George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) was born in India in 1903. When his parents moved to England, he was sent to a boarding school and won a scholarship to Eton, but could not afford to go on to university. Instead he joined the Imperial Police in Burma. There he was shocked by the colonial policy of the British and disappointed by the attitude of superiority that his colleagues took towards him because he was socially beneath them. In 1927 he went to Paris to live among the outcasts of society. Back in England he made his first appearance as writer with the autobiographical Down and Out in Paris and London (1933).
In 1936 Orwell decided to go to Spain as a freelance reporter to collect impressions of the Spanish Civil War. Even though he showed the first symptoms of TB, He joined the Republican forces. When he returned to England he wrote Homage to Catalonia (1938). In this account of the Spanish war he expresses his disillusionment with Stalin and communism, because he felt they denied basic human values. From this time Orwell’s view of man and his vision of its future were pessimistic.
Although his health grew worse, he continued writing constantly; in no time he produced several novels and quite a few essays. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) was the last book that Orwell wrote.
In the year 1984 London is part of Oceania, ruled by the system called ‘Ingsoc’ (English Socialism). The Head of the Party is Big Brother, whose picture appears everywhere with the caption BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU. The Party exercises power not only by physical force, but also by controlling people’s thoughts. ‘Doublethink’ enables everybody to hold two contradictory beliefs in the mind at the same time, and accept both of them. To prove that the Party is always right history is being constantly rewritten and falsified. The official language, ‘Newspeak’, still under construction, will ultimately prevent anybody from uttering or even thinking anything contrary to Party doctrine. Although all laws have been abolished, everybody knows that certain actions will result in arrest, torture and death. The most insignificant things, like not showing enough enthusiasm, or looking pessimistic (‘facecrime’) are severely punished. Everybody is constantly watched, even in their homes, where they are spied upon through a ‘telescreen’ that they cannot turn off.
Winston Smith (39),citizen of London, works for the Ministry of Truth, where he concerns himself with the falsification of history. Physically, Winston Smith is a weak, unattractive man, but he has a strong intellect which allows him to penetrate the deceptions and falsifications of his society. But in the society in which he lives this independent intellect is a handicap and a failing: he has not learned ‘doublethink’. His affections, too, are strong; he often thinks of his mother and sister and he falls in love with Julia.
In the beginning of the book Winston is writing a diary and later he started a love-affair with Julia. Both are forbidden by the party and he is, after being betrayed, arrested and tortured in room 101; the room where they do whatever you are most afraid of. They finally broke him completely: he doesn’t want to think anymore. The last sentence of the book is: “He loved Big Brother”.
“In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy.”
The sum 2 + 2 = 4 is a really important symbol in the book; this represents a fact based on the reality of the physical world. As long as fingers, for instance, really exist, the two fingers and two fingers will always be four fingers. But if fingers exist only in the mind of the person who (thinks he) sees them, then two fingers and two fingers can be five fingers, if the Party so desires. Just as the Party changes the past by erasing all evidence of historical facts, it can change the present and even the ‘laws’ of science and mathematics, simply by forcing everyone to disbelieve them. If the Party can cause two and two to be five, it has absolute power.
When Orwell was writing this book in 1948, he reversed the last two digits to arrive at the year ‘1984’. The novel is not meant as a prophecy of what Orwell thought the world would look like in 1984, but as a warning of the direction in which the world, especially some socialist regimes, seemed in 1948 to be moving. What he knew of the totalitarianism was based on the Sovjet-Union and Nazi-Germany. But contrary to these regimes, the Party does not pretend to be acting for the good of the governed, or for any idealistic reasons, but openly admits its love of power for its own sake. this is what basically makes the Party of 1984 stronger.