Think, for a moment, about all of your freedoms. Okay, stop. How far did you get? Did you remember your ability to choose? To use the computer you’re on right now? To read this article?
Chances are, you forgot the most important one: the ability to think when I asked you to. It’s an easy one to miss since we take it for granted every day. Technically speaking, another person cannot truly take away your ability to think. They can, however, instill a fear in you so great that it alters your behavior and, eventually, your thoughts and the way you carry them out.
Sounds a little spooky, huh?
This is the exact idea that is put into play in the classic novel 1984 by George Orwell. In 1949 (the year it was published), few would have imagined the kind of impact such a book would have on people. During the time of its publication, the Cold War was at the front of everyone’s minds, along with the simple thought of “What could happen tomorrow?” This kind of anticipation over nothing - and everything - was what drove Orwell to pen this piece, as well as what drove people to read it.
The idea the book was formulated around was the theory of a “Utopia.” Utopia is the place where there is no wrong; nothing is ever corrupt or unequal and all people are at peace. We know this to be impossible but what if someone convinced us all that it was possible? Orwell imagined that in the year 1984, this truly occurred. While Utopia was still an unattainable goal, people were living under the notion that they were all members of a Utopian society.
How exactly did this society maintain order? One answer: Big Brother.
Big Brother is the almost mythical figurehead that dwells over Oceania (the American-like country in which the book is set) and regulates it, enforces its laws and strikes fear in the hearts of its citizens. That fear, however, is overlooked and misinterpreted as respect and reverence. Over the years, Big Brother manipulates the people into believing that he alone can bring them peace and take care of them. All they need to do is obey his every command. Over time, the citizens of Oceania give up their freedom and lose the will to think for themselves.
1984 focuses on its main character, Winston, as he struggles to maintain his brainwashed state and begins to find a way out of the prison that his mind has been locked in for years. But, when you are watched constantly and can trust no one, how do you even begin to try? Is risking the shell of a life you lead worth it? Or should you simply be the drone you are expected to be? These are the questions that plague Winston and should plague the reader as well.
Even though the panic of the Cold War is no longer upon us, the internal paranoia is alive and well. With threats to online privacy like SOPA - and now CISPA - people are constantly skeptical of just how much power our government should have. Though the totalitarianism of 1984 is an over exaggerated fear, it does leave readers with a crucial message cultivated by Orwell himself: How important it is to think and to use that ability to protect the very freedom it represents?