Just like Saint Nicolas

There are a lot of books which could have been written ten years ago, but also a hundred years ago. Books like Harry Potter or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Fiction is timeless. Anyway, that’s what I thought before reading 1984. But I found out I was wrong, because 1984 does have a lot to do with the time in which George Orwell lived.

Orwell’s education started at Eton College, where his independent mind clashed with authoritarian teachers. Like in 1984: we think for you!

His parents didn’t have enough money to send him to university, so he started working in Burma, where his grandmother lived. In Burma he noticed how the locals were treated as second class citizens by the British: the proles in 1984.

After feeling ill he returned to London, and pursued a career as a writer. He identified with the poor oppressed people of London, and later with the underclass of Paris. It wasn’t only research about social injustice, he was forced to live among the poor because of his lack of means, despite the financial support he received from his aunt. George Orwell and Winston Smith both believed that the only way to make the world a better place, was by a revolution of the proles, the lower class. Like Winston said in 1984: “If there is hope, it lies in the proles”. [1]

A few years later George Orwell fought against ascism in the Spanish Civil War. He wanted to fight for the right cause against fascism. But he was disappointed, the Soviet Union didn’t deal with people the way he expected, for them it was only about power; they didn’t care about the poor people. George Orwell saw that not only fascism oppressed people, socialism as well. That was probably the moment George Orwell developed his antipathy against totalitarianism.

I guess Orwell’s experiences in WWII were an inspiration for the concept of the Ministry of Truth in 1984. George Orwell had been working for the BBC during the war, which was partially concerned with distributing propraganda. Winston Smith has to rewrite the past. They both dealt with dishonest information.

Big Brother is like the Dutch Saint Nicolas. Every child has his or her doubts about whether or not he exists. If you do ‘bad’ things, your parents threaten you with things like “Saint Nicolas is watching you, if you aren’t sweet, you won’t get any gifts”. When I heard that as a child, it would scare me and I wouldn’t do those ‘bad’ things again (well, at least not until Saint Nicolas went back to Spain). Winston isn’t sure Big Brother exists, but always has the feeling that he is watching him anyway.

Throughout Orwell’s writing you see a development from Marxism to (Social) Democracy: changing the society with violence towards change it by democratic means in an open and free society.

But I don’t think this book is a fiction, nor an autobiography. This book is a warning from a very smart man who has seen the dangers of totalitarian states, maybe packaged as a nice story about a smart man, love and adventure. But Orwell’s message to the world is: always keep thinking!


[1] George Orwell, 1984, Part 7, pg. 58

By Sophie de Roda Husman

Wordcount: 537


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