Whenever a conversation at work mentioned 1984, it seemed like a novel was always brought up and an understanding was shared among the people who got the reference. Although I tend not to read fiction, there came a time when I decided to add it to my reading list despite knowing as much about the book as its title can possibly suggest.
1984 by George Orwell takes place in a dystopian setting where the Party, a totalitarian government led by the Big Brother, closely monitors everyone’s actions and demands complete loyalty.
There is the Ministry of Truth, which rather than upholding the truth, dictates what the truth is. This is achieved by the constant rewriting and falsifying of past records to serve the Party. The ministry also created a new language, Newspeak, to limit the thoughts that can possibly be expressed. One of the words introduced is doublethink, which is the practice of believing in contradicting statements while forgetting that the contradiction exists. The truth is constantly changing and any level of questioning can quickly caused your entire existence to be erased.
The Party eliminates any rebellious thoughts through the Ministry of Love. It instills love to the Big Brother through mass surveillance, fear, and torture. The Thought Police are the secret police who discovers and punishes thoughts unapproved by the Party. People who show any level of opposition through their actions, words, facial expressions, or even what was said in their dreams are brought to the Ministry of Love where they’ll learn to love the Big Brother.
Winston Smith, who works for the Ministry of Truth, is not contempt with the current way of living. Although Winston is adept at conforming outwardly to appear loyal to the Party, his rebellious desire grows with each passing day.
Julia, who also works for the Ministry of Truth, confessed her love to Winston in secrecy one day. They quickly became lovers and would spend time together out of the view of surveillance. Winston and Julia agreed that when they get caught, there’s one thing the Party can’t take away from them, which is their love towards each other.
There are stories about a secret organization called the Brotherhood whose focus is to take down the Party. O’Brien, an inner member of the Party, was believed by Winston to be working for the Brotherhood. Winston’s suspicious appears to be validated when O’Brien asked Winston and Julia the sacrifice they are willing to make to overthrow the Party.
Winston and Julia continued to meet up in their hiding place until one day when they got caught by the Thought Police. To Winston’s surprise, the person who disciplines him is O’Brien. O’Brien then carried out physical and mental tortures on Winston. The goal is not to extract information, which Winston had already given all up, but to completely remove any thoughts against the Party. Even though Winston was able to stick with his beliefs during the initial torturing, he finally betrayed his love for Julia when he was brought to Room 101, the dreaded room where you are faced with your deepest fears. Winston was then released before his eventual execution.
Winston and Julia encountered each other one day. They both confessed that they had betrayed each other, which when you do, you don’t feel the same way about the other person. They no longer have feelings for each other and went their separate ways. As Winston was about to get executed, Winston thought to himself that he had finally won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.
It’s hard to put into words the feeling of reading 1984. I was expecting Winston to find his way to the Brotherhood and to overthrow the Big Brother. However, there came a time when I realized that there is no way out. It makes you ponder what can happen if a group of intelligent people with a pure pursuit of power has the technology and resource to perform mass surveillance on the public.
I’m still amazed at George Orwell’s ability to provide such in depth details on how a dystopian world with a totalitarian government will look like. Contrary to the usual endings where the protagonist will achieve certain level of victory, an ending of complete defeat of the protagonist’s character is not only thrilling for the readers but also fitting for the dystopian setting.