I often wished I could travel back in time and set my past right, avail a lost opportunity, amend a wrong decision or simply take back a venomous comment. I often thought If only my past could be altered, my present and future would have been much better.
However, just one week spent in 1984 with George Orwell and all my wish-fulness has disappeared! I no longer want to meddle with the past and am thankful to God that it is unalterable. I am even happier to know that I can not predict future as it saves me from being extremely optimistic or pessimistic about my present and gives me total freedom to take a decision in the present without bothering about past or future.
You must be wondering why I am talking about past, present and future all at one go, without bothering to discuss the present novel. But, actually, it is indeed a novel that has spurned all these thoughts in me. I just finished ‘1984’ by George Orwell, a timeless classic, strangely based on the powers of time itself.
1984 by George Orwell was written in 1949, when World War II was over and Cold War had engulfed most of the nations, producing a highly suspicious, almost poisonous society, when you could neither trust your friend, nor be sure about your enemies. And, in such turbulent times, George Orwell set about to predict future of the world, and wrote an intense novel set in 1984, imagining the life and society 35 years later.
Predictably, the novel is dark and takes an almost sadistic view of the situations. The story is set in Oceania, an imaginary country, in 1984, fighting endlessly with its enemies Eastasia or Eurasia, under the able leadership of Big Brother. The society has changed a lot, people are under scanner 24X7, families have become dysfunctional, rations have reduced, consumables are produced in insufficient quantities, and the only emotion connecting people is hate for the enemy nation and love for Big Brother.
And, ironically nobody really knows who is Big Brother or who is their actual enemy – Eastasia, Eurasia, Goldstein or their own Revolutionary Party. The enemies are changeable as the past is alterable!
Oceania is supposed to see things through Big Brother’s eyes. If he says that they are getting richer by every quarter, they are indeed getting rich, it hardly matters if the statistics of the last quarter show that the productions are down big time. The past data would be set right in the light of present and Big Brother would be supported in records and memory. Ironically, Big Brother himself is as invisible and false as are his records. All the books, media, communication is controlled by the Party and only those things are allowed which validate Big Brother’s speeches. Every other thing or person is obliterated.
And, caught among this widespread dementia, is a man in his late thirties, Winston Smith, who is smart enough to look through the pretended, make-believe atmosphere created by Party for its own benefit. Winston refuses to believe in the idiosyncrasies of the Party, let alone take part in it. He yearns for the real world. He hazily recreates his lost childhood in his dreams, where everyone was at liberty to love, hate and live in their own individualistic way. No one was there to monitor you through telescreen and shout orders at you to propitiate hatred towards an imaginary adversary. The family ties were not so weakened that kids would think of their own parents as traitors and hand them over to brutal Thought Police.
Most of the novel is dedicated to Winston Smith’s inner thoughts and his disturbed panic-stricken reactions to the oppressed world he had to endure. George Orwell successfully creates a strong character, who was able to affect me with his tragic, futile fight against the invisible forces. Smith falls in love, against the decrees of Oceania, commits a cardinal sin of writing a diary, enjoys the company of proles, believes more in his own capabilities than the all encompassing power of Big Brother. And, predictably enough, suffers a lot for his bravado.
It goes without saying that the novel is dark. 1984 displays the negative side of humanity, voices the hidden malevolence and proves that absolute power is as dangerous as abject submission, and I seriously think that in the emotionally charged atmosphere of Cold War, it truly describes the mental condition of those times.
More than ever, I felt related to a fictional character. Despite all the negativity, it was good to see that Winston wanted to love someone, trust someone blindly and yet not be betrayed by oneself or his lover. His desperate attempts to enjoy the feeling of a home with his beloved, to drink a cup of real coffee, to smoke a good cigarette, were realistic enough to make me smell my own coffee and be content that I am able to enjoy my cuppa without taking permission from Big Brother or giving a commission to a dishonest official. Winston becomes a symbol of freedom and I was happy to see him evolve from a boring Party member to an almost normal man, enjoying conjugal pleasures with his comrade.
But, half way through, the novel became even more complicated. Winston was tortured for his ability to call a spade, a spade. And, I was jolted by the brain wash techniques used. On the one side, I was admiring George Orwell’s fertile imagination, and on the other side, I was disgusted by the continuous hammering of humanity and sanity in Ministry of Love. Somewhere down the line, I began to feel as if Winston was imagining all this in his dreams and the novel would indeed be declared as an incoherent account of an insane man at the end. However, 1984 turned out to be full of surprises. Every time, I thought I have cracked the actual plot, the story took another turn, mesmerizing me with yet another twist.
All in all, 1984 by George Orwell is a brilliant attempt, though the story is morbid and is sure to leave you gasping for breath, but, once completed, it has the power to haunt you for years to come. A timeless classic, which is as relevant after 36 years past 1984, as it was at the time of its conception.
Though, the year 1984 has come and gone, and I am thankful that the sadistic politics of George Orwell’s imagination did not come true, the novel does predict some of the technologies we use absentmindedly in the present. Be it the restricted abbreviated Newspeak, which is uncannily similar to presently popular SMS lingo or the speakwrite application or even the flashes of CCTV-cum-flatscreen in the obnoxious, all-pervading Telescreens, 1984 presents a fantastic techno world and it was fun to see future through Orwell’s vivid, creative eyes.
I think, tragedy does have the capability to wring out the best among people and I think it is hundred and one percent true for the creation of 1984 as well. Kudos to George Orwell for creating an everlasting, heart wrenching tale, bubbling with emotions and pathos!