“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
I don’t even know where to begin about this book. Written in year 1949, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a startling dystopia that you can choose to read but can never choose to forget. The story begins in Oceania, a totalitarian superpower post World War II, which is ruled by ‘the Party’.
We meet our protagonist Winston Smith as he begins to pen down his rebellious thoughts against the Party, an act which can lead to his execution if caught. As the plot unfolds, all sorts of political propaganda flood the pages ranging from 2-minute hate to alternative history. Oh, and Newspeak! There is no suspense in 1984 but if you want to dive into this book with a fresh mind, you should seriously skip the next paragraph.
Well, you are still reading it, so here you go. The idea is that the more diverse vocabulary a language has, the higher tendency it provides to its speakers to come up with independent thoughts. It broadens their awareness and makes them more likely to think for themselves. Enter Newspeak! Once the words with opposing concepts are removed and degrees of expression are taken away, the range of thought its speaker can possibly have gets narrowed down considerably. To put it simply, it would be harder to think of Freedom if you have no concept of freedom and it becomes easier to control the mind of the speakers forever. Thus, the word ‘bad’ goes away just like other words that denote degrees of ‘goodness’, such as ‘wonderful’. What’s left is ungood (previously ‘bad’), plusgood (previously ‘very good’) and doubleplusgood (previously ‘wonderful’)!
1984 is filled with nuggets of terrifying, yet totally plausible ideas that are sure to play with your head. It is a natural human tendency to step into the world of the book you are reading from time to time and wonder: ‘Oh I wouldn’t have done it this way’ or ‘Wow I would never do something that stupid’. We all evaluate the choices characters make and that’s precisely where 1984 hits hard. There is no way out that you can think of for Winston or for that matter even yourself had you been a character in the book! I ran through the scenarios multiple times and I cannot imagine doing things any differently. The sheer ideas of Thought Police and Thought Crime, not to mention the alternative facts and rewritten history, leave no possibility for a way out. As an important Party member (well, it does have some suspense actually!) puts it:
“We do not make mistakes of that kind. All the confessions that are uttered here are true. We make them true. And above all we do not allow the dead to rise up against us. You must stop imagining that posterity will vindicate you. Posterity will never hear of you. You will be lifted clean out from the stream of history. We shall turn you into gas and pour you into the stratosphere. Nothing will remain of you, not a name in a register, not a memory in a living brain. You will be annihilated in the past as well as in the future. You will never have existed.”
This book popped in my head a lot of times while reading The Girl with Seven Names as the author narrated her life in North Korea. Maybe it is the current global politics or the brilliant plot or both, but this book is a must-read for anyone venturing out in the world of literary classics.