‘1984’ is almost 73 years old, but it’s still relevant today

1984 is almost 73 years old, but its still relevant today

Joshua Cuellar-Lopez, Making Waves Academy

On social media you can often find memes depicting how an authority figure says you can no longer do such a thing, and therefore you are now in a setting just like “1984.” For instance, a meme can depict how you can no longer chew your food loudly and with your mouth open, and someone in the comments will write “literally 1984.” 

Seeing the phrase “literally 1984” so many times under memes made me question why whenever something was said by an authority figure, it seemed that everyone and their grandmother would reference 1984 as the cause of it. 

One day I went to Target and headed to the book section. I saw the novel “1984.” I picked it up and looked at the cover. The cover stunned me from its simple design, yet impactful feeling. On the top it read “1984” and beneath “George Orwell.” The three words were divided by a camera in the middle resembling an eye. I skimmed through the pages and its summary on the back, and decided it would be a great read. 

The story is set in London in a dystopian setting where nuclear warfare led to only three territories remaining. England, the Americas, part of Africa, and Australia made up Oceania. Its rivals, Eurasia and Eastasia were composed of China, Russia, and parts of Africa as well. 

Oceania is a totalitarian regime ruled by the Ingsoc party. It controls and censors their citizens, whether it be their thinking, emotions, or human instincts. The party does this through “Newspeak,” which is a crucial theme and plot point in the novel.

Newspeak is essentially the English vocabulary shortened and changed so words mean two things at once, and so it does not require much thinking around it. Newspeak is important because it demonstrates the sheer power and control the totalitarian regime has over its citizens. 

But, I just wasn’t feeling it. I became disinterested in the crucial language plot. Personally I felt a little disappointed that the grand dystopian setting I envisioned was a little watered down in scale at first. However,  this disinterest would not last long as I would continue to read and see how the story begins to catch steam into an entirely different story than what I envisioned. 

The novel is filled with several themes, and its most important one is the idea of totalitarianism. The poster boy of Ingsoc, or rather the embodiment of the Party’s beliefs and values, is Big Brother. Orwell describes him as a “face of a man about forty-five, with a heavy black mustache and ruggedly handsome features.” 

The slogan “Big Brother Is Watching You” is plastered everywhere, including above the residence of the main character, Winston Smith, who lives in Oceania. Winston’s residence is in a former airfield and a stark reminder to the citizens to not commit any “thoughtcrimes.”

The biggest order of the Party is to never commit the horrible crime of thinking, or thoughtcrime. The word comes from the Newspeak dictionary: expressing any thought against the Party is considered a crime, and is punishable by imprisonment, torture, and eventually death. 

Furthermore, to ensure that the Party has surveillance over its citizens there are telescreens in their rooms. The telescreen is a tube-like device that displays the faces of a man or a woman who looks into the room of the resident, watching their every move and who report victories in their war against Eurasia, the rationing of supplies, and propaganda. 

The inclusion of telescreens and Big Brother is meant as a warning by Orwell about the dangers of an all controlling government. Telescreens can be viewed as modern day surveillance. Today cameras are everywhere more than ever, and right now, in your Chromebook, smart phone, Alexa — you could be watched by a secretive group. Thoughtcrime can be observed through modern day discussions on apps like Twitter, where an opinion so simple can divide users and where you can be shamed or hurt for opinions.

As a totalitarian regime, the Party controls and manipulates the media. Winston works at an office job where he destroys documents the Party does not consider “up to date.” News, war victories, resource reports, and history is written, checked, rewritten, checked and rewritten again and again until it meets the Party’s expectations. 

The Party wants to control everything about a citizen, including human instinct and emotions. The Party promotes celibacy through the Youth Anti-Sex League, which gives speeches and hands out pamphlets on reasons to abstain from sexual relations of any kind. Winston himself feels shame about wanting love or any physical or sexual relation with a woman. Having children is only seen as a duty to the Party to produce more proud members of Ingsoc. 

“1984” was published in 1949, four years following the bloodiest war in modern human history. However the novel’s message against totalitarianism was overshadowed by the idea that Orwell had published the novel as pro-communist literature. As the University of California Press writes, in 1981, parents in Jackson County, Florida, would challenge the novel and successfully ban it because of its inclusion of sexual content and for being pro-communism. 

“1984” speaks about the great dangers of a totalitarian government, or more specifically an overreaching authority that can control its citizens. Some of its themes and topics are still relevant today in an age where technology is advanced enough to track you on your cell phone, and your digital footprint can be followed. After witnessing the horrors of Nazism and Stalinism, Orwell would make “1984” his last work of literature, a warning to his readers to prevent these things from ever happening again. 

This novel is one of my favorites. A 5 stars out of 5, and one I would most definitely recommend to those who are into dystopian literature. 

Joshua Cuellar-Lopez is the Vice President of the Making Waves Academy Journalism and Media Club.