AuthorRehnquist, William H.
PositionBook Review

1984. By George Orwell. London: Plume. Centennial Edition 2003. Pp. xxvi, 339. $14.

1984 by George Orwell was published in 1949. Set in London thirty-five years in the future, the world has greatly changed. It is now dominated by only three powers--Eastasia, composed of China, Japan, and Southeast Asia: Eurasia, composed of continental Europe and Northern Africa; and Oceania, composed of North and South America and the British Isles. The latter no longer exists as a political entity--they are known as Airstrip Seven. But London is still London, the capital of Airstrip Seven.

The novel recounts the life of Winston Smith, a midlevel bureaucrat in a society totally controlled by the Party. At the top are members of the Inner Party, who have luxurious living accommodations and all they want to eat or drink. At Winston's level--the Outer Party--there is only surveillance and scarcity. Every flat has a telescreen in it which cannot be turned off. The telescreen is a two-way system, which brings into the home the Party's propaganda, but also enables watchers at some unknown headquarters to view whatever is going on in the home. Members of the Outer Party have to settle for tasteless food and foul-tasting synthetic gin.

Winston works at the Ministry of Truth, which as he realizes, deals in lies. His job is to process orders coming to him through a pneumatic tube. Much of his work consists of altering past records or back issues of newspapers to make them conform to party doctrine. This doctrine is concerned not only with slogans and ideas, but with facts. For example, Oceania is always at war, either allied with Eurasia against Eastasia, or allied with Eastasia against Eurasia. But the general public--more than three-quarters of whom consist of "proles" who have no part at all in the government--cannot be trusted to understand why--if there is a why--the alliances constantly shift back and forth. Therefore, if Oceania is currently at war with Eurasia and allied with Eastasia, all past references to Eastasia as an enemy must be obliterated. This is Winston's work.

Every morning just before 11 a.m., all the workers in Winston's Department at the Ministry of Truth gather before a huge telescreen in a central hall on the floor where they work. There they watch the Two Minutes Hate. Promptly at 11 a.m., the face of Emmanuel Goldstein, branded an Enemy of the People, flashes on the screen. He was once a party leader, but he engaged in counterrevolutionary activities, was sentenced to death, and somehow escaped to no one knows where. There he is, supposedly still engaged in conspiracy against the Party. On the telescreen, Goldstein delivers a puerile and exaggerated attack on the Party, and on its leader, Big Brother. As they watch, the workers at the Ministry of Truth begin to leap up and down, shouting in paroxysms of fear and hate at the figure on the screen. At the end of the two minutes, Goldstein's image fades and is replaced by the face of Big Brother himself, black haired with a black moustache, calm and powerful.

Winston, unfortunately for him, is a rebel. On the very morning on which the book opens, he sits in an alcove of his apartment which cannot be seen by the telescreen, and writes in his diary several times "I HATE BIG BROTHER." Just thinking bad thoughts, without ever writing them down, is a "thoughtcrime" punishable by death if discovered by the Thought Police.

The book is devoted to Winston's efforts to live a life which would have been thought normal in 1949, its year of publication, and to search out a shadowy underground opposition group known as the Brotherhood. He has a love affair with another younger party member, Julia, who is also a rebel. He has separated from his wife because her conversation consists principally of mechanical recitations of the party line. Julia, on the other hand, though not concerned with large political issues, is a spunky rebel by nature, defying authority because she enjoys doing it. They find a place for an assignation in a part of London peopled only...

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