George Orwell’s 1984 turns 70 as a fable for today

Back to results

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four was published in London 70 years ago and remains a primer on dystopia. The chilling fable could be about the present day, according to one recent observation.

Audiences around the world are re-reading the book, which is “a handbook for difficult times,” writes Jean Seaton in a BBC article about the staying power of the story. The article notes that sales of the tale have recently surged in the United States, India, Britain and China.

Heavy consumers of social media gorge unwittingly on today’s version of Orwell’s Doublethink, which describes holding two contradictory thoughts at the same time, and on Newspeak, slippery euphemistic language used chiefly for propaganda. Both are tools of regime-minded governments, conspiracy theorists and cranks of every stripe. In Orwell’s era, dissemination required time and labour. As the 70th anniversary looms, Doublethink and Newspeak are shared at the speed of a keystroke. They spread like viruses, often with destructive fallout.

The novel’s all-seeing leader, known as Big Brother, has become a universal symbol for intrusive government and oppressive bureaucracy.

The BBC article observes that reading the claustrophobic fable of totalitarianism is still a shock, adding that Orwell opened our eyes to how regimes worked. “Orwellian” has been coined to describe anything considered disturbingly repressive.

Orwell’s final novel brought him lasting fame. He died of tuberculosis in 1950.

George Orwell's 1984 could be about now (BBC Nov 2018)

George Orwell’s ‘1984’ Is Suddenly a Best-Seller (NYT Jan 2017)

Date written/update: 2018-12-04