George Orwell, a pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair, wrote and published the groundbreaking dystopian fiction 1984 over seventy years ago — months before his death. Nevertheless, reading it in 2021 can make one think whether the English journalist and author should have also added “prophet” to his métier.
The novel, made of twenty-three chapters and divided into three parts, dissects the life of protagonist Winston Smith, a 39-year-old citizen of the rigidly-hierarchical Oceania, one of the three superstates ruling the 1984 world. Smith, a truth-seeking, underdog character, struggles with the terrifyingly oppressive nature of life in Airstrip 1, the mainland of Oceania where even writing in a diary, dating, and sleep talking could get one into fatal trouble.
Orwell wrote 1984 as a warning to the possible reverberations that would result from the extreme emotional nationalism that was blinding civilization around him in his time from maintaining and deciphering their own individual freedoms.
Yet, a comparison of the 21st century state of sociopolitical affairs with the “Orwellian” thoughts instigated in 1984 would deem the novel as one that could have been conceptualized not almost a century ago, but last week, or even yesterday.
Below are eleven quotes taken from 1984 which we think are eerily relevant in today’s world. A little too eerily, one could say. Oh, did we wish you a happy 2021, by the way?
1- “Always eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or bed—no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters in your skull.”
2- “We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.”
3- “The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible, and glittering—a world of steel and concrete, of monstrous machines and terrifying weapons—a nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting—three hundred million people all with the same face.”
4- “Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or the joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”
5- “In the end, the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it.”
6- “The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in.”
7- “Talking to her, he realized how easy it was to present an appearance of orthodoxy while having no grasp whatever of what orthodoxy meant. In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. By lack of understanding they remained sane.”
8- “The problem was how to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed. And in practice the only way of achieving this was by continuous warfare.”
9- “It is deliberate policy to keep even the favored groups somewhere near the brink of hardship, because a general state of scarcity increases the importance of small privileges and thus magnifies the distinction between one group and another.”
10- “The aim of the High is to remain where they are. The aim of the Middle is to change places with the High. The aim of the Low, when they have an aim — for it is an abiding characteristic of the Low that they are too much crushed by drudgery to be more than intermittently conscious of anything outside of their daily lives — is to abolish all distinctions and create a society in which all men shall be equal.”
11- “The essence of oligarchical rule is not father-to-son inheritance, but the persistence of a certain world-view and a certain way of life, imposed on the dead by the dead upon the living. A ruling group is a ruling group so long as it can nominate its successors.”