George Orwell book Nineteen Eighty-Four by pointing out salient themes in the book and using updated political examples to show that Orwell was not necessarily writing science fiction but in fact he was commenting on contemporary times in his life. Orwell was reacting in part to the fascism / fanaticism of Nazi Germany, the repressive policies of the Soviet Union, and the loss of privacy and freedom due to the repression he saw and despised. This book, while seemingly extreme in its depiction of a fascist state, is chilling in its detail and not that far from reality when totalitarian states are taken into consideration. This is brilliant fiction that is based on factual events in the author's life. Many of the scenes, while blatantly anti-democratic, are not that far from the loss of privacy and the censorship that exist in America and elsewhere in recent times.
ONE: 2 central themes from 1984: Censorship and Loss of Privacy
One theme that jumps off the pages over and over in Orwell's book is censorship. Like any fascist state, the "Party" in 1984 is very big on censorship of books, pamphlets, letters, newspapers and all things that are printed. Only Orwell's book goes beyond traditional fascism (such as Nazi Germany or Mussolini's Italy) to an extreme form of fascist control where even being spotted alone is a suspicious act, and microphones are strategically placed along pathways in case someone says something positive about the Brotherhood or something negative about the Party or Big Brother.
As brutal and violent as authorities were in Hitler's Nazi Germany, they were not able to simply arrest and execute a person for thinking negative thoughts about Big Brother; in 1984, this was considered "thoughtcrime" and the Thought Police were out to deter any thoughts that were not in lock-step with the Party and Big Brother.
Censorship was in fact the job that Winston, the protagonist, was assigned to do. His duty was to rewrite history so it matched up with what Big Brother should have said after a specific event. The Times (the Party newspaper) had to be corrected / censored so that it could be brought up-to-date with what the ruling Party authorities wanted to be the truth.
The other central theme is privacy intrusions (Big Brother is watching even in a person's home). Residents were careful at all times because there were "telescreens" everywhere, and if a person is caught with another of the opposite sex, serious sanctions could be brought against both individuals. Part of the program instituted by Big Brother was "anti-sex" so a man and a woman had to very coyly hide their emotions and their embraces.
TWO: Direct quotes from 1984 -- relevant to Censorship
In the ghastly and eerie world of 1984, censorship was an important part of keeping citizens ignorant of the real world and blocking their ability to gain knowledge of the outside world. There was a "…process of continuous alteration" which was done to "…newspapers…books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound tracks, cartoons, photographs" and all literature or photographic images (Orwell, 40). This kind of censorship and re-writing of history could effectively bring earlier statements made by the Party that did not fit perfectly with later thinking; no news or information of any kind was "allowed to remain on record" if it didn't meet with what the Party wanted to portray.
"All history was a palimpsest (a parchment from which previous written words are not completely erased, but new words were placed on top of the old partly-erased words), scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary" (Orwell, 40).
Another example of censorship was the forecast of available boots for the people, made by the Ministry of Plenty. The Ministry had forecast the production of boots at around 145 million pairs. However, only 62 million pairs of boots were reported to have been produced but Winston marked that down to 57 million pairs. On page 41 Orwell writes: "…sixty-two millions was no nearer the truth than fifty-seven millions…Very likely no boots had been produced at all." No matter what censorship took place regarding numbers of boots produced, about half the population of Oceania "went barefoot" and "even the date of the year had become uncertain" (41).
TWO: Direct quotes from 1984 -- relevant to loss of privacy
Winston's apartment was set up so the "telescreen" could not see him if he sat in one particular spot on the room. Instead of the telescreen being placed where it usually was placed (in the wall at the end of the room) it was actually in another wall which allowed Winston to sit in an alcove he was "…outside the range of the telescreen, so far as sight went" and hence Winston could take pen and ink and make entries in a journal he was not supposed to have in his possession (Orwell, 6). If caught with this diary, he could be killed as punishment, or alternatively he could be sentenced to twenty-five years in a forced-labor camp.
Even it if wasn't the telescreen looking and prying into private lives, it was something else just as sinister; paranoia and Oceania went together like a hand in a glove. The face on a quarter was the head of Big Brother. There was no escaping the prying, spying eyes:
"Even from the coin the eyes pursued you. On coins, on stamps,
on the covers of books, on banners, on posters, and on the wrapping of a cigarette packet -- everywhere. Always the eyes watching you, and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed -- no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull" (Orwell, 27).
A society such as Oceania was clearly composed of brain-washed, fearful, and certainly paranoid citizens because privacy was non-existent. On page 37 Winston is settling in to his job and he knows he cannot show "dismay" or "resentment" -- even "A single flicker of the eyes could give you away" because the telescreen is monitoring all emotions and facial expressions. When Winston went to Victory Square to stealthily meet with a female that had left him a note saying she loved him, "…It was not safe to go near her until some more people had accumulated" because "there were telescreens all round the pediment" and being close to a female would be seen by those monitoring the images on the telescreen (Orwell, 114). And as Winston made his way to the secret rendezvous -- following the detailed instructions she gave him at Victory Square -- there were "…no telescreens, of course, but there was always the danger of concealed microphones by which your voice might be picked up and recognized" (Orwell, 117).
After they had met in an apparent safe rendezvous, she explained why she only made facial and hand motions to him "…in case there's a mike hidden there…there's always the chance of one of those swine recognizing your voice" (Orwell, 119).
THREE: examples of censorship in U.S. politics
Dr. James Hansen was the top climate scientist at NASA during the George W. Bush Administration, and his findings on global warming were censored by the White House. The Bush authorities disliked his public statements and scholarly reports on climate change so they ordered the PR staff at NASA to "review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews with journalists" (Revkin, 2006). Clearly Bush didn't believe climate change was caused by humans and moreover he didn't want to cause any problems for the fossil fuel industry (VP Dick Cheney had been CEO of Halliburton, an oil production corporation).
In one speech Hansen reported that based on his empirical research, 2005 was "…probably the warmest year in at least a century"; but after that speech phone calls from the Bush White House came to NASA warning Hansen that there would be "dire consequences" if he continued making statements about climate change. Following a request from NPR for an interview, NASA public affairs officer George Deutsch denied the NPR request, saying NPR was "the most liberal" media agency and because Deutsch's job was "to make the president look good" (Revkin, p. 2). Meanwhile 62 of America's scientists signed a report that accused Bush of "repeatedly misusing scientific data for political purposes" (Greenberg, 2004). "There is a well-established pattern of suppression and distortion of scientific findings by high-ranking Bush administration political appointees across numerous federal agencies" (Greenberg, 874). The protest letter asserted that science was censored because it "might run counter to the administration's political agenda" (Greenberg, 874).
THREE: examples of loss of privacy in U.S.
The Patriot Act, signed into law shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., threatened to take away the privacy of an individual that checks out a book in a public library. Section 215 of the Patriot Act gives the government the authority to…