On this day 72 years ago, George Orwell published his famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Not only is this book one of his most iconic, but it is the culmination of all his writing—and his life. He died only seven months after this final novel was published.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is forthrightly anti-utopian, a biting critique of totalitarian governments and the havoc they can wreak on the world. The book displays his own views, but how did he get there in the first place?
Firstly, Orwell grew up in and served British-occupied India as an officer of the imperial police, where he saw the unfairness of the distant and heavy-handed government. From this experience he wrote Burmese Days.
His first socialist treatise was The Road to Wigan Peir, based on the difficult life of the miners in Northern England.
Shortly after, he fought against the oppresive communists in the Spanish Civil War, where he was wounded and forced to flee the country. As a memoir of his Spanish trials, he wrote Homage to Catalonia.
In Coming Up for Air, Orwell reveals his fear of a fascist Europe. Only months later, WW2 began and he saw from a distance the terrors of Nazism.
In his popular satire of the Russian Revolution, Animal Farm, Orwell further exposes the danger of a ruling class that controls the lives—and minds—of those it rules.
Enter Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Winston, the protagonist of Orwell’s final novel, is very much like Orwell himself was in British India: he supports a cause that he grew to realize was not worth supporting. So, like Orwell, Winston rebels. But rebelling does not go well for him, because Big Brother, the eyes and head of the totalitarian state, is always watching him.
Surveiling its citizens is not the end goal of the state, however; controling them is. The state contorts language to its purposes and controls it so that the people do not have the words to think for themselves—a concern Orwell freely expresses in his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’.
Big Brother stops at nothing to beat down Winston, the everyman character we can all sympathize with. He tries to force Winston to acquiesce to his demands. The tragic part? Winston does.
Over 30 million copies of Nineteen Eighty-Four have been sold since 1949. In just the past four years, there has been a marked increase of sales in the U.S. and the world. It seems that, though all this time has passed, Nineteen Eighty-Four hasn’t become any less relevant to humanity.