Winston Smith—a plain name for the consummate British everyman. Critics often imply that Orwell was confused, or that his predictions came to naught. True, he was concerned with the lengths to which Communism was taken in Russia during his own time, but there's something more immediate for all Westerners in his dystopian novel.
Big Brother is the mascot of a totalitarian British government. Big Brother watches where you go, knows what you're thinking (he put those thoughts there), and doesn't care about you except in relation to your effectiveness as a tool of the state....unless, of course, you get out of line.
He doesn't want you to think he doesn't care, however. Big Brother goes out of his way to keep the people busy and tended-to; busy enough to keep you from thinking or acting on your own, anyway. Winston Smith is pretty happy to begin with. But when he meets Julia and falls in love, he begins to rebel. How it ends is terrifying.
Before you assume we have nothing to worry about in the U.S.A., we should consider whether 1984 isn't as much a metaphor as his other famous political novel, Animal Farm. Propaganda in the United States isn't as blatant as the Two-Minutes Hate, but surely we all know about doublespeak, enforced ignorance, and general dehumanization through euthenasia and abortion?
Orwell's warnings were as much against the Technological Age democracy he saw engulfing the West as they were about the looming shadow of Communism from the East. Orwell was a socialist who saw plenty wrong with post-war capitalism and its emphasis on acquisition, and the tendency of Western populations to give up freedom for plenty.
We all profess a love of freedom, but consistently trade it for ease, entertainment, and gluttony. To read 1984 as commentary on the modern West is scarier than reading it as a warning, but many of the facts bear out this interpretation. Orwell observes human nature and shows how it's affected by and reacts to a tyrannical bureaucracy. He also marshals words like a veteran, producing one of the most important and best books of the 20th century.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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