Nearly 70 years after its publication, Orwell’s classic Nineteen Eighty-Four remains as relevant as ever
On this day, nearly 70 years ago, the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was published.
Some say that the masterpiece took its author’s life, as he worked tirelessly to finish the novel, ignoring medical advice to rest and recuperate from his illness.
He was determined to leave a legacy, to warn the coming generations of the dangers of totalitarian regimes, and the grim possibilities that could ensue. Where societies would be stripped of freedom. Freedom to speak the truth and live without fear.
Where states would ruthlessly quash the slightest of opposition, jackboots would pick up insubordinates, images of the supreme leader would be ubiquitous, imposing and encroaching on every single individual. No one would be able to disobey the authorities, each nook would be under the constant gaze of secret agents.
Where states would falsify information to perpetuate their reign; history would be scraped clean, re-inscribed as necessary action; totalitarian ideas would be rationalized and supported by intellectuals.
There would be very little chance of rebellion. Any dissenting elements, however meek, feeble or hopeless, would be nipped in the bud; traitors would be harassed, tormented publicly before they are dealt with; comatosed societies would go about their dreary existence, enduring grave injustice carried out in their name; oppression, abuse, and lawlessness would prevail; nothing other than sheer acquiescence to power would be sensible.
Criminal tendencies would descend upon such nation states, hunting down saboteurs, subversives, or secret groups. Venomous derision would defile any contesting ideology. Counterrevolutionary, retrogressive forces would be strengthened.
Facts would become fiction and vice versa.
Nationalism would rise to a point where the masses would be dangerously complacent about summary executions of entities who dare to think freely.
Limitless state surveillance, enthusiastically embraced by the people, would mete out chilling consequences to traitors. Innocent people would get caught up in excessive, unnecessary policing. Societies would sleep-walk to surrender their liberty.
To some, this fiction may come across as overly dystopian. Bleakness exaggerated. Anti-communist, anti-socialist even.
Yet, those familiar with his work would agree that it is the final piece, an ultimate dose, from an immensely committed author who had invested himself solely and sincerely to fighting social injustice. An author who has used words to fiercely fight totalitarianism.
An author who was insistent on having clarity in language, and who had faith in democratic socialism.
His work, without exception, always stood up against power. He vehemently opposed undue powers of states and wealthy oppressive majorities.
He had an innate ability to chronicle insincerity to unsettle the privileged elites, the middle class preoccupied with their routine struggle for survival, and horribly cruel and unjust colonial imperialism. He had a genuine desire to highlight the abject misery of the poor -- in his homeland or faraway places and cultures. This was particularly prominent in his first few novels Down and Out in Paris and London, Burmese Days, and The Road to the Wigan Pier.
His portrayal of the poor and oppressed derived directly from firsthand experience -- he tried to live their lives before commenting on their agony.
An earnest and intensely outspoken writer, he wanted to prod society out of its perceived sense of security and prosperity -- repeatedly calling out the perils of nationalism, even expressed through sports and cultural activities.
Nineteen Eighty-Four remains as relevant as ever to the present day.
A few lines from the book
“Who controls the past controls future; who controls the present controls the past.”
“The thing that he was about to do was to open a diary. This was not illegal (nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws), but if detected it was reasonably certain that it would be punished by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced-labour camp.”
“It was always at night -- the arrests invariably happened at night. The sudden jerk out of sleep, the rough hand shaking your shoulder, the lights glaring in your eyes, the ring of hard faces round the bed. In the vast majority of cases there was no trial, no report of the arrest. People simply disappeared, always during the night.”
“To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone -- to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone.”
“He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self -willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”
Qamrul Huda is a freelance contributor.