Articles

"1984" sixty years later

In books, History, literature on June 21, 2009 by Editor Z


Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe celebrates the George Orwell’s 1949 classic 1984 . This cautionary tale of unchecked power and a totalitarian government that demands complete subordination and submission turns 60 this month.

Whether or not poor Winston understood, the totalitarians (and would-be totalitarians) of 1949 certainly did. Stalin’s Pravda blasted “Nineteen Eighty-Four’’ for its supposed “contempt for the people,’’ while the American Communist journal Masses and Mainstream, in a review titled “Maggot-of-the-Month,’’ trashed it as a “diatribe against the human race’’ and “cynical rot.’’ But in most of the free world it was acclaimed as an instant classic. “No other work of this generation,’’ declared The New York Times in its review, “has made us desire freedom more earnestly or loathe tyranny with such fullness.’’

Even now, it is hard to think of any novel that can match “Nineteen Eighty-Four’’ in its insight into the totalitarian mindset. Orwell captured so much of it: The insatiable lust for power. The lies incessantly broadcast as truth. The assault on free thought as both sickness and crime. The corruption of language. The brazen rewriting of history. The use of technology to make privacy impossible. The repression of sexuality. Above all, the zealous crushing of individual identity and liberty. “If you want a picture of the future,’’ O’Brien tells Winston during his interrogation and torture, “imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.’’


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