It’s nearly 70 years since 1984 was first published and about 40 years since I first read this magnificent dystopian novel by George Orwell.
Why did I decide to read it again? Our society has continued to evolve since the 70s and I wanted to see if the book would have the same impact on me. In fact, my impression of the book has changed because it’s even more relevant today than it was 40 years ago.
For those who have not read the book, the story is about Winston Smith who is a forger working in the Ministry of Truth and Julia who works in the government Fiction Department that ground out happy-making pornography for the masses. Winston and Julia fall in love and pay the price for their illegal activities.
So what’s so special about this story? After all, the year in the title of the book came and went 33 years ago. The book premise is that truth and history can be distorted and rewritten and the masses will accept it. Think about it. Kellyanne Conway referred to the size of the inaugural crowd as “alternative facts.” President Trump tweets daily about accomplishments that illusory at best. Fake news. Political spin doctors. Right wing demagogues. Many people are becoming confused about what is the truth.
It’s all so scary. Yet, the brilliant George Orwell laid it all out in his novel back in 1949. His book had Hitler and Stalin in mind. However, the same distortion of the truth went on in the Nixon White House when press secretary Ron Zeigler attempted to distort the truth about Vietnam. Fast forward to 2017 and we have a White House that is challenging our understanding of truth. In Orwell’s world, 2 + 2 = 5, and the acceptance of bad arithmetic simply becomes a testament to the power of rulers to define reality.
That’s not all. In the dystopian world described by Orwell, citizens are under constant surveillance. Telescreens and microphones are everywhere — in home, in cubicles at work, even in the bathroom stalls. No place is safe. Today, ordinary people can’t be sure that they aren’t being watched. Is my computer and phone under surveillance? When I walk around in public, are there cameras watching me? I’m not even sure what data is being collected about me despite privacy legislation that requires disclosure.
Orwell’s world is depressing and oppressive. It’s not a fun read. But it’s must read, not just because it’s one of the greatest novels ever written but because democracy and truth are under siege.