George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is the ultimate negative utopia. Written in 1949 as an apocalyptic vision of the future, it shows the cruelty and pure horror of living in an utterly totalitarian world where all traces of individualism are being abolished. This novel was composed to denounce Hitlers Germany and Stains Russia and to create a warning to the rest of the world. It takes the reader through a year in the life of Winston Smith as he transforms from a rebel to a fanatic of totalitarianism. The political party of Oceania is INGSOC, which is also known as English Socialism. The government monitors the lives of the citizens through technological means to insure loyalty through surveillance, propaganda and brainwashing.
The Party, as the government is known, goes so far as to control the people's thoughts and ideas. They have even replaced English with Newspeak, the language of the party. By removing meaning and suggestion from the vocabulary, they hope to obliterate anti-social thinking before it has a chance to enter a person's mind. Oceania's government is divided into four ministries: the Ministry of Truth, which concerns itself with news, entertainment, education and the fine arts; the Ministry of Peace, which deals with war; the Ministry of Love, which maintains law and order; and the Ministry of Plenty, which is responsible for economic affairs. (Orwell, p. 6) Winston is an Outer Party member who works in the Records Department in the Ministry of Truth. It is his job to destroy and rewrite the archives of the London Times so that they are consistent with Ingsoc policy.
When someone is vaporized, or when Ingsoc changes it's political alliance with either Eastasia or Eurasia, it is Winston's job to change the records to change the past. The act of individual thought is called Thought Crime. No one can be trusted in fear that they might report to the Thought Police. Thi held true for families as well.
Children are sometimes known to turn in their own parents to the thought police for such simple things as hoarding spices for food. One has to watch his or her facial expressions at all times, because "the smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself - anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide". (Orwell, p. 65) Those who think for themselves are arrested by the Thought Police and sent to the Ministry of Love, where they are re-educated or killed. Sometimes both.
This novel serves as a warning against the dangers of a technologically advanced tyrannical government. It is set in London, the chief city of Airstrip One, a province of Oceania. It is possibly the year 1984, although with the party's control of all facts, one could never be sure. To begin with, he did not know with any certainty that this was 1984.
It must be round about that date, since he was fairly sure that his age was thirty-nine, and he believed that he had been born in 1944 or 1945; but it was never possible nowadays to pin down any date within a year or two. (Orwell, p. 9) 1984 is a forecast of an anti-utopian world. Oceania, where the book is set, is led by the socialist leader, Big Brother. In this state, all thoughts and actions are monitored through telescreens - video cameras in the form of televisions that can never be turned off. Any thought or comment which goes against the state or Big Brother is a crime and punishable by death.
There is a defined class system in Oceania, which is set up in pyramidal form. At the apex is the all-powerful Big Brother. Just below him is the Inner Party. The Outer Party, which is below the Inner Party, is equivalent to middle class people of today. At the bottom, are the proles (the peasants.) The proles are not monitored by the government because they are seen as too uneducated and unimportant to bother with".
'The proles are not human beings. ' " (Orwell, p. 56) From our viewpoint in the year 2001, this novel is not an accurate portrayal of the year 1984. George Orwell wrote that Oceania consisted of the Americas, Australia, and the Atlantic Islands (including the British Isles.) These countries were, and still are, democratic nations, and not, as Orwell had predicted, socialist totalitarian states. Although the U.S.S.R. and China were similar to Oceania politically in the 1980's, in the book they form part of Neo-Bolshevist Eurasia and Death-Worship Eastasia, respectively, not totalitarian Oceania. Orwell's division of the super-states is more like that found in the Cold War than that of the 80's. There is no real possibility of a revolution occurring in Nineteen Eighty-Four, since revolt lies in the hands of the proles, who are too uneducated and simple to understand the state that the world is in.
However this is not the case in the real world. There were many riots during the 80's, such as the protests at Tian namen Square and the youth riots in British cities during the early 80's. People had the right to freedom of speech and expression in the Western World, something Orwell saw as being a crime in his futuristic novel. Although these protests during the 80's were punished, the fact that they even occurred shows the difference from Orwell's prediction. Many of the ideas in Nineteen Eighty-Four were based on tactics repeatedly used by governments. The secret police were used by the Jacobins during the French Revolution, Hitler during World War II, Russia since WWII, the government of South Africa, as well as many other governments throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
Orwell ideas were not completely farfetched, he simply predicted that technology and society would move at a faster pace than it did. For example, the concept of telescreens and being monitored at all times has slowly crept into our society today. The use of surveillance cameras in stores and work places, as well as the mass use of the Internet as we begin the millennium, and the use of credit cards and debit cards all enable the government to keep track of our every move. Although it is not as extreme as in Nineteen Eighty-Four, it holds the potential to become the frightening system used in the book. 1984 is the story of the death of humanity. The end of the individual.
And while we pray that nothing like the world inside this tragic book will become reality, we never really know who is watching.