Nineteen Eighty-Four

George Orwell was born in India in 1903 (real name Eric Blair), and was educated at Eton. From 1922 to 1928 he served in Burma in the Indian Imperial Police. For the next two years he lived in Paris, and then he came to England as a school teacher. Later he worked in a bookshop. In 1937 he went to Spain to fight for the Republicans and was wounded. During the Second World War he was a member of the Home Guard and worked for the BBC. In 1943 he joined the staff of a newspaper and was sent to France and Germany as a special correspondent. He suffered very much sickness and poverty during his life and died of tuberculosis in 1950. His works include: Down and Out in Paris and London, Burmese Days, The Road to Wigan Pier, Coming Up For Air, Keep the Aspidistra Flying and Homage to Catalonia. Animal Farm made Orwell famous when it was published in 1945; Nineteen Eight-Four had a similar success later.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (written in 1949) is a nightmare picture of life in totalitarian England as it might be in the next generation.

The world is divided up into the three super-states of Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, each in a permanent state of war with the other. Britain is part of Oceania and has the name of Airstrip One. It is governed by the Party through the Ministry of Peace (which runs the war), the Ministry of Love (headquarters of the secret police), the Ministry of Plenty (which deals in scarcities), and the Ministry of Truth (which handles propaganda). The Leader, who is never seen in person, is Big Brother and his face looks down from every wall. In every room there are "telescreens" which not only broadcast propaganda but can see what the people are doing in their private lives. No one is allowed to criticise the Party and "thought crime" is punished by terrible torture and certain death. Living conditions are bad, everything is scarce, and of bad quality. The enemy of the people is Emmanuel Goldstein, who directs the activities of the Brotherhood, Oceania's enemies in the other super-states. Every day there is a "Two Minutes Hate", during which the face of Emmanuel Goldstein is shown on screens and the population is whipped up into a frenzy of fury against him.

Winston Smith, who works in the Records Department in the Ministry of Truth, can vaguely remember a time when his parents were alive and life was different; he hates the present regime. He dares to buy a diary, although writing is forbidden, and he writes down his free thoughts. He also knows that the propaganda consists of lies and that the confessions made by enemies of the Party are not true, as he has seen old newspaper articles by chance in his records office. Normally all old records and books are destroyed or changed to suit the purposes of the Party. He notices an intelligent-looking Party member at his Ministry called O'Brien, and he thinks that he is on his side, but does not dare to speak to him.

Winston was married once but parted from his wife; divorce is forbidden. A girl called Julia, who works at his Ministry, and whom he distrusts, slips a paper one day into his hand with the words "I love you" on it. This starts a secret love affair between the two. They meet secretly, as often as they can. One day the expected sign from O'Brien comes. He tells Winston he wants to see him about his work and invites him to his house. Julia and Winston go there and O'Brien tells them that he is a secret member of the Brotherhood; they swear that they will do anything in their power to overthrow the Party. Some days later Winston is secretly given the forbidden book by Emmanuel Goldstein, "The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism". This describes the true state of the world and the terrible methods of the Party and it expresses what Winston already knows and feels.

He and Julia meet secretly above the antique shop of a kind old man, Mr. Charrington. Suddenly, one day, the house is surrounded and the couple are arrested by the Thought Police, led by Mr. Charrington, changed, younger and without his wig of white hair.

Winston's worst fears are realized. He is imprisoned in the Ministry of Love and meets many old acquaintances. O'Brien comes in and Winston thinks that he, too, has been arrested, but O'Brien turns out to be the head of the Ministry and is responsible for the torture.

Winston is put in a cell alone, he does not know where he is or for how long, as the fights are always burning and there are no windows. He is beaten continually, sometimes with truncheons, sometimes with steel rods, sometimes kicked by boots. In between beatings men in white coats feel his pulse and give him injections. He confesses to everything he is accused of, including assassination and sabotage. At last he is taken to a room where O'Brien directs the worst tortures of all. Every time he speaks the truth, painful electric shocks are run through his body, so that at last he swears that 2 + 2 = 5 and really believes it. But O'Brien is still not satisfied, because although Winston has betrayed Julia often under torture, he has not stopped loving her. So Winston is brought into the dreaded "Room 101", where people are tortured by the "worst thing in the world" which varies from individual to individual. In Winston's case it is a cage of enormous starving rats which is fixed to his face, the doors ready to open and let them out. In his horror he shouts out "Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Not me!" This is what O'Brien is waiting for the final betrayal.

Winston is free again; one day he meets Julia again in the Park. But she has betrayed him too, and they have changed towards each other. Everything that happened in prison was forever, as O'Brien had said. They are glad to say good-bye to each other.

Winston is sitting in a cafe, on the telescreen news of another great victory is broadcasted. He looks at the huge portrait of Big Brother. It has taken him forty years to see the truth but now the struggle is over. He has won the victory over himself. He loves Big Brother. This is the complete surrender which O'Brien has worked for.

Mainthema :

Orwell puts forward the horrible theory in "1984" that people can be dehumanized and swayed in any direction ideologically if exposed to sufficient physical torture. 1984 is a vision of the future as nightmare rather than paradise. Orwell's police state is terrifying, life in it is grim and miserable. The book is a warning of what might happen if totalitarianism covered the whole world.

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