Nineteen Eighty Four is widely considered to be the definitive novel about the concept of Dystopia. The novel is set in a totalitarian world comprising of three major superpowers namely Eastasia, Eurasia, and Oceania. The region in which the chief protagonist lives and narrates this story is Oceania that includes most of Western Europe.
The chief character in the novel – Winston Smith – is a 39 year old, physically weak person, who uncannily resembles author Orwell himself in terms of physical attributes. Appropriate to a totalitarian political system there is only one Party in Oceania, in complete control of the ruling oligarchy. During the course of the novel the author shows his readers the pathetic new depths to which The Party had taken its atrocities and violations of basic human rights. What more, the concept of privacy, which has come to be expected of any free and fair society today is completely abolished in Oceania. Each individual citizen is always under the surveillance of the tele-screen, thereby making impossible any attempts to undermine the power of The Party through subversive activities. The tele-screen is also an attempt to control the thoughts and actions of the citizens and keep them in complete control. The undisputed leader of this nightmarish political system is the Big Brother, the despotic head of The Party.
Orwell does a stellar job in organizing the novel into three main subdivisions. The first section is dedicated to depicting the atrocities and violations in the totalitarian society. The author does a commendable job of bringing the essence of the oppressed society to the fore. It is here that Winston Smith, the lead character, develops thoughts of a free world, which is anathema to The Party.
The next part of the book narrates the development of Winston’s love for Julia, the latter being the only one with whom he could have an intimate emotional life. But their desperate union does not last for long, as they were exposed to the Party by O’Brien. Interestingly O’Brien was at that time Winston’s one big hope and Winston believed that O’Brien was also someone wanting freedom and having unorthodox thoughts. But all this proves just an illusion, as O’Brien betrays the couple and make them face a party Inquisition.
The final part of the novel is Winston’s reconciliation with the fact that the Party and the Big Brother are invincible and the only mode of survival possible is through complete surrender to the dictates of the Party. After having been brainwashed and tortured, Winston finally comes to love Big Brother.
The author’s descriptive prose is very effective in bringing to fore the essence of the totalitarian society. A clever use of word play and slogans is another asset to the book. For instance, the following are a selection of quotations from the work that serve as evidence to Orwell’s proficient use of language in conveying the oppressive realities of Oceania:
“WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH”
“The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth.”
“Nothing in the world was so bad as physical pain. In the face of pain there are no heroes, no heroes, he thought over and over as he writhed on the floor, clutching uselessly his disabled left arm.”
“You must love Big Brother. It is not enough to obey him; you must love him.”
Evident through out the novel is the author’s descriptive and informative prose style. The horrifying images of the totalitarian society that Winston lives in are presented to the reader in a balanced and a placid tone, which brings a touch of irony to the narrative. Also employed by Orwell are elements of foreshadowing and suspense to add more drama to the story. What come across as the dominant philosophy of the book is the warnings of the despicable dangers that such an absolute power-system can have on its subjects. While the story is supposedly fictional, in the foreword to the book, Orwell alludes that the existing so called democracies of the western world are not all that different from the government of Oceania. And that if necessary changes at the level of democratic institutions are not made humanity would find its condition in the year 1984 akin to the one described in the novel. The following passage captures this lucid and descriptive style of Orwellian prose while also inducing elements of irony into the narrative: