War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength
Written in the year 1949, 1984 maps out the horrific future envisioned by George Orwell. The world is divided into three superpowers - Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia - who are constantly at war. Every move, every thought, is watched by Big Brother and the Party. Every aspect of life - supplies, language, relationships, economy, government - is controlled by the Party. The high ideals of the past - freedom, independence, love, individuality - have been eradicated. The Party controls the past, the present, and the future. It is a world where neighbor turns on neighbor, child turns on parent, where the past can be rewritten again and again. Any sign of dissension, no matter how slight, conscious or unconscious, is quickly and completely removed.
Winston Smith is a member of the Outer Party. He remembers a time before the Party came to power and because of this has developed a consciousness, which causes him to question the actions of the Party. He begins to engage in activities - keeping a journal, having a love affair, seeking to join the Brotherhood - with the intention of bringing down Big Brother, only to find that in the end, he cannot escape the reach of the Party.
Yes, it's true...I somehow managed to make it through not only my high school career, but my college career as well, without reading 1984 (a year near and dear to my heart, as it is my birth year). Instead of 1984, I read Animal Farm by Orwell. 1984 has been on my to-read list for sometime, as you will often find it on literary must read lists. Overall, I liked the book. It certainly paints a rather hopeless view of the future, something that I think flies in the face of humanity. I think most people (at least Westerners) are brought up with the idea that man is inherently good and will rise above adversity and oppression. Hope is something that is actively sought after and held onto. Hope is completely absent from 1984. In fact, every time the slightest ray of hope is born, it is quickly and completely drowned. It leaves one with a very bleak feeling. I kept hoping that in the end it would get better, but just like the characters in the novel, all my hopes were disappointed.
The most interesting aspect of this story for me was the idea of language. I love words. To me, words are the most powerful tool we possess. Words have the power to build up and the power to destroy. Language is powerful because of the innate desire of human beings to communicate and express themselves. I was intrigued by the idea that by limiting language one could inevitably control not only communication, but thoughts as well. After all, how can a person think about something if they lack the words necessary to describe and conceptualize it? This is especially horrifying to someone like me, an American raised on the principle of free speech. The Party in 1984 go far beyond simply trying to censor the thoughts and expressions of the people. Their goal is to limit language so much that people will lose the ability to think negatively about the government. Imagine that...not being able to speak out against the government or even THINK negative thoughts about the government. Certainly would not fly in the U.S., seeing as all people do these days is think and say negative thoughts about our government.
Regardless, freedom of expression is something that many take for granted. It's become the expectation and people forget not only what a gift it truly is, but that free expression has consequences. It is inevitable that language and expression will be used to tear others down, to assert dominance over a person or group. After all, people are always going to have different opinions and different ways of expressing their thoughts. Nevertheless, I would rather live in a world where language has the potential for harm, than in a world like the one in 1984 where there was no freedom of expression whatsoever.