Friday, 5 February 1999

George Orwell: 1984 (1949)

Edition: Penguin, 1970

Though it is the interrogation from 1984 which is the most memorable part of the novel, though there are phrases which have become part of the culture of the English-speaking world ("Big Brother is Watching You", "doublethink", "Room 101"), Orwell's book is principally about the way in which a totalitarian regime can succeed, the way that human beings can become subjugated to other human beings.

The interrogation itself takes up only a small portion of the novel; it is the briefly told story of Winston's "cure"; as O'Brien tells him, they do not torture him out of pleasure in inflicting pain or because they have anything to gain from his confession, but because they want everyone to love Big Brother. That is why he must believe that he hallucinated the evidence proving that the Party lies, that two and two make five when O'Brien tells him so (and despite what he wrote in his diary before his arrest, that freedom ultimately means the freedom to say that two and two are four). But intellectual belief is not enough for O'Brien; it is the emotions the party needs to control. That is why the final sentence of the novel, simply, "He loved Big Brother", is so chilling. Orwell showed the triumph of the totalitarian state over the free will of the individual. All that is left to the reader is the rather empty comfort of the thought that it couldn't happen here.

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