Big Brother is watching you. He sees what you are doing. He listens to your conversations. He can even read your thoughts. So you better toe the party line and conform with the rest of society – or you’re dead.
This is pretty much the premise of George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Published back in 1949, it is a dystopian novel set in a totalitarian society called Oceania which is in a state of constant warfare. Or are they? The government controls everything: what people read, who they should hate, where they work, who they marry (if they are allowed to marry at all), what they watch on TV and do in their spare time, and even how they think. The people are under constant surveillance with cameras and microphones hidden everywhere. People never know when they are being watched or listened to so learn to control everything they say and do. The government even encourages children to spy and tell on their parents.
Winston Smith is one of many faceless people toiling away for the Party. His job is to “correct” documents such as newspaper articles that have already been printed – effectively rewriting the past – to fit in with the current agenda of the Party. He also writes out of history people who have been killed by the Party, making it so that they never ever existed.
Then Winston starts to question the work he is doing. Especially when Oceania goes from fighting with one enemy nation to being their ally against another enemy – something that the general public doesn’t even notice. He starts writing down all his negative thoughts about Big Brother in a notebook in the corner of his apartment that gives him privacy from the telescreen. By this action he has signed his own death warrant should the thought police catch him.
Then two things happen: 1) He meets Julia – a rebellious young woman who he thought was a party devotee, but it turns out she is in love with him 2) He starts to suspect that a colleague called O’Brien may be a member of the resistance movement. If so, Winston wants to join the fight. Once Winston starts down this path, nothing will ever be the same again.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is thought-provoking and downright scary. At times it lost me as it went off on a bit of an ideological rant (probably why I was given this book to study in high school) but I kept on reading hoping for there to be a happy ending to this bleak story. You will have to read the book for yourself if you want to find that out.