How does one begin to talk about 1984? I’m going to start by saying, if you haven’t already, READ IT.
Among all the tales of tyrannical government and dystopian futures, what makes 1984 so vastly important is that it shifts focus onto the West to expose our vulnerability as a culture during a time when so many believed that the Occident would forever be invincible to tyranny. Orwell breaks down the separation between “Us and Them,” which was so prevalent at the time of his writing (only to become more prevalent throughout the next decade). His story does not focus on communism or fascism; it does not depict “democracy” as some sort of morally superior savior saving grace; he instead places the focus on what it means to have a government that does not represent its people; one that is only concerned with power and control. He saw what many neglected: that tyranny is possible among all governments and cultures. In his story, the West is not immune.
The story itself is simple enough; Winston, our protagonist, is living in a time where Big Brother (a tyrannical government) is in complete control and the world as we know it, (the world that Winston was born into), is a dissipating memory. Winston works for The Party, and is therefore both witness and accomplice to Big Brother’s efforts to control and disillusion its citizens. He eventually decides to rebel, although it is obvious from the onset of the novel that he is apt to do so.
The power is in the details rather than the plot: George Orwell illustrates with so much precision, just how easily it could happen. He demonstrates the reduction of language so that people will not only be limited in speech, but incidentally, in thought. He exposes the fragility of memory and how lost our society would be without dependable record-keeping. Most disturbingly, he shows the danger of willful ignorance and how few generations it would take to completely eradicate free thought.
Through the lens of his protagonist, Orwell invokes such profound emotions by first exposing the absence of feeling; the absence of passion and hope. He paints a world that is so spectacularly dreary and then slowly releases color into it so that we can appreciate its brilliance and understand its value. 1984 tells an important and gripping story about Oceana under tyranny, but it more importantly tells a story about what makes life worth living, the elements that define our lives as our own, and the duty we have to preserve it.
As I said, if you haven’t already, read it.