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1984–is 2021 moving us into this future?

1984

by George Orwell

When I finished the first chapter of 1984, which introduces the very intrusive society of Oceania dominated by Big Brother and the Party, I was disquieted by what was happening in that society and the easy comparison to current events in the U.S. and around the world in 2020-2021. I knew I would return to the book, but immersed in the intensity of the total lack of personal freedom in this totalitarian regime, I allowed myself a few hours respite. I was only reading about it; what if I had to live it? George Orwell had my complete attention within the well-crafted words of the first few pages.

Winston Smith works in the Records Department at the Ministry of Truth where he rewrites the past to align it with current events. This process involves multiple revisions over time with all documentary evidence of a different previous reality immediately destroyed. He has a shabby existence—never enough food, a cold, dingy apartment, and most importantly the monitoring of every movement, facial expression, and utterance 24/7 by Big Brother through a telescreen. Even Big Brother’s eyes on giant posters seem to follow him. In this society, sex is allowed occasionally, but only for the sole purpose of procreation. Children belong to groups called “Spies;” and as they mature, they advance to the “Youth League.” Both organizations encourage their members to denounce their parents and other adults to the Thought Police for crimes of unorthodoxy. Party members engage in Two Minutes Hate daily to keep their loathing at a high level and focused on the internal threat, The Enemy of the People, and on the external threat, whatever group of countries is supposedly currently at war with Oceania.

Winston internally rebels, and 1984 charts the expression of his rebellion as well as the consequences. His parents were disappeared when he was ten or eleven. Using doublethink to convince the population that what is, isn’t and Newspeak to provide a minimal language in which it is impossible to express certain ideas, Big Brother (the Party) gains control of minds subtly, but effectively. We are, sadly, seeing a version of that today with censorship and mind control by main stream media as they tell us what to think and say and try to shame those who disagree. It is echoed in our educational system that stresses rote learning, eliminates creativity, and insists on social, political, and religious “correctness.” We are in a season that calls us to read or reread 1984 before this work of fiction becomes reality and is banned.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction

Notes: 1. In the Signet Classic version, there is an afterword by Erich Fromm, a psychoanalyst who moved from Nazi Germany to the U.S. in 1934. This essay is about several books, including 1984 that warn us of the future unless we change our direction.

2. I strongly recommend reading Orwell’s Animal Farm first (and especially for younger readers) as an introduction to the ideas found in both books. As an allegory, Animal Farm is more gentle and less descriptive of the violence that is part of the control of the populace. 

3. A reader’s guide is available at penguinrandomhouse.com

Publication:  Originally it was published in 1949. I read one of the many reprints. My copy is a Signet Classic published January 1, 1961 by Penguin Random House.

Memorable Lines:

And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them…The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt…Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink.

…no change of doctrine or in political alignment can ever be admitted…And if the facts say otherwise, then the facts must be altered.

The Screwtape Letters–twisting good into evil

The Screwtape Letters

by C.S. Lewis

Welcome to the inside-out, topsy turvy world of The Screwtape Letters, correspondence supposedly written by Screwtape, an experienced devil who is mentoring his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter, in the process of keeping the human assigned to him from becoming a Christian and making good choices. The human is considered a “patient.” God is called “the Enemy,” and Satan is referred to as “Our Father Below.” As you can imagine, this short book is not a quick read as you have to turn familiar designations of God and Satan, as well as your whole thought process, around so that the book will make sense.

First published in serial form in a newspaper, it is divided into chapters which are letters generally focused around one topic such as gluttony or humility and gives advice on how to twist things that God has created in beauty and purity into something that will draw the patient away from God and onto sinful paths.

I am glad I read this book, but I didn’t enjoy it in the same way I would an entertaining mystery or a gentle romance. It is quite witty with tongue-in-cheek humor throughout. It challenged my mind and spirit as I tried to decipher C.S. Lewis’ message. Reading The Screwtape Letters is rather like looking into a mirror. Beware! As you see a reflection of yourself in some of the passages, you may be inspired to make changes in your own life that will result in your reflecting God’s image rather than the one Satan would appreciate. With much food for thought, The Screwtape Letters could be read and studied many times, especially over the course of a lifetime, deriving a new depth of meaning applicable to you personally with each reading.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Fiction

Notes: C.S. Lewis was one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century. He is the noted author of many works of fiction and nonfiction including The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity. The Screwtape Letters was originally published in 1942.

Publication: 1959—Macmillan Publishing Co. 

Memorable Lines:

All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear.

Music and silence…how I detest them both!…Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires.

And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another.

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