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  • Writer's pictureMeru Badyal

Book Review: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Updated: Aug 19, 2022

Air raid sirens blaze aloud.

Russian tanks march arrogantly into Ukraine.

Children and women take shelter in the bunkers.

Unfortunately, the above scene is not from a far-fetched world war era movie!

It is the reality of geopolitics currently unfolding in 21st century Ukraine. Ukraine is now a sad pawn in the 20th century Cold War era ego battle between the ever provocative USA (backed by NATO and EU) and Russia or the erstwhile USSR!

The democracy vs. communism battle dates back to the two world wars. Unfortunately, it did not culminate even after the disintegration of the USSR in 1991.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell:

George Orwell, a British political satirist, authored a timeless classic on excesses of communism/dictatorship, especially Nazism and Stalinism, in 1949.

The novel is called Nineteen Eighty-Four or 1984.

Who knew that a fictional dystopian literary work published in 1949 to be still relevant in 21st-century geopolitics?

The book's central premise is set in the year 1984 where three fictional superstates are at perpetual war.

The novel opens in a dystopian superstate called Oceania where a dictator/cult figure called the "big brother" and his party controls everything through surveillance, bureaucratic overreach, and propaganda.

From the use of surveillance telescreens on individuals (denying basic privacy) to spreading state-sponsored propaganda by the Ministry of Truth, the book shows a harrowing and scary state of affairs in a totalitarian regime.

The lead character Winston Smith, who works in the Ministry of Truth, tries to find some form of liberty by loving a woman (not allowed as per the Ministry of Love and Anti-Sex Leagues). He also tries to find anti-regime people or literature.

But Winston Smith is finally apprehended by the Thought Police. Yes, it is the police who imprison you for having a "thoughtcrime": revolutionary/ anti-regime thoughts. He is later tortured for months until he finally accepts that he loves the "big brother", is devoid of any other memory, and agrees with the party's ideology.

"War is Peace.

Freedom is Slavery.

Ignorance is Strength."

The above and oft-quoted quote from the book best defines the central theme of 'Nineteen Eighty-Four':

  • The use of state propaganda to brainwash people against an "imagined enemy", in this case, the other two fictional states of Eurasia and Eastasia,

  • To be in a perpetual state of war with an enemy as a means to enforce peace in one's territory,

  • To change the cultural/ historical/ political narrative of both past and present as per party's ideology.

Touching upon the themes of state propaganda, the need for a perpetual war/ an ‘imagined enemy’, and continuous surveillance by the state on its people through telescreens (akin to modern smartphones), the timeless work is relevant across all ages and types of government.

Perhaps, the novel is a cautionary tale on how both democracy and communism/ dictatorship are the two sides of the same coin: a coin that keeps the majority population perpetually poor and in a state of fearful warmongering!

Popular quotes from Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four:

"Big brother is watching you."

“One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution;

one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”

"The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed. Indeed, so long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison, they never even become aware that they are oppressed."

‘"The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power – pure power"

“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”

Copyright © [Meru]. All rights reserved.

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