Nineteen Eighty-Four was written between the years of 1945 and 1948. Orwell got the title from switching the last two numbers of the publication date. In Orwells criticism of a perfect society, his book became known as one of the greatest anti-utopian novels of all time. The books message is so powerful that some say it went so far as to prevent the sinister future from realizing itself. Althought the book starts out as the story of a neurotic, paranoid man, it quickly turns into a protest against a quasi-utopian society and a totalitarian government.
The book appears to be a satire at the start, similar to books such as Gullivers Travels, or Huxleys Brave New World, but all too quickly the reader will discover, quite unpleasantly, that it is not a satire at all. Nineteen Eighty-four is not simply a criticism of what Orwell saw happening in his national government with the coming of English Socialism, but a warning of the consequences of contemporary governmental practices, and what they where threatening to bring about.
Perhaps the book seems so bleak because the events in the book are a somewhat logical projection from current conditions and historical environment that Orwell observed in 1948. Perhaps people would be more comftorble with the book if they could rule out in their minds the possibility of the profecy becoming a reality. In a critique of his own work, Orwell called Nineteen Eighty-Four A work of a future terrible [sic] because it rests on a fiction and can not be substantiated by reality or truth.
But perhaps this future is realizing itself more than Orwell thought it would. Orwell, more than likely, would have made note of, but wouldnt be astonished by, the fact that in 1983 the average American household spent over 7 hours in front of the television every night. The number is even greater for those households which currently subscribe to a cable service. Those families watch television for more that 58 hours a week. That is more that 2 days straight without sleeping, eating, or going to the bathroom.
He also wouldnt have passed by this magazine advertisement that could be seen in 1984: Is Big Brother watching? If you are tired of Government, tired of big business, tired of everyone telling you who you are and what you should be, then now is the time to speak out. Display your disgust and exhibit your independence, Wear a Big Brother Is Watching tee-shirt. $10, Canadians remit us dollars. Big Brother is Watching LTD. Neenah, WI.
This advertisement makes one wonder if there is really a group dedicated to the rise to power of someone called Big Brother. No true reader could ever pass off Winstons experience with indifference. You have to have some kind of sympathy for a man, even if fictional, who can not remember his childhood, or for that matter, even his mother. That is certain to strike a nerve with almost anyone. In addition to this constant pain of loss, the reader will also have to vicariously live through lengthy episodes of of other psychological pains, and physical pain.
The reader will also be forced to endure the pains of society as The Party turns children against parents, friends against friends, and although ther reader will discover the beauty of a love between a man and a woman, The Party will eventually destroy that too. While The Party is an important theme, two other themes are far more important. The first is the distruction of language. By eliminating more and more words from peoples vocabularies, The Party eliminates the ability of people to unite or conspire against the government.
However, they are also eliminating the possibility of conceiving original thought, which has catastrophic effects. The ultimate goal of The Party is to reduce the language to only one word thereby eliminating any thought at all. The second important theme is the elimination of the past. This is the main character, Winstons, job in the ministry of truth, to make sure that The Party always looks right about every decision it has made in the past. This quest for total power by The Party is an excellent dramatization of Lord Actons famous apothegm, power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The Party seems like it wont stop until it controls the minds of everyone under its power, and has complete physical and psychological surveillance on all people at all time. This is exemplified in the fact that the government can look back at you through your television, or telescreen as it is called in the book, and the governmet has set up telescreens almost anywhere you can go.
While they dont have telescreens in unpopulated country sides, they have gone through the trouble to place hidden microphones disgused as flowers in those areas. d while there are real no laws, the thought police can spy on your thoughts at anytime, and can arrest and kill you on a whim. This policy is mythical. It is not really used for punishment, but to scare everyone else into being good citizens. No other work of this century has inspired people with such love of liberty and hatred of tyranny. Humans have a basic desire to be free and not controlled. Therefore, to Orwell as to the Utopian reformers, the adoption of the governmental doctrine, socialism, was less an economic decision and more a moral decision.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is an expression of Mr. Orwells irritation at many of the facets of English socialism. It is also an expression of his moral and intellectual indignation at the concept of totalitarianism, where a country is ruled utterly and completely by a group of few. Another critic says that the book is not a criticism of English socialism at all, but a warning of the consequences of the contemporoary political paths we are following, or were at the time the book was written.
The bombs in Nineteen Eighty-Four symbolize Orwells pent up rage about everything in the political world from the disasterous state of unemployment of the 1930s, to the ignorance of the leftist intelligensia, stupidly justifing Stalinism. Some literary critics have attributed the books extreme grimness to Orwells declining Health, and surmise that his pessimistic views illustrate his collapsing spirit. Whatever his inspiration or motivation, almost fifty years after its first publication, Nineteen Eighty-Four remains one of the great novels of this century.