Big Brother is watching

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 September, 2007, 12:00am

Each week Young Post will cover one of the school-based assessment texts; either a fiction or non-fiction book. This week 1984 by George Orwell

Some books are special. They tell a great story and also tell us important truths about human beings and society. These books are rediscovered by each generation. George Orwell's 1984 is one of the 20th century's most important books.

A story on different levels

This story operates on at least three different levels. The novel looks into the future and describes how the author imagined society might change. On another level, it is a love story. And on the third and deepest level, it is a novel about politics and the danger of allowing one man or one political party to gain absolute power over everyone else.

Looking into the future

This book was published in 1948. In order to appreciate the story fully, you need to imagine what life was like then.

Britain had just come out of second world war in 1945. Life was very difficult. Many buildings had been damaged during the war, food was still in short supply and luxury goods were rationed or non-existent.

The technology that we take for granted now was in its infancy or had still to be invented. When Orwell imagined a screen that could watch your every move in your own home, he was being fantastically imaginative.

Now, there are CCTV cameras in many public spaces. A simple webcam can see into our private lives. Criminals can hack into our computers and find out everything about us.

Orwell imagined Big Brother (the dictator) watching (the hero) Winston Smith's every move. That technology is now with us and makes Orwell's message even more important.

Love story

We all enjoy a good love story, and this is a major part of the plot. Winston falls in love with a woman called Julia. She is young and beautiful; he is older and not in very good health. He is overjoyed at her attention but afraid, as their love is forbidden. The gripping story of their relationship means we want to read on to discover how it ends.

A test of faith

Lovers have traditionally had to face tests to prove the strength of their love. In fairytales, a knight would have to ride off on his horse and kill a dragon to prove his love.

Winston's test is mentally challenging. When he is arrested, he is taken to Room 101, a place that contains every person's greatest fear. Winston's greatest fear is of rats - will they be able to use a rat to torture him into betraying Julia?

Absolute power

Big Brother and his political party represent a totalitarian government. As its name suggests, this is a kind of government that has total power, without democracy. It will not tolerate any kind of opposition or criticism. It does not act in order to improve the lives of its citizens. It acts only to ensure that it stays in power.

A warning from the past

This is the most serious level on which this book operates. Orwell is giving us a warning. He is painting a picture of a future society in which a dictator and totalitarian government have been allowed to gain absolute power.

He shows us that they will gain total control over every aspect of our lives. They can watch us. They can order us about. They even have the power to say whether we live or die.

Orwell is warning us that we need to be vigilant if we are to avoid this fate.

We must use democracy to limit the power of our governments and to make sure that they serve us and not themselves.

His message is as powerful today is it was when he wrote the book, and that is why it remains an important book.