How did I miss reading 1984? I have thought for years that I’ve read this book; that I read it in high school during the renewed interest at that point because the world had reached the actual year of 1984. But I am now thinking, that I had never read it before now because so much of it was unfamiliar to me.
The book, published in 1949, is a startling dystopia of a world destined to collapse individuality and purpose through mental as well as physical torture. Orwell’s vision of Big Brother exerting control through the use of “telescreens” must have been unnerving and unsettling to his readers in that generation. History is continually written, creating new realities that “fit” the vision set by “Big Brother” The power exerted by the unseen forces, leads Winston, the main character, to come to the conclusion that god is power.
I was particularly struck by the use and manipulation of language, through the practice of DoubleSpeak. The definition of Doublespeak is:
Doublespeak (sometimes called doubletalk) is any language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words, resulting in a communication bypass. Doublespeak may take the form of euphemisms (e.g., “downsizing” for layoffs), intentional ambiguity, or the reversal of meaning (for example, calling war “peace”, or maintaining the status quo “change”)
Language and words are powerful tools. To actively reverse the meaning of words in Doublespeak, nearly seems criminal to me, in itself. But that may be because of my love of words and language.
Is it a worthwhile read? Yes, most definitely. However I think the edge or shock value that it would produce in the 21st century is significantly lower, then the impact it had at the time of its publication. Still yet, it is a power statement of man’s quest for power and control.
Orwell writes “People simply disappeared, always during the night. Your name was removed from the registers, every record of everything you had ever done was wiped out, your one-time existence was denied and then forgotten. You were abolished, annihilated: vaporized was the usual word.”
In such a world, identity is lost. Life becomes a lengthy agony of fear and the sense of being hunted. To have your very existence denied and then the history of you, of your very soul and personhood obliterated is a hell that yields nothing except meaningless imitation of living.
That said, this book, in a way reminds me of a passage in Ecclesiastes 1:1-11. Solomon is lamenting the absence of contentment and purpose, though he has searched hard for fulfillment. In verse 11, in concludes his soliloquy by stating these words that come very close to summing up the reality in 1984:
“There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after”