Rev. Walter Debold, Seton Hall University
“George Orwell’s 1984 is the expression of a modd, and it is a warning. The mood it expresses is that of near despair about the future of man, and the warning is that unless the course of history changes, men all over the world will lose their most human qualities, will become soulless automatons, and will not even be aware of it.” (p. 257)
These words were written by Erich Fromm as part of an afterward whichthe publisher included in a 1961 paperback edition of George Orwell’s classic 1984. If by any chance you have not yet read the book, these words may move you to do so now.
Orwell himself begins his story by introducing his “hero,” Winston Smith, as he enters his office building on a cold day as the clocks struck thirteen. The Author’s intention was to look ahead one generation to anticipate the kind of world that, he feared, was coming into existence. It would be a cold, joyless world in which Big Brother would be the master of a totalitarian state. It would be a world filled with telescreens on which you could watch Big Brother as he watched you. It would be a realm in which hatred filled the air not only on Hatred Week but all the time.
In 1984, there would be Thought Police to suppress Thought Crime. There would be no privacy and no independence. Choices for each person belonged to the state. Marriage could take place only in the service of the state and every effort was being made to eliminate sexual attraction.
One government office was charged with the re-writing of history so that even the past was not secure from the zeal of the revolution. In Newspeak, the Ministry of Truth was called Minitrue; it devised slogans to capture the new worldview such as War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength.
The Ministry of Love was the really frightening place. There were no windows in it at all. It was a place impossible to enter except on official business and then only by penetrating through a maze of barbed wire entanglements, steel doors and hidden machine gun nets. (p. 8)
That descriptive paragraph is a reminder that the story line of 1984 is moved along with the help of an unusual love affair, illegal, frustrating and doomed from the start. Winston and Julia (he never finds out her last name) are both rebels who talk a good deal about loyalty to each, but in the end prove disloyal.
Another way in which the author advances his story is by having his hero write a diary or by a dialogue with some other “comrade.” For example, a fellow victim asked him, “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?” (p. 46) Or, “The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means no-thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” (p. 47)