Book Reviews

1984 * George Orwell’s vision on a Big Brother state

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

So goes the motto of the Party in Oceania, governed by only four ministries:
The Ministry of Truth, which concerned itself with news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts. The Ministry of Peace, which concerned itself with war. The Ministry of Love, which maintained law and order. And the Ministry of Plenty, which was responsible for economic affairs. Their names, in Newspeak: Minitrue, Minipax, Miniluv,and Miniplenty.

If someone were to ask me what this book was about and reply in one word, it would be Power. Power is a dangerous thing and in the wrong hands, it will turn something that started off for the good of the people into a totalitarian state. The power to think, to act, to speak has been taken away from the ordinary people and replaced with hate. Children hate their parents, adults hate their neighbors, wives hate their husbands and the monthly ritual of sex, countries hate other countries. There is always war and famine and lack of basic clothing, but in the figures, the state is always doing better than last year.

The party was modifying the past to suit the present, forging last year’s and the year’s before figures to make the present shine by comparison.

But actually, he thought as he re-adjusted the Ministry of Plenty’s figures, it was not even forgery. It was merely the substitution of one piece of nonsense for another. Most of the material that you were dealing with had no connexion with anything in the real world, not even the kind of connexion that is contained in a direct lie. Statistics were just as much a fantasy in their original version as in their rectified version. A great deal of the time you were expected to make them up out of your head. For example, the Ministry of Plenty’s forecast had estimated the output of boots for the quarter at 145 million pairs. The actual output was given as
sixty-two millions. Winston, however, in rewriting the forecast, marked the figure down to fifty-seven millions, so as to allow for the usual claim that the quota had been overfulfilled. In any case, sixty-two millions was no nearer the truth than fifty-seven millions, or than 145 millions. Very likely no boots had been produced at all. Likelier still, nobody knew how many had been produced, much less cared. All one knew was that every quarter astronomical numbers of boots were produced on paper, while perhaps half the population of Oceania went barefoot. And so it was with every class of recorded fact, great or small. Everything faded away into a shadow-world in which, finally, even the date of the year had become uncertain.

And somewhere or other, quite anonymous, there were the directing brains who co-ordinated the whole effort and laid down the lines of policy which made it necessary that this fragment of the past should be preserved, that one falsified, and the other rubbed out of existence.

If a nation is not aware of its past, how can it hope for the future? How can it rebel against something that is wrong in the world without having known something better or even read about it? This ignorance is the most dangerous thing I can think of – no way to learn either. The plebes are un-educated and anyone who stands out by a fraction is declared Enemy of the People and hung or made to disappear in other ways. By erasing the records, it’s like he never existed.

And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp. Thus, at one moment Winston’s hatred was not turned against Goldstein at all, but, on the contrary, against Big Brother, the Party, and the Thought Police; and at such moments his heart went out to the lonely, derided heretic on the screen, sole guardian of truth and sanity in a world of lies.

The book is definitely a must read. To see the pain a person can go though so it can be taught, against all common sens and internal nature that 2+2 = 5. It’s important because you will have to blindly believe, against logic, nature and common sense that a truth is no longer a truth. Consider this quote:


‘Do you remember,’ he went on, ‘writing in your diary, “Freedom is the
freedom to say that two plus two make four”?’

‘Yes,’ said Winston.

O’Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb
hidden and the four fingers extended.

‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?’

‘Four.’

‘And if the party says that it is not four but five–then how many?’

‘Four.’

The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle of the dial had shot up to
fifty-five. The sweat had sprung out all over Winston’s body. The air tore
into his lungs and issued again in deep groans which even by clenching his
teeth he could not stop. O’Brien watched him, the four fingers still
extended. He drew back the lever. This time the pain was only slightly
eased.

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Four.’

The needle went up to sixty.

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Four! Four! What else can I say? Four!’

The needle must have risen again, but he did not look at it. The heavy,
stern face and the four fingers filled his vision. The fingers stood up
before his eyes like pillars, enormous, blurry, and seeming to vibrate,
but unmistakably four.

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Four! Stop it, stop it! How can you go on? Four! Four!’

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Five! Five! Five!’

‘No, Winston, that is no use. You are lying. You still think there are
four. How many fingers, please?’

‘Four! five! Four! Anything you like. Only stop it, stop the pain!’

What would you say?

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