What is your opinion of the novel “1984” by George Orwell? How do you think it relates to our world today?
How George Orwell’s novel “1984” relates to our world today
1984 is a novel by the writer George Orwell written in the year 1948. It is a fictitious story of a dictatorial and rigid super-state that is led by a strict regime that does not allow any form of individualism. The inhabitants of this state are divided into three levels that include the proles who are the lowest in rank and are the highest in population (Orwell 19). There is the outer circle members who work for the government in the four ministries, and the lastly the inner circle who are the privileged inhabitants of the highest ranking. The state is governed by a higher power known as “Big Brother” whose existence cannot really be proven.
In this state, not even freedom of thought is allowed as it is termed as thought-crime and is constantly monitored by the thought-police. Thought-crime is punished by death. In the novel, three states are in constant war. The main character, who is Winston Smith, lives in the main state Oceania. He works in the Ministry of Truths that is responsible for manipulation of documentation in accordance to the government’s demands (Orwell 19). It is impossible for the citizens of Oceania to have full comprehension on the state of affairs as all publications are state-controlled and are manipulated to suit the image that the state wants them to see. The political image portrayed by the novel has major similarities with the current world states.
The novel 1984 by George Orwell greatly resembles the current society in many ways. In Oceania, no level of freedom or individualism is allowed by the government where each moment of a person’s life is under observation and their thoughts and actions are under constant scrutiny. The government headed by “Big Brother” who may be in real sense non-existent, has telescreens at every area of the state (Orwell 19). The government takes control of every area of production and the people of Oceania are expected to use products distributed only by the government. Failure to do so is viewed as an act of rebellion against the government. While the level of control in Oceania is dictatorial and too rigid for the current world, this resembles the current control that the government may have over the citizens without their knowledge.
In the current world, most public places are fitted with security cameras, which document every activity that takes place within their view. The purpose of the security cameras is for safety purposes whereas the purpose of the telescreens used in 1984 was to ensure that no one went against the government. It is not possible in the current world for the common person to know whether the government uses or does not use these cameras to spying on an individual. The advancement of technology and the poor level of literacy in matters dealing with computers also offer the government and large government-controlled organizations an opportunity to access personal information on individuals through their activities on the internet. In the current world, many identification documents whose records are kept by governmental bodies exist and these include social security numbers, driver’s licenses, identification cards and credit cards. All these information given by an individual makes it impossible to stay private or have total freedom from governmental scrutiny.
In Oceania, one form of defiance against the government was by thinking negative thoughts and this was governed by thought police. This is evident where the protagonist in the story, Winston Smith, is arrested because of keeping a private journal in which he writes down his thoughts of dislike of the government and the “Big Brother” (Orwell 39). In the United States, there have been occasions where people have been suppressed from expressing their thoughts and this shows that the situation in the fictional Oceania and that in the States have a similarity. One example is where a student from Bellbrook High School was sent home for wearing an anti-Bush t-shirt home where he was later questioned by the secret service (WHIO-TV, NEWSCENTER 7, 2002). The shirt may have been a form of expression for the student and if there really is freedom of expression, the student should not have been asked to leave. Freedom of expression allows self-expression as long as no one is harmed by it and there is no way in which wearing a t-shirt could have caused harm to anyone.
Yet another resemblance observed in the current world in relation to the situation in 1984 is the manner in which history is revised to portray an image of sovereignty of the nation and its leaders. In Oceania, an entire ministry was dedicated towards revising past documents to show what the government intended for the citizens to see, thus, the citizens never got the picture that really was. There was continual manipulation of existing databases to suit the government to an extent that the writers themselves were unsure of what really was the truth. The main character, Winston, at one point in the story is uncertain of the real date, as so much has been manipulated by the Ministry of Truth (Orwell 49).
In another occasion, he is unsure of the real events that occurred during the war of the three states, Eastasia, Eurasia and Oceania. There is a state of manipulation of past events to suits the government involving a nation’s history and leaders’ histories, which are manipulated to portray icons without blemishes. For example, in America’s history, elementary school students are taught that Abraham Lincoln fought for the freedom of slaves; whereas, with further study one comes to the realization that the information instilled in children at a young age is highly distorted to instill pride in one’s nation and the portray bravery of their leaders.
In Oceania, shortages and rationing is common, through which the inner circle uses to keep the population of the proles, who are the inferior citizens, in check. Through the Ministry of Plenty that is responsible for food distribution control, the inner circle reduces the rations while publishing falsified claims of increased rations and improved livelihoods. This can be liken to the current world where the government has control over most essentials with those in the higher status level receiving plenty while the low class and poor receive less. This is evident in the manner that public hospitals and schools are equipped. Those in wealthy neighborhoods receiving more government support while public hospitals and schools in poor neighborhoods are under-stocked with medical supplies and learning equipment respectively. This makes it impossible to give proper care to those who seek the services offered.
The notion of a totalitarian regime in the current world was especially evident after the 9/11 attacks on USA where non-natives of Asian descent were viewed as enemies of the state. In some incidences, there were cases of people being arrested with rumors of torturing by the FBI on claims of terrorist attacks without any provable evidence being produced (Sewell, 2012). This kind of scenario is quite common in the 1984 setting where aliens were considered a threat to the government and were imprisoned and tortured. 2001 was not the first time that government officials were engaging in such kind of activities in the US because in 1798, congress had passed an Act known as the Aliens and Sedition Acts where the president had a right to allow the arrest and deportation of any aliens suspected to have treasonable motives (Davidson 20). Thus, hard evidence did not have to be present for the president to authorize such a move on any alien. Anyone who expressed disagreement with the manner that the government implemented its policies was found guilty of treason and could be apprehended or deported.
The nation engaging in ghost wars is another similarity that we see with the recent world events in comparison with the situation in Oceania. During President Bush’s reign, USA was engaged in numerous conflicts with Iraq and Iran, some being real conflict as in the case of Saddam Hussein, while in some wars it was unclear who was really the enemy. For example, in the case of Osama bin Laden, many American citizens were deployed to the Middle East for war purposes as they put their lives at risk to protect their nation. This can be compared to the situation in Oceania where the state was at war with Eurasia even in a period where it was supposed to be at peace with its neighboring states. While the Middle East may have posed a threat to the nation, there is no single time that the supposed leader, Osama, was actually proved to be in charge of the attacks and could have been a puppet of the leaders. In this case, he could be likened to the Brotherhood in Oceania; no one can be sure whether it exists.
Maintenance of war in Oceania brought about benefit to the leaders as it kept the proles dependent on the government for supplies thus helped in maintaining their power. In the current situation, it is not any different as war leads to a sense of insecurity in the citizens making them willing to exchange their freedom and provide their personal information for the sake of protection by the government. Other than securing power for the leaders, it also provides a market for producers of weapons who in most instances are the ones who fund politicians in their bid for power thus securing the top people’s lifestyles. As much as the leaders claim to put their best efforts to fighting against war, it is hard to believe that they do put their greatest efforts in stopping war.
In the world in 1984, a major aspect of the ruling inner circle is censorship of occurrences to suit the government and help them remain in power. This is a common occurrence with the Ministry of Truths being dedication to manipulation and deletion of documents of neutralized people. There is exaggeration of the economic status of the state even when there are continual reduced rations to the people (Orwell 94). This situation is not much different from that in the current world. The government press and spokespeople revise their statements prior to addressing the state. This is done in order to give the picture of a magnificent ruling government while in real sense it is plagued by underlying issues and misappropriations.
As much as the extremity of the level of control in the world portrayed in the novel 1984 is too high, the similarity of the current situation in the world to that depicted in the novel cannot be ruled out. The government of USA has infringed on people’s rights on many occasions, be it rights to freedom of expression, the right to know the truth and freedom of movement. By unfair rationing of available resources, the US continues to show a lack of equal concern for all its citizens hence cannot be differentiated to the government in Oceania. If wearing a t-shirt or printing material that expresses one’s opinions in disagreement with the government’s decision is prohibited, the government shows that it does not respect people’s freedom to have their own thoughts and opinions. It therefore, shows little deviation in ruling from the authoritarian kind of regime shown in 1984
Davidson, J. W., et al. Nation of Nations: A Concise Narrative of the American
Republic. New York: The McGraw Hill Companies, Inc. 2002. Print
Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Penguin Books. 1949. Print
Sewell, A. Digital Journal: Muslim American claims Detention and Torture by FBI. 2012. Web. 1 May 2013.
WHIO-TV, NEWSCENTER 7. alternativetentacles.com: Secret Service Agents Question Student about Anti-Bush Shirt. 2002. Web. May 1, 2013.