George Orwell's '1984' may have been published 72 years ago this month, but time hasn't diminished the power of this masterpiece one bit. It has fared much better than the counterparts of its time, and become perhaps the most widely known, read, and performed dystopian classic.
1. The message about fake information
Fake news seems to be a topic we're talking a lot about lately, and that's because it's now easier than ever to disseminate false information via the Internet. For example, despite science stating otherwise, there are still people who believe the Earth is flat and the moon landing didn't happen—all because it's possible to back up any viewpoint or opinion with online 'facts'.
In '1984,' one of the major themes is the government's ability to rewrite the past and present, as well as common facts. At one point in the novel, the main character, Winston, is expected to go against the ingrained concept that 2+2=4 and agree that, because Big Brother says so, 2+2=5. It's an eerie peek into a totalitarian government's ability to control information and, as a result, the minds of its citizens.
2. The love story
That's right, believe it or not, '1984' has a love story. But if you're hoping for a happy ending where love conquers all, this is not the book for you. There are many aspects to Winston and Julia's love story that can seem inspirational, but ultimately the novel takes a pessimistic turn.
Remember, Orwell wanted his book to serve as a warning against totalitarianism. The ultimate message is that nothing, not even your romantic relationships, can withstand an overbearing government's scrutiny. In his world, you aren't free to love when you are being watched 24/7.
3. Winston isn't your typical hero
Winston's character arc is masterfully done, but it might not be the storyline you're expecting. When the book opens, we learn that Winston hates the Party and is choosing to rebel in bigger and bigger ways. He starts by keeping a journal and progresses to a full-blown love affair—both of which aren't permitted under Big Brother.
But Winston isn't leading a revolutionary charge in '1984'. In fact, by the end of the book you will probably struggle to even see him as a hero figure. Once you finish, the ending will bother you for a very long time, but you'll also realize that it's the only realistic outcome for Winston.
4. It's full of symbolism
Orwell very skillfully filled his dystopian novel chock-full of symbolism. The old objects Winston acquires in the second-hand shop represent the memories and histories the government has suppressed or rewritten. Winston's varicose ulcer is constantly bothering him up until he meets and falls in love with Julia—then it disappears.
There are a myriad of symbols throughout '1984', from the place where there is no darkness to Big Brother himself. You'll have to give it a read to see the symbolism for yourself (then pop into the comments and discuss what they might mean)!
5. It's a timeless parable
'1984' was written in 1948 and published a year later in 1949. And although Orwell's novel is rather bleak and downright uncomfortable at times, we continue to come back to it again and again. We read it, recommend it, reread it, and interpret it. As time goes on, we're able to find different messages in '1984' that can be applied to the current world we're living in.
While Orwell originally intended it to be a warning against totalitarian control, today we can discuss his work in the context of the power of social media, the rise of political propaganda, and our increasingly surveilled lives. '1984' resonates just as much now as it did back when it was first published 72 years ago.
Have you read '1984'?
What do you think is the most important symbol of Orwell's novel?