George Orwell’s novel 1984, has been the center of much discussion since it was first published in 1949. A novel about a dystopian society that is ruled by a government with supreme power called Big Brother, 1984 raises a lot of curiosity about censorship and how secure freedom of speech really is for those who supposedly have it. Orwell uses the novel’s main character, Winston, as the vessel for carrying his message about censorship. Winston works for the Ministry of Truth, rewriting historical texts to suit the needs of a sect Big Brother called, the Party.
History in Oceania must be censored so that it appears Big Brother has been and will always be there to watch over the citizens. Winston believes Big Brother’s ways to be unethical and illegal purchases a diary to record his personal thoughts, even though he knows such actions are considered to be thoughtcrimes. If he is caught, he will be severely punished. Though Winston has the desire to rebel, he is able to stifle his individuality and personal desires quite well.
His act, however, becomes more complicated after he meets a beautiful, dark-haired girl named, Julia. Because personal relationships are not appropriate, Julia gives Winston a note she has written in which she proclaims her love for him. Because love, like everything else in Oceania, is censored, Winston and Julia develop their relationship in secret. They eventually move into an apartment together and things seem to go smoothly. Both Winston and Julia feel that Big Brother has too much control over the lives of the citizens.
Citizens are not allowed to think for themselves, fall in love, nor are they allowed to experience natural freedom of expression. The lovers are able to put aside their fears of being caught in order to experience the intense passion that often comes with falling in love. Things, however, eventually take a turn for the worse and the lovers are discovered. The discovery, is in part, due to Winston’s fatalistic nature. He becomes unnecessarily risky and carries with him intense paranoia that they will eventually be caught.
Due to the novel’s grim ending that involves Big Brother prevailing over the hero, Winston, 1984’s messages stay with the reader for hours, in part, because extreme forms of censorship have existed in earthly historical societies and in many societies today. Examples of past instances of harsh and extreme censorship include the Inquisition, and the Holocaust. During both of these horrific historical events, people were denied some right of expression. During the Inquisition, people were denied the right to choose their religion. For many, that basic right is similar to the right to love, which the citizens of Oceania were denied.
The Catholic institution, like Big Brother, attempted to convert heretics or kill them for their disobedience. The Nazi party was also similar to Big Brother. Members of the party could not imagine speaking out against Hitler’s regime for fear of being killed or punished. The Nazi party, like Big Brother, made use of propaganda, and children who were easily influenced. Such propaganda is, in a way, a form of censorship because it promotes an idea that plays into the desires of a major organization, making it seem better than the alternative.
When these historical examples are taken into consideration, it is easy to imagine why Orwell’s warning of extreme censorship is still valid in today’s society regardless of its technological advancements. Making Orwell’s message even more appropriate, however sad and unfortunate, are examples of such censorship today. Because censorship is still an issue today, the novel resonates with readers. Everyone experiences censorship often, perhaps on a daily basis. People may feel the need to censor themselves at work, home in front of children or parents, in class, etc for fear of being judged harshly or hurting another’s feelings.
Another common example of modern censorship is keeping one’s sexual orientation a secret. Many feel the need to fall in love in the shadows like Winston and Julia because of what society may think of them. Sadly, today’s society is also responsible for many hate crimes every year. Many also keep journals and diaries like Winston in order to express their most private thoughts, dreams, desires, and fears. Because Winston is like so many normal people in today’s society, his character is very successful.
Like Winston, the average person, when faced with something they feel is wrong or inappropriate, feels powerless to make a difference. I, for one, relate to his secret note-taking, his hidden relationship, and the urge to overcome society’s censorship because I still believe in the freedom of expression that supposedly exists in America. However, I, like Winston, am powerless to make any real change, so I succumb daily to desires that are not my own. The strength of Winston’s character alone makes 1984 a novel to stand the test of time. Or, perhaps it will be a book to be burned if censorship in our society continues to prevail.