I admittedly spend quite a bit of time browsing new titles on Audible. As my focus tends to be in literature and the classics, I have come to notice the myriad of selections when it comes to George Orwell’s 1984. It seems like every few months there is a new production of it available. Currently a myriad is 12, something akin to looking for a copy of the Iliad or Odyssey by Homer, or most titles by Jane Austen. There are choices to be had.
But why shouldn’t we be preoccupied with this novel? As a society we are replete with machinations and motivations. As the universe falls towards entropy, we are none of us perfect and all of us possessed of some desire to have our individual wills met. Who among us has a contentment with their location in life without the niggling fear that something might rout us from our jobs, our relationships, our health, or families, or even just the ability to enjoy our coffee while it’s still hot?
Is Big Brother watching us through our laptop cameras? Is he tracking our phone signatures? Are the little strips in paper money anything more than a simple security measure against counterfeit? The seizing aspect of 1984 is the insipid idea that somebody is watching us. Somebody is always overhearing, gossiping, or running to tattle should we choose to turn a blind eye to custom or leave dirty dishes in the sink.
1984 is about rigidity. Structure. Control. Don’t think outside of the box. Don’t read. Don’t develop a passion for art, or new thoughts, or ideas. Don’t trust your government. Don’t trust your neighbor. Live in fear. Accept misery as part of your daily life and do not dare let it slip that the act of giving-in is a facade. Do not step outside the lines of convention or challenge generalized thinking.
1984 was especially poignant to me. I haven’t read it since 1995, though I feel I still remember it well. Whenever a situation starts to seem oppressive and uncertain, my thoughts drift back to Winston Smith, protagonist. Poor Winston, so well played by John Hurt in the movie. Angry. Lost. Secretive. Duplicitous for the sake of survival, because sometimes they (whomever they may be) are out to get you.
“Out to get you.” A vague term nonetheless capable of generating a sensation of dread that the old black and white horror films could convey by simply fading out the scene. Yet, obsessing over other people and what drives their behaviors will often make a situation worse. I know it’s not just me who has experienced this. For surely there are people who can be trusted just as there are those whom cannot and everyone knows someone from each camp.
This suffocating, chilling, adroit novel was never one of my favorites. It is a sticky sweet sap that entices ideas of mistrust and then traps the mind from considering there might be a positive outcome when things are looking bleak. I am both glad that I read it and wish it had never been written. Keep your head low. Don’t speak up. Just keep shuffling.
The concept that Orwell presents as shrinking the vocabulary so that people have less to say to each other in an ever more humble manner is an excruciating thought to me. How else do we reach out and ask if we are the only ones who feel a certain way? How do we reassure our friends, families and co-workers that they are not alone? We are in this together.
Not the I won’t rat on you if you don’t rat on me together, but the acceptance that we all have some kind of fear. We’re all scared about something. In our failings we are never alone. Why do we offer each other ridicule instead of compassion? Because we all understand a feeling means that we are tied inextricably to everyone else. Pain. Anxiety. Surrender. These are not foreign sensations to any of us.
It was interesting to me in 1984 how everyone wore the same thing, ate the same thing and said the same thing. They feared the same things, surely thought the same things, and yet were kept solitary and unable to connect with anyone else in a meaningful way. They were unified in their isolation. That is 1984. Ever more interesting to me is how we impart a similar seclusion to ourselves. Humans don’t actually need Big Brother to refrain from admitting “I’m scared.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
Most often enough, everything looks fine on the outside. So maybe we ought to have a little more love for each other. Maybe we ought to revel in our differences even if we fail to agree. In my High School, the threat of wearing uniforms was presented to try and preclude members from one gang from being able to identify and subsequently harm those belonging to another. I can’t help but wonder that, if we were capable of adopting more of a live and let live outlook, maybe generating order wouldn’t require us all to be the same.