Nineteen eighty-four by George Orwell
Many readers consider this to be one of the most important novels of the 20th century. It sold more than thirty million copies since publication in 1949. Look on GoodReads and you will see it has been given 1,972,594 ratings and 43,570 reviews by readers who rated it 4.13 out of 5.
When Donald Trump started talking about “alternative facts” alarm bells began ringing for all those people who had read Nineteen eighty-four. Sales pushed it to the number one spot on Amazon.
The novel is fairly simple in plot. It focuses on Winston Smith, in the year 1984 (which was in the future at the time the novel was written.) The world was divided into three super-nations that were continually at war with each other — at least in theory. The story suggests that sometimes, countries bombed their own population while pretending the bombs were coming from an enemy. Thus they could control their population’s emotions; creating a furious hatred of the enemy, loving their own Party who protected them from invasion and death.
The Party ruled Great Britain (Airstrip One) by four government ministries.
The Ministry of Peace, which dealt with war.
The Ministry of Love, run by the thought police, which dealt with torture and murder.
The Ministry of Plenty, that dealt with starvation, hunger, food, and goods that were near useless.
And The Ministry of Truth which specialised in lies and propaganda.
When a political change occurrence in the endless wars, an enemy might form a new alliance, and then the enemy became an ally, and the former friend became the new enemy, someone to hate. In the Ministry of Truth the facts were altered, old records destroyed, new articles written and back-dated to support the “alternative facts”.
Winston Smith felt the stirrings of rebellion, he began to doubt the world he lived in, seeing through the blatant lies broadcast on TV. He began to hate the ruler, Big Brother who saw everything, and knew everything about Winston. Big Brother — should such a person ever existed — had his photo hung in every room in every house and office. The portraits had eyes that contain closed circuit TV cameras that watched each person’s movements, words, actions, everything they did 24 hours a day.
Nineteen Eighty-four is divided into three distinct parts.
The first section describes Winston’s life of poverty, dreariness, and endless work, punctuated only by propaganda such as the Two Minutes of Hate, where they all yell abuse at the ‘enemy of the people’.
In the second section Winston becomes involved with Julia, a free-spirited young woman who cares little for the Party, or the rules, but wise enough to know how to pretend and conceal herself from Big Brother, who is endlessly watching. They travel to rural areas and dally in the Splendor in the Grass.
At his office Winston believes he has found a rebel who disapproves of the Party, the rules, and the lies that they peddle to the population. He thinks that there is a rebellious group of people, waiting for the right moment to overthrow The Party. Winston believes O’Brien is the leader of the rebellion, and is given a document explaining the current political system and how it operates ruthlessly at the higher levels.
This part of 1984 is like a long political statement. The story looses the fictional aspect, until with a crash, Winston and Julia are caught in their love nest, with O’Brien’s rebellious document. They are arrested and taken to the Ministry of Love, where they are interrogated, tortured, threatened, and brain-washed, all controlled by O’Brien.
When they are mentally and physically broken they are released back into society, helpless, barren, with no thoughts, living zombies.
The basis of this novel, and much of its importance, comes from events in the Soviet Union under the leadership of the Communist, Joseph Stalin. Big Brother ruled Airstrip One in Nineteen-eighty-four, just as Stalin ruled the USSR.
In 1936 Orwell went to Spain to fight against Fascism, where he soon became disillusioned with the Socialists and Communists. The Communist Press used distortion of facts, propaganda, and lies. In 1937 a deposition was presented to the Tribunal for Espionage & High Treason, charging Orwell with “rabid Trotskyism”, and being agents of the POUM. The trial of the leaders of the POUM and of Orwell (in his absence) took place in Barcelona in 1938. It was this background in Spain that led Orwell to writing Homage to Catalonia (1938), Animal Farm (1945), and Nineteen Eighty-four 1949).
The USSR had most of the control over those fighting the Fascists, and this was where Orwell came to see the Communists’ manipulation and lies, their ‘alternative facts’.
After the end of World War 2, Orwell understood what had happened in the USSR under Stalin: the surveillance, the propaganda, the lies, the murders, the jails filled with innocent people. He saw how the secret police watched anyone who stepped out of line, the poverty that people lived in, ruled by a Ministry of Plenty, and all the while Stalin continued with mass-murder on his own population.
Soon after the end of World War 2, history repeated itself when Mao Tse-Tung came to power in China. ( Read: Life and Death in Shanghai by Cheng Nien).
What happened in China, although after George Orwell had died, was amazingly accurate, stunningly awful, more lies, more propaganda, more disregard for facts — telling people distortions of events, denying anything that conflicted with what was required to keep power. Truth was dangerous to the rule of oppression, lies and alternative facts kept the population under control.
The novel is interesting and easy to read. The satire makes you look at events in our own world, particularly Hitler, Japan’s emperor, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung. Let us hope there will be no American presidents to join this hall of infamy.
The political section of 1984 is not terribly interesting, but explains the events of the novel. Nineteen eighty-four is not your average novel. It is totally political, rich with satire, but little humour. We can only hope that events depicted in the novel never come true.
Too late! They have happened in many countries since the publication: USSR, North Korea, Kampuchea, North Vietnam, parts of Africa, China, East Germany. This novel is a warning. Be aware! Alternative facts are lies and propaganda.
If you have a smattering of knowledge of the 20th century you will find this an unforgettable book that gives you shudders at the thought of what could happen again.
Perhaps it has already started; be aware, be prepared, be afraid.
DONALD TRUMP, US PRESIDENT
April 2 2017
“His scary willingness to repeat alt-right conspiracy theories, racist memes and crackpot, out-of-the-mainstream ideas. Again, it is not clear whether he believes them or merely uses them. But to cling to disproven “alternative” facts; to retweet racists; to make unverifiable or false statements about rigged elections and fraudulent voters; to buy into discredited conspiracy theories first floated on fringe websites and in supermarket tabloids — these are all of a piece with the Barack Obama birther claptrap that Trump was peddling years ago and which brought him to political prominence. It is deeply alarming that a president would lend the credibility of his office to ideas that have been rightly rejected by politicians from both major political parties.”