1984 by George Orwell

[spoiler alert]

1984 is a dystopian novel written by George Orwell. It was first published in 1949, around 35 years before the year that the book (and its title) is based on. It imagines a world where all of one’s actions are watched by The English Socialist Party (Ingsoc) through posters, telescreens, and even kids who are trained to be spy. Nobody can be trusted except you yourself. Posters of Big Brother, the unseen but seemingly omnipresent leader of the party, hangs everywhere, watching with the camera attached to his eyes. Almost every room and public space is covered with a telescreen that keeps an eye on every move that people make.

The protagonist, Winston Smith, works for the Record Department for the government. He is not the part of the Inner Party, the highest layer of government, but rather is in the second-tier, the Outer Party. The Inner and Outer party hold more power than the proles, or the proletariat.

The novel is all about authoritative government, the suppression of people and their desires, and the desire for revolution. While these themes seem dry, the author does a good job on elaborating on how each themes function with easy-to-understand language.

The book made me rethink the role of CCTV cameras that we see all around us. If we think about who has the access to these surveillance cameras, one realizes that it’s either the police or rich and/or powerful people. The poor do not have access to surveillance systems, but rather are the very targets of such systems. We see these kind of surveillence tools being justified in the name of security, but we do not ask bigger questions like- what makes a person perform a crime? The simple answer would be poverty. Therefore, instead of working to address poverty, surveillance systems help ‘catch’ the ‘criminal’ who performed a ‘crime’. It adds to the cruel justice system that is present not only in Nepal, but throughout most of the world.

The book also reflected how powerful countries like the United States and China currently function. Facts are heavily distorted and there is abundance of historical amnesia among the people, most of which comes from the government’s rhetoric. For example, Trump tried to paint a picture of how amazingly well he handled the COVID-19 pandemic, but in reality, he did the exact opposite. His constant rhetoric which his base so easily buys helps not only distort contemporary facts but also removes focus of the people from historically informed problems that require attention.

All in all, it was an interesting read. A few parts where the author goes on and on repeating the same point felt a little bit drudging but nevertheless, the insight that it provides and the potential for comparison with the current reality that is offers is valuable.

Who knew that a book that, I think, acted as a anti-communist/socialist propoganda actually reads like a reflection of the contemporary center of capitalism of the world.