From the 1984 Edition the Novel "1984"
Written by Walter Cronkite
American reporters, given a glimpse of Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran at the
End of 1982, were saying that it was like 1984
. It's Orwellian,
has became a
common term for ubiquitous or overreaching authority, and
is a word we
apply to the dehumanizing babble of bureaucracies and computer programs.
Those coinages have come into the language with lives of their
own. They are familiar to millions who have never read 1984
who may not even know it as a novel written thirty-five years ago by
English socialist Eric Blair, who became famous under the pen name George
Seldom has a book provided a greater wealth of symbols for its age and
for the generations to follow, and seldom have literary symbols been
invested with such power. How is that? Because they were so useful, and
became the features of the world he drew, outlandish as they were, also
They are familiar today, they were familiar when the book was first
published in 1949. We've met Big Brother in Stalin and Hitler and
Khomeini. We hear Newspeak in every use of the language to manipulate,
deceive, to cover harsh realities with the soft snow of euphemism. And
every time a political leader expects or demands that we believe the
absurd, we experience that mental process Orwell called Doublethink
From the show trials of the pre-war Soviet Union to the dungeon courts of
post-revolutionary Iran, 1984
's vision of justice as foregone
conclusion is familiar to us all. As soon as we were introduced to such
things, we realized we had always known them.
What Orwell had done was not to foresee
the future but to see the
implications of the present -- his present and ours -- and he touched a
common chord. He had given words and shapes to common but unarticulated
fears running deep through all industrial societies.
George Orwell was no prophet, and those who busy themselves keeping score
on his predictions and grading his use of the crystal ball miss the point.
While here he is a novelist, he is also a sharp political essayist and a
satirist with a bite not felt in the English language since
If not prophecy, what was 1984
? It was, as many have noticed,
a warning: a warning about the future of human freedom in a world where
political organization and technology can manufacture power in dimensions
that would stunned the imaginations of earlier ages.
Orwell drew upon the technology (and perhaps some of the science fiction)
of the day in drawing his picture of 1984
. But it was not a work
of science fiction he was writing. It was a novelistic essay on power,
how it is acquired and maintained, how those who seek it or seek to keep
it tend to sacrifice anything and everything in its name.
is an anguished lament and a warning that vibrates powerfully
when we may not be strong enough nor wise enough nor moral enough to cope
with the kind of power we have learned to amass. That warning vibrates
powerfully when we allow ourselves to sit still and think carefully
about orbiting satellites that can read the license plates in a parking
lot and computers that can read into thousands of telephone calls and
telex transmissions at once and other computers that can do our banking
and purchasing, can watch the house and tell a monitoring station what
television program we are watching and how many people there are in a
room. We think of Orwell when we read of scientist who believe they
in the human brain the seats of behavioral
emotions like aggression, or learn more about the vast potential of
And we hear echoes of that warning chord in the constant demand for
greater security and comfort, for less risk in our societies. We
recognize, however dimly, that greater efficiency, ease, and security
may come at a substantial price in freedom, that "law and order" can
be a doublethink
version of oppression, that individual liberties
surrendered for whatever good reason are freedoms lost.
Critics and scholars may argue quite legitimately about the particular
literary merits of 1984
. But none can deny its powerful, its hold
on the imagination of a whole generations, nor the power of its
admonitions . . . a power that seems to grow rather than lessen with
the passage of time. It has been said that 1984
fails as a
prophecy because it succeeded as a warning -- Orwell's terrible vision
has been averted. Well, that kind of self-congratulation it, to say the
least, premature. 1984 may not arrive on time, but there's always 1985.
Still, the warning has been effective; and every time we use one of those
catch phrases . . . recognize Big Brother in someone, see a 1984 in our
future . . . notice something Orwellian . . . we are listening to that
Walter Cronkite, 1983
If you came to his page from a search engine or direct link, you may be
viewing this page "outside its frame." Click the link above
to load this page's navigation menu.
Supported by PayPal!