George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a nightmareperspective of a totalitarian government that has gone awry.
Throughout thenovel, Orwell ruminates on his thoughts of the autocratic super state ofOceania, in which supreme power is in the hands of one individual, a symbolicfigurehead referred to as Big Brother. In such a society, every aspect of acitizen’s life is controlled by Big Brother, hence the novel’s significantslogan “Big Brother is watching you”1.This individual has control over the thoughts, speech and associations ofOceania’s inhabitants. Through these depictions, the concept of the future isexplored and the novel is a warning of the outcome of an authoritarian regimepermanently sustaining its perpetual power. As it was written during world wartwo, Orwell was inspired by the dictators of Germany, Spain and the SovietUnion. He combined his direct experiences of totalitarianism, thepolitically-induced warfare and biased media to a futuristic age with advancedtechnology to create this piece of literature2.
Although the novel continues to compel attention and resonate widely 68 yearsafter its initial publish, the interpretations of a contemporary reader incomparison to one of the post war era differ due to the realities of theirlived experiences. A readerdirectly from the post-world war two time period has a greater connection withthe dangers and fears of a totalitarian regime instilled in the novel due totheir recent experiences of the Soviet Union and Nazi-Germany aggression.Throughout the narrative, thoughtcrime and doublethink wereOrwellian neologism used to depict criminal acts of having illegal thoughts,thoughts that opposed or questioned the ruling party, and holding two oppositeideas or beliefs simultaneously. Commitment of such crimes resulted inpunishments of torture and “wiping” an individual’s existence. These ideas weremore applicable to readers of the time as they were equivalent to the spreadingterrors of Hitler and Stalin. In many countries, ordinary citizens could notoppose or resist the ideologies of such powerful leaders or their parties andany individual who managed to do so experienced the horrors of concentrationcamps or faced execution. Furthermore, throughout the novel, Oceania wasconstantly at war with either Eastasia or Eurasia which meant that the Ministryof Plenty restricted rations of certain goods. There was a shortage ofchocolate in the country which forced all citizens to reduce its ration andthus not buy as much as they could before.
This is more relatable to readers ofthe war period as they experienced their countries in similar situations. Tohelp the war effort and to ensure fair shares for all citizens, thedistribution of scarce resources was strictly controlled by departments such asthe ministry of food. A reader from the 21st century would not beable to make the same connections to these concepts as they have no first-handexperience of these situations.
Therefore, the text would be interpreteddifferently by them as they have the knowledge of the historical events, butthey have learned them through secondary sources. Whenconsidering Orwell’s sophisticated ideas of futuristic technologies such astelescreens, microphones, monitors and surveillance cameras, these concepts arebetter understood by recent readers. In today’s age, the government of manycountries gathers information of their citizens through the internet bytracking them through cameras or simply through social media. They have theability to invade one’s privacy whenever they want. However, the fear of beingwatched no longer exists for these readers as they are aware and accepting ofthe widespread idea of being watched at all times by a higher authority. Theseideas were more frightening to individuals in the 1950s due to theirtotalitarian experiences. They would view such technology as a means for the governmentto abuse their power and further the control they have on their lives; atechnique to promote conformity, obedience and submission.
However, a reader ofthe 21st century may view this method of surveillance as a way tobetter and protect the society as extensive surveillance technology can be usedto identify any acts of violence. Theexperience of being a woman has also shifted when comparing a 1950 society toone in 2017 and therefore, Orwell’s portrayal of women is also interpreteddifferently by two readers of the two time periods. Women in Nineteen Eighty-Four were encouraged bythe party to nurture and care for families which is evident through the exampleof Mrs. Parsons, a stay at home mom who cooks, cleans and educates her childrenon the rules and regulations of the party. This concept is better understood bywomen during the post-war time period as they existed in a patriarchy societywhere they were encouraged to be tied down by domesticity and ultimately findhappiness in this role. These ideas are absurd to women today as they now havegreater independence, freedom and opportunities which no longer restricts themto the “typical role of a housewife”. Furthermore, throughout the novel, women areencouraged to reproduce for the party, in order to create future party leaders.
This concept is more relatable to women during the war era as they too wereencouraged by the government to have kids, ideally boys, who can grow up andrepresent their country at war.In conclusion, it is due to a reader’s ability to make personalconnections to a piece of text that determines its value and meaning. Sinceexperiences vary among individuals, so do their interpretations. Theinterpretation of a literary work is dependent on the context of the reader,meaning the time period in which it was read. As readers of various generationshave varying experiences and thoughts, the meaning of a text alters along. 1 1984book2 https://londonhuawiki.wpi.edu/index.php/The_Influences_of_George_Orwell%27s_1984