First published in 1949, George Orwell’s dystopian novel increasingly seems less like a work of fiction and more like a prophetic vision. This book was disturbing to read on many levels. Thankfully society as a whole has not yet reached the level of totalitarianism that the book’s ‘Big Brother’ oligarchy has imposed on Oceania (think present day U.K. and the Americas), yet there have been pockets in history and in modern life that do come eerily close to the vision.
For instance, Stalin’s communist Russia, or China’s Mao Tse Tung’s gangs of youth lynch mobs, or Pol Pot’s systematic annihilation of the urban and educated classes of Cambodia, in North Korea, every person is property and is owned by a small and mad family with hereditary power, all of which mimic elements of 1984‘s IngSoc (English Socialism). Or, for example, when I went to school in Prague after the fall of communism and stayed in a dorm room with a built in speaker (for disseminating information/propaganda) and microphone (for listening in conversations). Even today there is the ubiquitous ‘tele’ which controls and ‘watches over’ the people, or the gross infringement of privacy at the local airport with full body scans, all in name of ‘security’.
This is a story about the direction of human society apart from the restraining grace of God on evil. Imagine a society without God, where sinful human nature is let loose to do it’s worst… that society is Oceania.
It is a story about a common, middle-aged protagonist, who works for the outer party, and who secretly desires to fight the system and spark a revolution for freedom, individuality, and joy… While reading the book, I longed for and waited for this to happen. After all, isn’t this what happens in all the great dystopia movies which ultimately turn back for the good of mankind? Perhaps more realistically, this is not the case with 1984. Instead of a revolution, our protagonist is betrayed, imprisoned, tortured, forced into false confessions, and ruthlessly brainwashed so that, in the end ‘Big Brother’ wins.
The last lines of the book grimly portray the victory and cruel march of ‘Big Brother’ on into an indefinite future:
But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.
Finally, one small example of historical revisionism similar to the scenes described in 1984: