(Is this a photo illustrating the scene when Big Brother’s troops break into Winston and Julia’s hideaway? No! This is a photograph illustrating an article about the recent bombing in Syria!)
Now this is a horror novel. Ghosts, monsters, and other things that go bump in the night are no match for systematic brainwashing and torture in my book! I could go on and on about the frightening parallels of 1984-world with both 20th century history and the present. I could even talk about what a good, tight, immersive narrative and compelling characters it contains. But what really struck me on this re-read was it’s deep understanding about the modern world and its effect on our humanity.
There will be no art, no literature, no science. . . . There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no employment of the process of life. … If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face — forever.
This loss of humanity is most evident in Orwell’s use of language: Newspeak. An utterly chilling reduction of the thing that makes us human. No art — figurative language completely dead. Original thought impossible. The appendix on Newspeak is absolutely terrifying:
Newspeak was designed not to extend but diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.
The “no employment in the process of life” part upsets me greatly, too. We are so disconnected from the creation of, well, everything! We get our food in a supermarket, and clothing off a rack. We don’t trust ourselves to even nurse a cold without running to a doctor. I think this is why I am so closely drawn to doing it myself/handmade — when you get right down to it, it’s a political and spiritual act of rebellion! (it’s also already been commodified — that’s a different rant for a different day).
Orwell’s use of Oceania being in a constant state of war in order to create a scarcity mentality, constant terror, and rabid patriotism has me reeling too, as America totters on the edge of getting into another war when we are not even done with the last one.
In short, George Orwell — I love you! How did you put your finger on the pulse of the biggest problem of modernity way back in 1949?
In the afterward, Eric Fromm asks “Can human nature be changed in such a way that man will forget his longing for freedom, for dignity, for integrity, for love — that is to say, can man forget that he is human?”
That is the question I will leave you with to think about. On bad days, I’m not so sure of the answer.
SO glad 1984 was my Classics Spin. I can’t stop turning it over in my head, and I can’t stop seeing the world through the novel’s eyes.