Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Nineteen Eighty-Four


Nineteen Eighty-Four
Nineteen Eighty-Four (first published in 1949) by George Orwell is a dystopian novel about Oceania, a society ruled by the oligarchical dictatorship of the Party. Life in the Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, and incessant public mind control, accomplished with a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (Ingsoc), which is administered by a privileged Inner Party elite. Yet they too are subordinated to the totalitarian cult of personality of Big Brother, the deified Party leader who rules with a philosophy that decries individuality and reason as thoughtcrimes; thus the people of Oceania are subordinated to a supposed collective greater good. The protagonist, Winston Smith, is a member of the Outer Party who works for the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue), which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism. His job is to re-write past newspaper articles so that the historical record is congruent with the current party ideology. Because of the childhood trauma of the destruction of his family — the disappearances of his parents and sister — Winston Smith secretly hates the Party, and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother.

As literary political fiction and as dystopian science-fiction, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a classic novel in content, plot, and style. Many of its terms and concepts, such as Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, and memory hole, have become contemporary vernacular since its publication in 1949. Moreover, Nineteen Eighty-Four popularised the adjective Orwellian, which refers to official deception, secret surveillance, and manipulation of the past in service to a totalitarian or manipulative political agenda.

George Orwell "encapsulate[d] the thesis at the heart of his unforgiving novel" in 1944, and three years later wrote most of it on the Scottish island of Jura, during the 1947–48 period, despite being critically tubercular. On December 4, 1948, he sent the final manuscript to the Secker and Warburg editorial house who published Nineteen Eighty-Four on June 8, 1949. By 1989, it had been translated in to some 65 languages, the greatest number for any English-language novel at the time. The title of the novel, its terms, its Newspeak language, and the author's surname are contemporary bywords for privacy lost to the State; while the adjective Orwellian connotes a totalitarian dystopia characterised by government control and subjugation of the people. As a language, Newspeak applies different meanings to things and actions by referring only to the end to be achieved, not the means of achieving it; hence, the Ministry of Peace (Minipax) deals with war, and the Ministry of Love (Miniluv) deals with brainwashing and torture. The Ministries do achieve their goals; peace through war, and love of Big Brother through mind control.

The Last Man in Europe was one of the original titles for the novel, but in a letter dated 22 October 1948 to his publisher Fredric Warburg, eight months before publication, Orwell wrote about hesitating between The Last Man in Europe and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Warburg suggested changing the Man title to one more commercial. Speculation about the choice of title includes perhaps an allusion to the title of the poem "End of the Century, 1984" (1934) by Orwell's first and then wife Eileen O'Shaughnessy (1905–1945), to G. K. Chesterton's novel also set in a future London of 1984, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904), and to the Jack London novel The Iron Heel (1908).

In the novel 1985 (1978), Anthony Burgess proposes that Orwell, disillusioned by the onset of the Cold War (1945–91), intended to title the book 1948. The introduction to the Penguin Books Modern Classics edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four reports that Orwell originally set 1980 as the story's time, but the extended writing led to renaming the novel, first to 1982, then to 1984. Alternatively, the name was chosen because it is an inversion of the 1948 composition year. Throughout its publication history, Nineteen Eighty-Four has been either banned or legally challenged as intellectually dangerous to the public, just like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932); We (1924), by Yevgeny Zamyatin; Kallocain (1940), by Karin Boye; and Fahrenheit 451 (1951), by Ray Bradbury. In 2005, Time magazine included Nineteen Eighty-Four in its list of 100 best English-language novels since 1923. Among literary scholars, the Russian dystopian novel We, by Zamyatin, is considered to have inspired Nineteen Eighty-Four.

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