THE disease that has a frenzied world in its grip has
been accurately diagnosed. It is the disease of Power-state power and economic
power immorally exploited. We know the disease. We do not know the cure.
We do not even know the prognosis -whether men will survive or be utterly
quelled and defeated.
Various writers have attempted to instill in us a dread of the ominous
shape of things to come, and they have not succeeded, chiefly because their
prognosis has involved time-machines, flights into mechanical and biological
fantasies, brave new worlds such as Aldous Huxley's, and erotic ballets of
the future such as Robert Graves's recent "Watch the North Wind Rise." They
know the symptoms of the disease of Power, these writers, but they somehow
have not been able to construct the future in terms close enough to the
reality, the fear in our hearts.
It is the great realists of literature rather than the satirists and fantasy-spinners,
who have had the gift of leading us quietly from what is to what can be.
And George Orwell's novel escorts us so quietly, so directly, and so dramatically
from our own day to the fate which may be ours in the future, that the experience
is a blood-chilling one. Here is a novelist who understands the nature of
the beast, the quality of the future to be possessed by Power, and who projects
that future not in terms of gadgets or mechanical miracles, not even in terms
of such lurid though horribly real machines as the atomic bomb. It is because
he creates the totalitarian future in terms of passion and human feeling
close to our own that his book has immense stature.
Orwell has created a new kind of novel. He has told the story of a comparatively
normal fellow, Winston Smith, who is caught in the inexorable machinery of
the monolithic state, hounded by the forces of hatred, fear, and cruelty
which the new civilization exalts, pursued and beaten into mental and spiritual
death. His privacy is dead. In his squalid apartment the telescreen tells
him always what to do, how to move and talk and think; what to believe. His
every motion may by observed by the Thought Police through this telescreen.
Smith works in the Ministry of Truth, falsifying official records and news
reports every time the state changes its domestic or foreign policy. Thus
history is destroyed and the state controls the past as well as the present
and the future. Thus ignorance, an essential condition to the survival of
such a state, is exalted. This is an important conception in Orwell’s drama
of the disease of Power run rampant, but is it not close enough to our own
statistical and communications systems to contain terrifying meaning for
our own way of life?
In this world which condemns personality, where the dictatorship has conditioned
men and women against love, where food is revolting and language has been
altered into something called doublethink, whereby you may believe two contradictory
things at once (our party-faithful will understand the need for this!), there
is still a spark of surviving individuality in Smith. The novel depicts his
heroic search for an underground movement in revolt against the nightmare
that is the State. It also tells of the sad course of his attempt to escape
the frustrated conception of sex and to carry on a love affair that bears
some resemblance to romance, some relation to physical joy.
He fails, this individualist, and the gestapo which undoes him and the
inquisitors who force his confessions and his final submission make our own
police methods and our cardinals' trials seem like child's play. The chapters
dealing with this final inquisition easily stand comparison with the inquisitor's
scene in "The Brothers Karamazov ." The story of official pursuit has all
the suspense and melodrama of a super-detective novel, but instead of an
exercise in criminal chase we are confronted with the grim pursuit that
hangs over the head of every modern man. It is a pursuit that makes us examine
our own lives with a new eye. It is a novel that heightens today's problems
with the light of their wrong solution. It turns a skeptic's gaze on all
forms of regimentation, even though momentarily they may seem to be of social
You look again at your radio and television sets with all their bright
possibilities for entertainment and education, and you see with horror the
spying eyes and ears they may become in every room of the house in the hands
of people who have seized a government for the sake of power and power alone.
You look again at your daily newspaper which disseminates facts, or at the
reports of statistical bureaus which plot and curve the rise and fall of national
income, population, and employment, and you suddenly realize that a newspaper
or a statistical bureau in ruthless hands are entries to your brain - another
possible instrument for the regimen of slavery.
The slogans of the super-Party that governs the state in this story are:
WAR IS PEACE and FREEDOM IS SLAVERY and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. Other products
of a public-relations technique not so different from
our own are a Hate Party, a Hate Week, and a rigorously enforced TWO MINUTES
OF HATE period. Does this seem so remote, after all, in a world that contains
populations inculcated with the creeds of Fascism or race superiority? And
does it seem so strange that the world of 1984 is divided into three great
warring powers - Oceania, Eastasia, and Eurasia- and that these wars are constantly
sustained, without victories or defeats, as an economic policy? Have we not
learned in our own civilization that there are no victories or defeats, and
that wars are all too effective economic instruments of inflation?
Nineteen eighty-four is, after all, only thirty-five years off!