Visiting Orwell’s 1984 in 2015

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Reading the book 1984, I found that the classic narrative of a police state resonated with aspects of modern society, and with an infamous country that’s clearly a page out of this book


’It was my little daughter,’ said Parsons with a sort of doleful pride. ’She listened at the keyhole. Heard what I was saying, and nipped off to the patrols the very next day. Pretty smart for a nipper of seven, eh? I don’t bear her any grudge for it. In fact I’m proud of her. It shows I brought her up in the right spirit, anyway.’

That was an excerpt from George Orwell’s book 1984, where a father justifies his daughter denouncing him out to the “Thought Police” after he exclaims – in his sleep – ”Down with Big Brother!” The consequence of confessing guilt is hard labour followed by execution.

1984 projects a life spent in bitter emaciation, false reverence, forced hero-worship of the state’s boss – the Big Brother, and surveillance to the hilt. Flipping through its pages is an arduous journey that plunges the reader into the depths of darkness, and resuscitates us to a false sense of illumination only to convey the certainty of perpetual gloom. Life in Oceania – the nation that shackles its subjects into bonded  existence – is marked by constant spying and suspicion. Orwell’s protagonist Winston Smith describes the constant watch of enormous posters pinned on walls –

“It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.”

Till the very end, as his concealed hatred and plotting against Big Brother’s controlled state unravels, Winston is unsure of the physical being of Big Brother. While living beings pledge unfettering allegiance to this figure, he wonders if there is a physical reality to a man who’s fear halts people’s imagination just as it begins.

Big Brother may well be a notion with eyes that transcend human stare and scrutiny. In the modern world, Big Brother represents the reality of being constantly stared at, monitored, and unapologetically judged.

As Erich Fromm‘s states in his afterword,

“1984 is the expression of a mood, and it is a warning. The mood it expresses is that of near despair about the future of man, and the warning is that unless the course of history changes, men all over the  world will lose their most human qualities, will become soulless automatons, and will not even be aware of it.”

While descriptions of Oceania have an underlying allusion to Stalinist USSR from pages of history, modern day North Korea, for instance, provides a vivid demonstration of a state condemned to thoughtlessness. An Ultra-reticent and rigidly controlled life under this country is the motif of the book’s barely exaggerated concept such as doublethink – a queer ability to hold two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both of them.

Orwell describes this bizarre practice through Winston –

Doublethink has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt…the essential act of the ‘Party’ is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty.

Barely a far cry from this report’s commentary which provides a rare glimpse of North Korea’s closed confines –

Whether it is the year of 1949 when the book was authored, 1984 or 2015, some breathe the same air and have withheld the same secrets generations apart. The stare has turned into algorithms tracking our digital activity, and more popularly the casual social media audience condemning our views or the lack of it.

In a way we’re still in Orwell’s 1984, some literally while others morally.

[This book was ordered from Desert Cart. Click here for AED 25 off on your purchase.]

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