1984. George Orwell. 1949.
Big Brother is watching you. A phrase I have known my whole life without understanding it’s true meaning. I now know the horrors it represents in vivid detail. I read this book to not only understand the literary references but also to comprehend what a post-WWII author considered a dystopia. I am glad I chose to read it but I can’t say I actually enjoyed doing so.
I listened to this book through an audible.com download and I have to say it was painful to listen to both the bleak future and the gut-wrenching torture. I felt sad and hopeless for both the characters and for the story’s reflection on humanity. I found it frightening how accurately Orwell was able to predict our present from a past vastly different from today. He envisioned a society obsessed with, and controlled by, technology. He saw a world where the government brained washed the masses through fear and threats of scarcity, controlled information and forged truths, and relied on the most baser human instincts of deceit, selfishness and betrayal to further its control.The oppression we experience today may be much less overt, but it is just as real. In our world it is the corporations that control our freedoms, that manipulate our instincts, that play off of our fears.
Orwell created this literary work after having lived through some of the worst horrors of our time. He had witnessed the first and second world wars, Hitler’s holocaust, the death camps, Stalin’s USSR, and the rise of an American superpower. It isn’t hard to see why he would have imagined such a grim future. But I wonder what he would think of our lives today? Are we living that doomed future or is a facade of happiness and prosperity enough? Would Orwell be happy to see our luxuries and sumptuous living? Or should he see through the veneer to the wastefulness, the selfishness and the inequality?
At a certain point in the story, I began to think that perhaps it was at it’s heart a story about love. A story about the power of making a connection in the void. I wonder if really, at their centre, all stories are simply a retelling of the quest for love. And maybe that is true. But in this story even love is turned into a force of evil. Through physical, emotional and psychological torture, the story’s lovers sacrifice each other. They betray each other to save themselves.
Having read 1984, I understand the terms doublethink, newspeak and Big Brother. And I am glad I do because I what I choose to take away from this book is that it is our responsibility not to be ignorant to the crimes of our time. We must always choose to be engage with our communities, our politics, our consumer habits, our lives. We must never allow ourselves to become pawns, doormats or sheep. We must remember what is right. We must stand up for what we believe. We must fight for diversity, education, freedom, imagination. We must cherish intelligence, artistic vision, and differing opinions. We must not let our language be destroyed, our voices suppressed, our thinking controlled. We must never relinquish our humanity. It might sound trite, but I believe this is the only way to fully live “our new and happy life”.