Author: George Orwell
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I was a little hesitant to read or even review this book because it is considered a 'classic'. It's always hard to read an older book that is revered by so many and not have a tinted view. But after seeing this bent up, dusty book on my shelf, I decided that it was time to figure out exactly what happens in 1984.
References to 'Big Brother' and '1984' have become a part of pop-culture. When I was a kid, I heard people joke about how 'Big Brother is watching you'. Even though I had never read the book, I started making Big Brother jokes too whenever my privacy was violated in some way.
The world of 1984
George Orwell has constructed a complex world of fear and paranoia. Thinking, believing, or living by one's own will is non-existent. On almost every wall is a telescreen watching and constantly delivering messages to the masses. On the rest of the walls are posters of Big Brother aptly labeled 'Big Brother is watching you'.
This is the country of Oceania where Big Brother is in charge and 'The Party' is the only ruling government. And just in case someone thought they could get away with a differing thought or opinion, people are constantly ratting each other out at the mere sign of opposing Big Brother and there are Thought Police in disguise that can read minds.
In 1984, Orwell introduces us to Winston Smith, an average Oceanian in his late thirties. Being part of the Outer Party (the middle class), Winston works for the Ministry of Truth. His job is simple: rewrite any written material that may be contrary to what Big Brother or The Party have said or done. This job is important because Big Brother and The Party are never wrong.
As Winston lives out his everyday life, he begins to question if Big Brother is always right and if life is really better than it was before The Party took over. He must keep these thoughts to himself for fear of the Thought Police discovering his doubts. 1984 is Winston's journey to find out the truth about The Party, what life was like before, and if there is any way to bring down Big Brother.
George Orwell's writing style is superb as he puts the reader in the shoes of Winston Smith. Every joy, fear, and pain Winston feels, the reader also feels. Orwell is such a masterful storyteller that I became so consumed in this book that I could not put it down.
1984's Influence on Today's Society
One of the first impressions I had while reading 1984 was that this book has had a profound impact on today's society. Nearly every news article concerning privacy violations by any company or government mentions 'Big Brother' in some fashion. As opposed to just saying that some person or a group is violating privacy; people just say, 'Big Brother is watching you'. This term has become more than just part of a fictional story from the mid-twentieth century; it defines the fear of being watched by some unseen group.
An example of this is the recent concerns over the U.S. Government's advancement towards closer watch of people within its borders to prevent terrorism. Some feel that in order to have any security, citizens in America must be willing to give up some privacy. Others feel that this is a step towards giving the U.S. Government more power than is necessary. The people opposed to losing any privacy often make references to 1984 and Big Brother.
Privacy International even gives out Big Brother Awards to the government agencies, companies and initiatives that do the most to invade personal privacy. Winners have included Oracle CEO Larry Ellison for promoting a national ID card and Attorney General John Ashcroft for 'a massive increase in wiretapping of phones and other electronics and for the imprisonment without charge of as many as 1,200 people in the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on America'.
2084? Still relevant today
For those who have never read 1984: don't be thrown off by the title and think that this book is a thing of the past. Although the year has come and gone, this book is as relevant today as it was when it was first written in 1949. The story and its principals are timeless.
George Orwell predicted events and situations in society that happened after the writing of this book and are happening today. Although his 'prophesies' are indirect, he does not beat around the bush about how governments can control a society. Orwell also lays out the failures of past controlling government such as the Communists in Russia, the Nazis in Germany, and even the Inquisition. He then gives a perfected plan on how a government can control a group of people and remain in control.
The Plan is sobering as the reader will realize all of these methods are used today by various governments. Currently, there is not one government instituting all the methods, but if one takes many of the methods used by different governments today and adds them up, the sum is Big Brother.
1984 is revealing and at the same time shocking. This book is a must read for everyone - Not merely to discover the roots of pop-culture propaganda, but to heed a warning that still holds true today.