“It was at night that they came for you, always at night. The proper thing was to kill yourself before they got you. Undoubtedly some people did so. But it needed desperate courage to kill yourself in a world where firearms, or any quick and certain poison, were completely unprocurable. He thought with a kind of astonishment of the biological uselessness of pain and fear, the treachery of the human body which always freezes into inertia at exactly the moment when a special effort is needed. He might have silenced the dark-haired girl if only he had acted quickly enough: but precisely because of the extremity of his danger he had lost the power to act. It struck him that in moments of crisis one is never fighting against an external enemy, but always against one’s own body”.
The book also excels in clever and appropriate use of symbolism to denote concepts and situations. Such phrases as “The coral was Julia’s life and his own, fixed in a sort of eternity in the heart of the crystal”, “It is a little chunk of history that they have forgotten to alter”, “Golden Country”, “I sold you and you sold me”, expresses the intended sentiment of the author quite clearly.
While the book excels in so many areas, it has some deficiencies too. For instance, apart from Julia, O’Brien, and Winston Smith, there are no other significant characters; there is apparently no attempt on part of the author to show a wider range of social behaviour and other complexities of personality that it entails. But to be fair to the author, that is indeed his very point – one of uniformity of all humans – the zombie-hood of the inhabitants of Oceania. So, in this context, the parameters of judging a conventional novel are not applicable to this work. As a matter of fact, what Orwell is implying is that the struggles for survival of Winston Smith capture the basic nature of the captive human society of Oceania. In other words, the plot was built around this character in order to focus on the response that it stirs in him to combat the inhumane forces of the Party system. The lack of individuality among the citizens of Oceania is best illustrated by the following passage:
“At this moment the entire group of people broke into a deep, slow, rhythmic chant of ‘B-B! …. B-B! …. B-B!’—over and over again, very slowly, with a long pause between the first ‘B’ and the second—a heavy mumurous sound, somehow curiously savage, in the background of one which seemed to hear the stamps of naked feet and the throbbing of tom-toms. For perhaps as much as thirty seconds they kept it up. It was a refrain that was often heard in moments of overwhelming emotion. Partly it was a sort of hymn to the wisdom and majesty of Big Brother, but still more it was an act of self-hypnosis, a deliberate drowning of consciousness by means of rhythmic noise”.
So, how far has Orwell’s prophetic warning come true? While one cannot see such an absolutely dominant one party state today, what one can see are lesser formed power structures – be it in the form of private corporate ownership or political power based on mass propaganda. So, in this regard, the novel 1984 is as relevant today as it was fifty years ago when it was first published alongside the rise of the totalitarian Stalinist USSR. The book is a useful educative device for both citizens and policy makers in modern democracies, where the absoluteness of the mythical “Party” survives in subtle and sophisticated ways. Also, the manner in which Orwell divides the fictional superpowers of his world according to the balance of power evident during the period of the Cold War between the United States and the USSR, is a further suggestion that 1984 is as much a work of fact as it is of fiction and hence highly relevant to the world of today.