At The Story of This Story, staff writer Marissa Morales takes a look at old, new and otherwise interesting books in closer detail every Thursday. This week: George Orwell’s 1984.
1984 seems to elicit the same response in most people my age: “That was the only book I actually read in high school. It’s one of my favorites.” Interesting, I’d say. (And don’t worry, Brett Blair; if you’re reading this, it was none of your students, because we all loved you and read everything you handed us). 1984 hits a nerve with readers, especially today. We know the fear of “Big Brother is watching.” Why? Because we live it every day. We sit in front of computer screens and have our list of can’t-miss shows. Even with the ever-evolving Apple products (I’m looking at you, Siri), we use technology to communicate with the people in our lives. There’s nothing scarier to me than wondering if, after Skyping with someone, “IS THIS DAMN CAMERA ACTUALLY OFF?”
The relationship between Winston and Julia drives Book One, and it showcases something elicit and forbidden. The only way sex is allowed is strictly via a match made by the Party, for the purpose of creating more members. That’s it. Take a second and imagine a world where you can only have sex with a partner chosen by the government. And they’re the only person you are allowed to bang. TERRIFYING. Winston and Julia sneak off and explore one another in the woods, and in a room with no telescreens above an antique store. How sexy.
If I were an Orwell character, I would be Winston. The paranoia that takes him over is something completely relatable. The way that he is so easily deceived by O’Brien evokes pity in the reader, and yet like Winston, we are left holding onto hope that hey, maybe he’s not such a bad guy…except he is. O’Brien is still ranked within the Inner Party, and just wants Winston to give up Julia, so then he can be free. Essentially, the government is asking him to give up happiness in order to better serve the Party. Controlling the body also controls the mind.
The Party controls both language and history. When the Party wants to turn friend into foe in the eyes of the people, all history must be altered. There is no way to bring it back except for in one’s memory. This is useless because even if one wanted to challenge it (and die), there is no proof. So instead one is left looking crazy and disappears. How nice. Winston muses, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” The Party is in charge of everything.
The most in-your-face symbol of 1984 is none other than Big Brother. What a sweet name, right? It’s such a comforting name for the most terrifying presence in the novel. Big Brother is everywhere, watching, but there is no proof that he actually exists. A symbol for God? Maybe, but the point is that you never want to disappoint him. Hmmm…to be honest, I’m not sure if that was what Orwell was going for, but this is how I choose to interpret it. Follow blindly.
The purpose of Orwell writing 1984 was to show the dangers of totalitarianism (that word brought you back to a classroom, didn’t it?!). At the time of publication, in 1949, Russia’s communist society was viewed as a funny little experiment those crazy Russians were embarking on. Orwell saw it for what it was: a cruel and oppressive society. The novel was written to show what would happen if Communism caught on, and the dangers it could potentially lead to. There’s a reason it was set thirty-five years after it was published; Orwell knew it wouldn’t take long. It may have started with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, but Orwell really pegged a dystopian society in a far more frightening way.
Technology was still a relatively new world. Not everyone had televisions in their homes, let alone computers. (LE GASP!). The idea of “telescreens” was laughable…or was it? The idea that we could all be constantly monitored was a completely horrifying thought. It still is. In context of the time though, there was nothing that could be done to avoid sending fear down the spines of readers. The government would abuse technology just to keep all of us in check. They would know that you weren’t really sick, you just wanted to stay at home and catch up on “Breaking Bad.” Fuuuu….