By George Orewell
Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue for short) dutifully documenting and re-documenting news coverage of historical events according to orders that come through a pneumatic tube. He returns home to his drab, drafty apartment complex for rations of Victory Gin, Victory Coffee, and other foods distributed by The Party. He repeats this cycle on a daily basis under constant surveillance of Big Brother. The Thought Police can keep tabs on all Party members by use of telescreens, devices in every Party room that simultaneously broadcast Party news while recording the conversations and movements of people in the room. Winston recalls a few years as a child before the revolution happened, leading to Big Brother’s reign over Oceania, but he struggles to recall whether his basic circumstances of his life have ever been better than they are now. When he meets Julia, a fellow Party member, they engage in a reckless affair, meeting up discretely to discuss various ways in which to rebel against the party. Whereas Julia primarily enjoys breaking the rules, Winston continues to question the authority of Big Brother, wondering whether there might be something amiss with the current political regime. All the while, both of them put off the question of what will happen when the Thought Police finally catch them.
“1984” by George Orewell remains disconcertingly relevant despite having been published more than half a century ago. Aside from questions of political leadership, Orewell introduces more fundamental questions about the ability of humans to objectively recall their past experiences, whether documenting events from a specific perspective for a specific purpose serves as an accurate historical record, and what constitutes truth when the story is always changing. “1984” is predominately a narrative account of Winston’s endeavors to resolve his reality into a cohesive whole, but also includes a short segment of political writing from Goldstein, the figure leading the struggle against Big Brother. Incorporating Goldstein’s writings into Winston’s individual experience allows Orewell to explain the impact of Big Brother and The Party from both the individual (Winston’s perspective) and systemic (political ideology) levels, emphasizing the way in which leadership defines reality. Winston’s reality under Big Brother seems inconsistent, and finding Goldstein’s writing gives voice to everything Winston has questioned. It validates his experience living under Big Brother. Lest the reader be lulled by this discovery, though, Orewell returns to the fundamental question of truth and reality. As Winston delves further and further in his pursuit of truth, his story, life, and experience become increasingly multifaceted and uncertain, which is both beautiful and infuriating.
I am constantly amazed at the depth of this book. There are so many layers to Winston’s story, the political ideology, the social system that result from Big Brother’s reign, and the question of reality that I can sit and contemplate this book for hours. Which is exactly what I did. And then I had several conversations about it and it’s implications with other people. Do not dismiss this book as merely political. Yes, politics are central in this story, but so are many other social factors, personal circumstances, and basic questions about human functioning in a social context. Enjoy this book and revel in the questions, because it doesn’t offer much by way of answers.