“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
The masterwork 1984 was published in July 1949, almost 7 decades ago. George Orwell was already a literary star; however, nobody envisaged the lastingness his work is going to have over time.
Like a lot of people, I read this book in high-school though I couldn’t relate much. But I reread it the past month, and everything about it suddenly feels all too similar.
A world with a watchdog “Big Brother” that keeps the national security intact by eavesdropping in everybody’s home using high-tech devices like, “Alexa, what’s up?” Sounds similar?
A period of endless war with civilians dying, fear and hatred being injected towards people of other religions and foreigners, movies showing refugees dying at sea. A period in which our own government insists that the truth isn’t “something objective, external and existing in its own rights.” Still, rather it is “whatever the Party speaks as truth is truth.”
Winston Smith, the novel’s hero, sees the Party who “told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears,” and vows to defend the “obvious” and “the true.” He always reminds himself that, “freedom is to say that two plus two is four,” even though the Party convinces him forcibly that “TWO AND TWO MAKE FIVE.”
It isn’t surprising to find out that this novel is on Amazon’s Bestseller list since it has found a broad readership in this “post-truth” era. Another striking thing that surfaced when I read it the second time wasn’t the “Big Brother.” Instead, the alterations of the factual truth due to the penetration of misinformation and fake news in our day-to-day lives.
What does the Novel Mean for Us?
It surely doesn’t mean Room 101, where Winston is interrogated till the time he loses everything, which is dear to him. We don’t live under such a totalitarian regime. If you live in a country where you’re allowed to read 1984 is not a country that is described in 1984.
However, we live in a country where we pass our time under constant surveillance of an Apple telescreen. The Ministry of Truth, right now, is Google, Facebook, and TV news channels.
We live in a regime that didn’t exist during the time of Mr. Orwell. It is a combination of hard nationalism with soft cruelty and entertainment. The most common problem today is too much information from many sources, with a resulting plague of fragmentation, not an increase in excessive authority but its disappearance. This leaves the commoners to work out on the facts for themselves at their own mercy, prejudices, and delusions.
Having said that, I can’t stress much that the choking of intellectual freedom is doing lasting damage- corrupting the ability to think clearly and undermining both culture and progress.
“Nothing is gained by teaching a parrot a new word. What is needed is the right to print what one believes to be true, without having to fear bullying or blackmail from any side.”
Not much had changed since 1940 when Orwell wrote this. 1984 is and always will be an essential book, irrespective of change in ideologies, for its portrayal of one person struggling to hold on to what is real and valuable.
“Sanity is not statistical,” Winston thinks one night before falling asleep. As it turns out, truth is an awfully fragile thing. Inside your skull, lies the central drama of politics.