Nineteen Eighty-Four is NOWNineteen Eighty-Four is not and never has been just a year. Nor is the world portrayed by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four a place or even merely a set of political or social circumstances. Rather, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a state of mind, a way of being, an atmosphere in which the dark side of our nature lives and turns all around it darker still. It is a time or place which we create when we turn away from the light that is within us, within each individual self, to the empty darkness of group will and the psychology of "massmindedness". Thus do we create for ourselves to live in the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Orwell's "fiction" of a world in which, but for a lingering echo, individuality had all but passed into extinction, could have been set in any time or place where "massmindedness" is paramount and where the individual exists merely to serve the group. Throughout history, most religions have preached, most governments have practiced and most societies have been organized around such "massmindedness". So, it is only the calendar which might confuse and comfort us, which might convince us that Nineteen Eighty-Four was merely a gruesome story about a time and place that never was nor could ever be. But nothing could be further from the truth. And the simple truth is that Nineteen Eighty-Four is NOW.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, there are no heroes, except as an idea, an ideal may be said to be a hero. All of its characters are exceedingly human, and this is what makes Nineteen Eighty-Four both timely and timeless, both powerful and profoundly pathetic. Nineteen Eighty-Four is often upsetting, sometimes disheartening, but, when its main lesson is learned, never depressing. It is fundamentally a story of hope, of a truth which can be discovered (although too late for all concerned); a truth which can be seen by us and taken as not only our ideal, but as the practical guide by which, to a greater or lesser extent, we can avoid the very pitfalls which consumed Winston and Julia and O'Brien and Big Brother and even Emmanuel Goldstein, and liberate ourselves from the tyranny and ultimate destructiveness of the group and its massminded stranglehold on our minds, our hearts and our souls.
In the end, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a simple story of faith wrongly placed. Winston Smith, its main character, searches to escape the suffocating and oppressive world maintained and manipulated by and for a ruling group, The Party. He believes that he is seeking a political, a social solution with which he can combat, can destroy the evil of group-think and the "massmindedness" in which he lives. Instead, he finds the most exquisitely human, individual "weapon" with which to pursue his salvation: love. But, as we humans are too often prone to do, Winston overlooks what is simple and obvious, what is at hand, and, even as do those he disdains, he puts his faith in another group, The Brotherhood. (It is not for Winston to realize that his answer lies in the idea and practice of "brotherhood", of love, rather than in the imagined purity of another group, "The Brotherhood".) In the end, Winston is betrayed not by his enemies, but, in a real sense, by himself, by his failure to see the worth in the object of his own worship; the individual and the emotional life with which he or she can find their own peace and presence, even in a world gone apparently mad.
Winston, with his male oriented solution, seeks one group to combat another group, while Julia, a woman, brings the possibility of true salvation to him (and them) in the idea and practice of simple human love. Julia knows the truth, and what is worthwhile, but Winston (the very name of the great male war leader of Orwell's recent past, who's supposed Christian "just war" could not, did not, and wasn't even really intended to bring justice to the world) plunges on ahead, seeking a "political", a "social" solution (not unlike the many male "leaders" of all time past - and present).
In the end, our hero Winston, a lone individual, a mere mortal, like us all, could not stand up to or against the society in which he lived, and finally abandoned his values (love, and his love - Julia). Thus, the true lesson of Nineteen Eighty-Four is, I believe, simply that, while it is the individual who acts, and, to create a good and just world, must act lovingly and with integrity, having a steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code, few, if any, individuals, standing alone, are psychologically strong enough to do so, and, to have such a good and just world, we must create societies that value, encourage and support such moral and spiritual understanding and action, so as to nurture such individuals, and enable them to act in this moral and ethical, and, at bottom, loving way.
Chapter One (An Excerpt)
Orwell can only really be appreciated by actually reading his work. To this end, I've provided the first few pages of Chapter One of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
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