoot. Figures and statistics are distorted and “corrected” to make people believe that the economy has been only growing and swelling every day. One day the chocolate ration is announced to have been reduced, the next day is an announcement where Big Brother who cares so much for his people, has increased the ration, and everyone buys it.
The concept of war in the book is shown as a national obsession– a source of extreme patriotism and passionate loathing for the other countries. So what are the chances that we too are today living in a prematurely Orwellian society?