I was five in 1984. The Berlin Wall still stood. Thatcher was busy castrating the unions, Reagan eyeballed Chernenko and the world teetered on the brink of a few atoms. Oh and Tommy Cooper died live on telly. Another taff bites the dust.
But the world survived even if Tommy didn’t. And there was no Oceania.
So Orwell’s masterpiece wasn’t that accurate a forecast? A redundant warning by a dying man and No Big Deal. Well, no. Indeed the most chilling parts of Orwell’s masterpiece are not where he skips over the nuclear war that proceeds the events of the novel. Nor is it the relatively tight timescale over which he unravels the world or the horror of room 101.
The real horror, and this book is a horror in my opinion, are the echoes of right now, of our own culture – remember this book is over fifty years old. The slow seepage of state control into everyday life, from use of media to produce a culture of perpetual fear, the enthusiasm for conflict within the ruling class, the erosion of rights and freedom to perpetuate the system, the end of personal privacy. The list goes on.
The notion that ultimately the individual cannot win. That the system is all.
For those that haven’t read the book: it charts Winston Smith’s small acts of rebellion against Big Brother and The Party – the ruling system of Oceania, the country he lives in. And ultimately his fall. It is a startling, unflinching look into the danger of totalitarianism.
In terms of structure and style you can definitely tell Orwell was not a hundred percent (he was ill during much of the time he was writing the novel), it has flaws including over lengthy periods of exposition. Yet Orwell on a bad day is still sickeningly better than most other writers, it is his ideas, his observations, his insight that make this novel.
In pretty much every review or essay on 1984 people cite the novel’s influence on our culture. This is wrong, cheap and dare I say it like laying the blame at Orwell’s door. The novel has not influenced our culture. Like Animal Farm before it 1984 is an astute and chilling analysis of the dark side of humanity, it is a warning about the most dangerous creature to walk this lump of rock.