Known as a humble man, was George Orwell a fiction writer, a visionary, or perhaps even a prophet, as some people believe? Many of the themes in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four foreshadow the state of our world today. Nineteen Eighty-Four is compelling, contemporary, and contains remarkable foresight, given it was first published in 1949. The novel is set in 1984 in Great Britain, known as Airstrip One, and is the story of Winston Smith. The world has suffered through a global atomic war, and there are 3 superpowers. Winston is an editor employed by the government and is one of many citizens responsible for rewriting history to suit the dictator Big Brother. The media are run by the government, and the written word is perpetually changed to suit what the government requires. The standard of living is relatively low.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, government surveillance is constant and at the forefront. The state knows every move its citizens make, including their habits, whom they talk to, and what they are doing at any given time. Sound familiar? Big Brother is watching and running the show. The people are sheep who are herded and controlled. Electronic surveillance in 2014 is a common and accepted government practice: cell phone listening, cameras on corners and traffic lights, and electronic toll payment system tracking are all everyday occurrences. By using our credit cards, shopping rewards cards, and even our driver’s licenses, data are collected on all of us and sold and used daily. As in Nineteen Eighty-Four, we are all being profiled, and living off the grid has become almost impossible.
Newspeak is the fictional language spoken in Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is a controlled and abbreviated version of English. One of the objectives of this language is to decrease self-expression. With the advent and popularity of texting, it would be fair to say that there are similarities: JK BTW LOL.
Orwell started writing the novel in 1944, and wrote the bulk of it while residing on the Scottish island Jura while battling tuberculosis during 1947-1948. Orwell (his real name was Eric Blair) was recently widowed, his wife having died during a surgical procedure. He was left with his young son, and he was seriously ill with tuberculosis. There was not a known cure for TB in 1947, and physicians typically prescribed fresh air and rest. Orwell was given streptomycin, which was an experimental drug in the US, and after treatment, his TB symptoms disappeared. He raced to finish his novel, and upon publication it became an instant success. Orwell died shortly after of a brain hemorrhage in 1950 at age 46.
Nineteen Eighty-Four has been in publication ever since, has been translated into multiple languages, and is often heralded as one of the best novels of the 20th century. If you haven’t read it before, it’s definitely worth reading. If you read it years ago, it may be time to read it again.
- McCrum R. The masterpiece that Killed George Orwell. Guardian Web site. May 9, 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/may/10/1984-george-orwell.