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1984:The Quintessential Negative Utopia
(Or How to become really depressed about the future of the human condition in 267 pages or less.)
1984 is George Orwell\'s arguably his most famous novel, and it remains one of the most powerful warnings ever made against the dangers of a totalitarian society. George Orwell was primarily a political novelist as a result of his life experiences. In Spain, Germany, and Russia, Orwell had seen for himself the peril of absolute political authority in an age of advanced technology; he illustrated that peril harshly in 1984.
Orwell\'s book could be considered the most acknowledged in the genre of the negative utopian novel. The mood of the novel aims to portray a pessimistic future. This prospect is to show the worst human society imaginable and to convince readers to avoid any path that might lead toward societal degradation. Orwell\'s world of post-atomic dictatorship, in which every individual is ceaselessly monitored through the telescreen seemed just possible enough to terrify. When Orwell postulated such a society it was only 35 years into the future that made the horror depicted by the novel seem more relevant and real.
While the year 1984 has long since come and gone it is more than obvious that the world Orwell describes has not materialized. But the message of 1984 remains relevant enough to frighten, and accurate enough to feel possible. War is used as a device for political manipulation on television--a concept presented strikingly in the recent film Wag the Dog. The governmental forces have historical records rewritten to match the political ideology of the ruling Party. This is a technique has been used by the Soviet Union and is still all too common in some parts of the world. The warning remains significant: the world has not completely escaped from the dangers Orwell describes.
The novel is based on the experiences of Winston Smith, an insignificant member of the ruling Party in London, in the nation of Oceania. Everywhere Winston goes, even his own home, he is watched through telescreens, and everywhere he looks he sees the face of the Party\'s omniscient leader, a figure known only as Big Brother. The Party controls everything from history to language. The Party is currently forcing the implementation of an invented language called Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Thoughtcrime is the worst crime of all.
One of the most convincing aspects of 1984 is Orwell\'s understanding of the roles that thought and language play in rebellion and control. In Newspeak, Orwell postulates a language that will make rebellion impossible, because the words to conceive of it will cease to exist. With doublethink--the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in one\'s head simultaneously and believe in them both--Orwell conceives of a mental mechanism that explains people\'s willingness to accept control over their memories and their past. Doublethink is crucial to the Party\'s control of Oceania, because it enables the Party to alter historical records and pass off the altered records as real to a populace that ought to know better; because of doublethink, the populace does not know better, but is able to accept the Party\'s version of the past as real.
The protagonist is Winston Smith; a minor member of the ruling Party in near-future London, Winston Smith is a thin, frail, 39 year-old-man who wears blue Party coveralls. Winston is sick of the Party\'s rigid control over his life and world, and begins trying to rebel against the Party. By writing defiant thoughts in a secret diary and starting an illegal affair with Julia, Winston is guilty of these societal crimes.
Julia is a beautiful dark-haired girl working in the Fiction Department at the Ministry of Truth. She enjoys sex, and claims to have had affairs with dozens of Party members. Winston is a fatalist, harboring no illusions about his chances of rebelling successfully: the moment he begins to write in his diary, he knows he has condemned himself to death at the hands of the thought police. Even as he joins the legendary anti-Party order called the Brotherhood, Winston considers himself a dead man.
Winston is 39, Julia 26. Winston\'s childhood took place largely before the Party came to power around 1960; Julia is a