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1984 by George Orwell, though written close to a century ago, succinctly captures the fate of the governance of most countries in the contemporary world. A society characterized by a perpetual tussle between a dominant few and a majority down-trodden who are deliberately deprived of their basic rights for survival to the satisfaction of an autocratic minority class. And so, 1984 presents a nation (Oceanic) that undergoes significant oppression. Under the leadership of “The Party” with the ever-watchful Big Brother as the supreme head, Oceanic citizens rarely have the freedom to do things the way they want. They are constantly fed with propaganda messages and forced to hate those who are deemed politically correct. People no longer have the individuality that we often take for granted.
George Orwell’s 1984 is one of those books that one can easily regard as the novel of the century. It is among the few from the past that continues to have a lasting impact to-date. From a mysterious title to a unique author’s name, 1984 has everything it needs to make it outlive different generations. It depicts an all-powerful Party that controls its citizens with the ideology of Ingsoc – Thought Police, memory hole, Big Brother, thought crime, and Room 101.
The genesis of 1984 utopian fiction can be traced back to Russian Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1924). One of the most interesting discussions in the Ministry of Truth is when Lynskey gives an account of the book’s afterlife. It is after its publication that the struggle to claim 1984 starts. The detailed conservative assessment came to the finding that Orwell targeted both the Soviet Union and the left-wing
1984 focuses on the life of Winston Smith, a frustrated, low-ranking member of “The Party”. He cannot also comprehend why The Party’s ruler Big Brother, is in charge of every aspect of people’s lives. As one reads the book, you get to encounter a class system split into three different categories, The Inner Party, The Outer Party, and The Proles. Big Brother occupies the top seat of this pyramid. The Inner Party is made up of 2% of the population and is curiously the ultimate ruler in Oceania. The Outer Party is responsible for state administrative tasks and is composed of the most educated class of society. They directly implement the Party’s policies but have no say in their formulation, nor can they question them. At the bottom of this class-system is the Proles, where Winston Smith belongs. Members of this class perform menial tasks. They live in some of the poorest conditions, something that makes them think that they are not worth anything. The poor state of this class can be seen in the narration: “It was a cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith …” There is very little interaction between members of different social classes.
Even before you dive deeper into the book, one can tell that George Orwell does a pretty good work capturing our society just as it is. Similar to the novel, our society is divided into three classes, some sought of a caste system. There are the politicians and elites of the society who own a bigger percentage of wealth. These are the ones famously referred to as the upper 1%. They often employ the educated to run their businesses and other administrative tasks. At the bottom of this pyramid are the laborers who are normally paid peanuts and live in underprivileged conditions. Just as it is depicted in the book, they are dejected and often look down upon themselves as outcasts.
In modern times, totalitarian regimes understand that when the control public opinion their edge of authority is secured. And so what they do is enact draconian censorship laws and tailor information flow to their direction. The theme of mass media control, totalitarianism, and government surveillance are effectively explored by the author. He seeks to explain how a dictator can exploit and manipulate lives, thoughts, and history just as they please. With immense power, they can twist everyone to their will. There is literally no one who can escape. There are countless instances in which history is doctored by the Ministry of Truth to give some sort of legitimacy to what the government does.
To show how powerful the control of the press is very significant to any government, take the example of America’s history when President George Bush claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction as a justification to launch the Iraq invasion. The US and Western media drummed this up to make believe that this was founded. These claims have later on been proven to be groundless. Orwell clearly expresses his message that if the state can take charge of people’s perceptions and thoughts, it can do whatever it wants.
The media plays a central role in manipulating the mass and bending them to the government’s will. News on tele-screens has been manipulated to create the impression of an efficient and effective government. Furthermore, tele-screens mainly air military music. This is a meticulous plan whose main purpose is to evoke feelings of patriotism in citizens. The fact that the screens cannot be turned off means the masses have no way of escaping from the propaganda. It is something that we see quite often in our world. Dictatorial governments try to put their hands in almost all media. In a country like North Korea, their leader maintains a stiff control over its national TV channel. All the news that they receive is all about the government’s good deeds.
As you think about how the state controls news channels, you might wonder how that would be possible in the 20th century, where social media is deeply rooted and information easily spreads around the Internet. Taking the USA as a case study, President Donald Trump is a prolific Twitter user. He has a huge Twitter following and, more often than not, posts stuff that are obviously doubted. You would expect no one would believe, but, ironically, a sizeable population actually acknowledges what he says. This has seen him accomplish a bigger number of his intended projects based on just these questionable Twitter posts. However, one thing he has been unable to control is the mainstream media, which he is fond of referring to as fake news. His style has been adopted by some of his close aides. During the week of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, his adviser kellyanne Conway justified a false narrative of a large crowd using the term alternative facts. This made the novel once again to take the top-selling spot on Amazon. The vocabulary instantly became a hit and painted the picture of an authoritarian president fond of the term ‘fake news.’ This gave 1984 a new life and meaning in the modern world. With such parallelism, reading 1984 gives you the feeling that you are reading about what is going on in our society. Orwell accurately captures the modern world where leaders are egocentric, and all they care about is their selfish interests.
There is no denying the fact that the most powerful and frightening message in 1984 is the idea of controlling a whole nation under totalitarian rule. This is perfectly possible. The citizens do not act carelessly because they know Big Brother is watching. If the world were to be controlled by one or several dictators, its future would be in jeopardy. History would be rewritten, even as the dictatorial leaders keep track of every movement, word, and breath. No one could confidently oppose such an omnipotent, omnipresent leader due to the fear of death. Orwell sends a clear warning to the human race. His book highlights the need to reject mass media control and oppression.
Two Minutes Hate
Two Minutes Hate involves a daily, public moment in which all Outer Party members watch a film designed to paint a negative picture of those tagged as state enemies. The target is mainly Emmanuel Goldstein, whom the government expects its citizens to hate. This is a political move that targets inciting people’s anger and hatred towards those who are politically correct. In so doing, the Party successfully twists people’s attention from all the ills that it is committing. Isn’t this something that we see happening all the time?
The most annoying thing about Two Minutes Hate is that no one was forced to take part in it; they had no choice. Within a short period, people had already been incited and brainwashed to want to kill, torture, and smash faces of those they have been derailed to consider as enemies of the land. George Orwell gets the idea of Two Minutes Hate from the First World War as well as the Spanish Civil War.
Orwell chooses all elements of the book in such a way that he would not be too detached from the readers. Even though Oceanic is a fictional world, he ensures that it spans over time. He talks of the love between Winston and Julia, something that goes about all time. In Animal Farm, Orwell depicted the Communist System from the perspective of barnyard satire. In 1984, Orwell showed a world that could be gloomier in 35 years. The novel has been so successful that it has been adopted for numerous TV shows and films. It is a novel that you read and feel it was worth your time.