Rewind: Orwell’s ‘1984’

This article was first published in Cherwell on 3 June 2016.

We live in an age of indifference. 67 years on from the publication of George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984 on June 8, 1949, our digital conversations are monitored, humans are denied basic rights around the world and political systems are still anything but fully democratic – and yet, a blank indifference is the defining legacy which we threaten to leave. However, amidst dwindling voting figures and a dearth of political education, Orwell’s ultimate manifesto for rebellion against apathy is no longer precautionary, but all too relevant, perhaps inspiringly so. Orwell, through his protagonists Winston and Julia, reclaims in 1984 the very basis of the human spirit as an act of insubordination against the ravages of reification and anonymity, to assert that “nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.”

Yes, Orwell’s work is ultimately bleak. No, it is not a direct parallel of modernity. Yes, it is only fiction. But rather than seeing 1984 as a fatalist prophesier of doom, this writer would attest that it is exactly the opposite. It poses the argument that no matter how dark and how futile rebellion may seem, there will always be a counterbalance. There will always be resistance. There will always be a Winston and a Julia.

Rather than simply damning rebellion in his work, Orwell keys into a more complex moral statement: in denying his readership of a happy ending, Orwell in fact acknowledges the invulnerability of hope in humanity, through lines such as, “We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.” It is certainly possible that no such spatial arena exists; but internally, it is our responsibility – and nature – to retain hope, and to fill up the blankness of indifference with words. Describing Winston’s opening act of defiance, Orwell writes that “he discovered that while he sat helplessly musing he had also been writing, as though by automatic action. And it was no longer the same cramped, awkward handwriting as before. His pen had slid voluptuously over the smooth paper, printing in large neat capitals ‘DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER’.”

It is this which is the defining legacy of his work. While we can, we must absolutely express ourselves – creatively, sexually, emotionally. As Winston puts it, “They can’t get inside you. If you can feel that staying human is worthwhile, even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.”

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