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How to get fluent in 1984 by this summer


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George Orwell wants to make you aware of this empowering idea: the political gene has NOT passed you by.


He’s inviting us to fight against extremism, and he gives us a new vocabulary to understand authoritarian regimes.


His book 1984, written in 1948, continues to blow our minds. I do not say this lightly.


After at least 3 failed attempts to read the book cover to cover, I finally finished reading this classic.


Here’s why I stopped reading when I was only halfway through the book.


I was paralysed by the idea of living in a world where the government was destroying words to make us unable to think or question the system.


I love words and languages - everything about them. Their meaning, the way they are written, and how some words sound funny and others more complex.


I could eat words.


But most importantly, I know the power of words in helping us get to know ourselves and make sense of the world around us.


In today’s blog post, I share:











Who Was George Orwell?


“From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up, I should be a writer”.

This is how George Orwell opens his essay ‘Why I Write’, first published in 1946.


Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair in India on 25 June 1903. India was ruled by England, and his father, Richard Blair, worked for the Indian Civil Service.


When Eric was four, his mother Ida Blair, came back to England with him and his two sisters, Marjorie and Avril.





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His father visited the family in 1907 and finally moved back to England in 1912, when he retired from the civil service.


“I was the middle child of three, but there was a gap of five years on either side, and I barely saw my father before I was eight [...] and felt isolated and undervalued”, he explains in ‘Why I Write’.


Orwell believes that for this reason, he was lonely and unpopular throughout his school years.


But, on the bright side, it also instilled in him the need to make up stories and have conversations with imaginary people.


At eight, he started attending a private preparatory school in Sussex, England, which influenced his views on the English class system.


He got scholarships to two private secondary schools: Wellington for one term and Eton for four and a half years.


Orwell’s literary exercise


At the age of 4 or 5 - He knew he wanted to be a writer.


At the age of 4 or 5 - He wrote his first poem about a tiger, plagiarism of Blake’s ‘Tiger Tiger’.


At the age of 11 - When the war of 1914-18 broke out, he wrote a patriotic poem printed in the local newspaper.


At 13 - He wrote another poem on the death of Kitchener.


At 14 - He wrote a whole rhyming play in imitation of Aristophanes

and helped to edit school magazines.


At 16 - He discovered the ‘joy of mere words’ (the sounds and associations of some words used to “send shivers down his backbone”).


At 16 - He knew the kinds of books he wanted to write: “naturalist novels with unhappy endings, full of detailed descriptions and arresting similes, and purple passages in which words are used partly for the sake of their own sound”.


“But side by side with all this, for fifteen years or more, I was carrying out a literary exercise of [...] making up a continuous ‘story’ about myself, a sort of diary existing only in the mind”.


At 30 - He wrote his first novel - Burmese Days.


From 1922 to 1927, Orwell served in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma.


He resigned in 1928 to pursue his career as a writer, as he understood the nature of imperialism.


He also fought against Fascism as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1937).


In addition, his essays and novels illustrate his social criticism.


What does the book 1984 talk about?


Nineteen Eight-Four is a dystopian narrative published in 1949.


It follows the life of Winston Smith, a low-ranking member of ‘the Party’, who is frustrated by the all-present eyes of the Party’s leader: The Big Brother.


The Cambridge dictionary describes dystopian as:


“Relating to a very bad or unfair society in which there is a lot of suffering, especially an imaginary society in the future”.


The T‘Big Brother’ controls every aspect of people’s lives. It has invented a new language called ‘Newspeak’ to taper the range of thought and avoid “thoughtcrime”.


“Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year?”
“We’re destroying words - scores of them, hundreds of them, every day. We’re cutting the language down to the bone”.

1984 - Syme, a philologist and specialist in Newspeak.

The Party is in charge of what people read, speak, say and do. It also controls people’s love and sex lives.


The purpose of marriage was solely to raise kids to serve the Party.


Those who dared to disobey the rules were sent to the dreadful Room 101 as a punishment.


Winston works as a censor in the Ministry of Truth in a constant updating of history to fit present circumstances.


The population is bombarded with non-stop propaganda made up of historical facts and statistics created by the Ministry of Truth.


The telescreens (like our TVs) are everywhere, and you can turn them down but never ever turn them off.


The Big Brother can watch your every move.


The Ministry of Peace is the military. Labour Camps are called Joy Camps. Political prisoners are detained and tortured in the Ministry of Love.


These are examples of “doublespeak” when words are spoken not to convey meaning but to weaken it.


‘Doublethink’ forces people to ignore their own perception instead of the official dictated version of events. The Party slogans are:


War Is Peace

Freedom Is Slavery

Ignorance Is Strength



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The Party also forces people to participate in the Two Minutes Hate:


“The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in…


A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, torture, and smash faces in with a sledgehammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current”.


Winston rebels against the Party by keeping a diary of his secret thoughts. He is well aware that it was a deadly thoughtcrime.


He also commits the crime of falling in love.


With his lover, Julia, he decides to fight for freedom and justice against the system’s oppression.


What is Orwell’s main message in 1984?

Orwell’s 1984 novel is an attempt to warn readers of the dangers of totalitarianism.


The book clearly shows the level of control and power under totalitarian regimes.


People can be alienated, ignorant, and passive in a highly surveilled society.


He opposed all forms of tyranny and showed his concern with how ideologies grow.


Orwell also revealed a profound insight into the role language plays in shaping our thoughts and opinions.


The book highlights the importance of resisting mass control and oppression.


The terror in 1984 portrays a world where people’s sense of self is wiped out, as is their ability to recognise the real world.


1984 explores the ideas of mass media control, government surveillance, totalitarianism and how a dictator can manipulate people’s thoughts and behaviours.


Language Is Power


In his essay Politics and the English Language, George Orwell outlines techniques to project authority, such as using pretentious words.


Or using euphemisms (a mild expression for an idea that is considered too harsh) or complicated sentences to make atrocities sound acceptable.


The words we see and hear in advertising, for example, have been carefully chosen to affect our behaviour.


Language has the power to shape our thoughts and feelings.


When Winston is finally broken by torture at the end of the book, he agrees that “two plus two equals five.”


He understood that Big Brother’s ideas could, in fact, “get inside you”.


How George Orwell wrote 1984


In the late 1940s, George Orwell found the perfect place to write his novel: a remote house on the Scottish island of Jura.


He was battling tuberculosis during his stay on the island.


The house had no telephone or postal service. Water and fuel supplies were unreliable.


The closest hospital was in Glasgow, and he needed a taxi, two boats and a bus to get there. Orwell loved it.


He finished the first draft of Nineteen Eighty-Four in bed on 7 November.


He’d been ill all year and lost weight but refused to see a doctor.

In January 1949, when he was admitted to hospital, Orwell tells Astor, editor of the Observer:


“Everything is flourishing here except me.”


Despite being ill, or perhaps for this very reason, he asked Sonia Brownell to marry him.


In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston says: “‘Julia’s body’ seemed to be pouring some of its youth and vigour into his.”


Nobody believed that Sonia truly loved him. But in a way, he needed her to feel alive, and she could take advantage of his fame and prestige.


“He said he would get better if I married him, so you see, I had no choice”, said Sonia.


The couple got married in his hospital room. The wedding lunch was at Ritz, but the groom couldn’t attend.


Marriage reinvigorated his health and mood, and he said he had five more books in mind and couldn’t die until he’d written them.


Sadly, he died 14 weeks after the marriage - seven months after 1984 was published.


Is 1984 relevant today?


As Italo Calvino put it, “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”


1984 is undoubtedly one of those books.

You can read it repeatedly, and it will continue to enlarge your vision and perspective on the world around you.


It’s impossible to finish the book without feeling touched or transformed by Orwell. The story remains fresh and fascinating.


That’s why 1984 has been translated into more than 65 languages. It has also been adapted for cinema, television, radio, theatre, opera and ballet.


It has influenced novels, films, plays, advertisements and albums, such as David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs.


In the 50s, the book was understood as a study of totalitarianism, as a critique of Stalin.


In the 1970s, it was used to comment on Nixon and Watergate - four million copies were sold that year.


During the cold war, it was a book about totalitarianism. In the 1980s, it became a warning about technology.


In 2016 it could be used to talk about Trump, and in 2019, about Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.


In 2022, I'd say we can use the book to think about Fake News, Big Data, algorithms, and how we’ve been using Social Media.


Has this ever happened to you?


When you think about anything - from going on a trip to clothes, books or even cleaning products - Google ‘magically’ starts showing you that exact item you were looking for?


Yeah, it happens to me too. All the time.


We can explore this in the next blog posts and new books, shall we?


Remember this:


"We can all become political change agents as we attempt to reshape our everyday lives in response to oppressive external structures."

(Sorry, I can't remember where I read this - my bad).


Nineteen Eight-Four can be used as a compass for sticky and confusing times.


Knowledge is strength. Let’s make the best of it.


Now, I’d love to hear from you.


What part of the book 1984 has resonated with you the most?


Has the book changed the way you see things?


Leave a comment below and let me know. In doing so, you might spark a change for someone else.


Kati


And if you liked this blog post, sign up for The Reading Cure newsletter. Get the best from our apothecary into your mailbox, for free.


DIVE DEEPER:

BBC News. George Orwell's 1984: Why it still matters [Vídeo]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFvuzu8vtY8 (Accessed on 02/05/22).


Chomsky, Noam. Noam Chomsky on George Orwell, the Suppression of Ideas and the Myth of American Exceptionalism [Vídeo]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Qe4uL8pJuE (Accessed on 02/05/22).


‘George Orwell Biography’, Notable Biographies [Website], https://www.notablebiographies.com/Ni-Pe/Orwell-George.html (Accessed 04/05/22).


Lynskey, Dorian. ‘He typed in bed in his dressing gown’: how Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four’, The Guardian [Website], 19 May 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/may/19/how-george-orwell-wrote-nineteen-eighty-four-dorian-lynskey (Accessed on 03/05/22).

Lynskey, Dorian. ‘David Bowie’s Orwell: how Nineteen Eighty-Four shaped Diamond Dogs’, The Guardian [Website], 19 May 2019,


Menand, Louis. “1984” at Seventy: Why We Still Read Orwell’s Book of Prophecy, The New Yorker [Website], 8 June 2019. Available at https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/1984-at-seventy-why-we-still-read-orwells-book-of-prophecy (Accessed on 04/05/22).

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. Penguin Classics, 2021.


Orwell, George. ‘Why I write’ Renard Press Ltd, 2021.

Packer, George. ‘Doublethink Is Stronger Than Orwell Imagined’, The Atlantic [Website], July 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/07/1984-george-orwell/590638/ (Accessed 03/05/22).


Schiff, Stacy. ‘The Widow Orwell’, The New York Times [Website], June 15, 2003, https://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/15/books/the-widow-orwell.html (Accessed on 03/05/22).


Seaton, Jean. ‘Why Orwell’s 1984 could be about now’, BBC [Website], May 2018. Available at https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20180507-why-orwells-1984-could-be-about-now (Accessed on 03/05/22).


Schwarcz, Lilia. Uma aula sobre 1984 - A lesson on 1984 [Vídeo]. Available at


Tavlin, Noah. What “Orwellian” really means. TedEd






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njchambers85
njchambers85
Jul 09, 2022

You write wonderfully

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