Fiction and Fact: “1984”’s Resonance
Picture a world in which life is governed by an all-knowing, unseen authority. They control the news, education and even speech and thought. Those in power spread lies as truth for their own benefit and continually shut down any who attempt to oppose them.
Most people are familiar with George Orwell’s “1984,” first published in 1949, as it is required reading in most high schools across the nation. The novel details the life of Winston Smith, an ordinary citizen living in the perpetually war-torn super-country Oceania. He works for the Ministry of Truth, changing old newspaper articles to reflect the Party’s (the governing body) preferred historical narrative. Over the course of the novel, Winston becomes increasingly disillusioned with the Party’s teachings and seeks to take action against the oppressive government along with his co-worker and lover, Julia.
The book has gotten a lot of attention recently. It’s currently the best-selling book of any genre on Amazon.com. In the past few weeks, sales have increased by 9,500 percent. Demand is so high that Penguin Books ordered a 75,000-copy reprint. The New York Times reported on Feb. 3 that the stage adaptation of “1984,” which previously toured Britain and several U.S. cities, is being revived on Broadway this year, already set to premiere at the Hudson Theater on June 22.
Reading Orwell’s classic dystopian tale now is especially chilling and it’s not hard to see why it has experienced a spike in sales considering everything that has happened since Donald Trump’s inauguration. From the lies, to the executive orders, to the confirmation hearings, it can be hard to wrap your head around it all. It’s important that we all read, or reread, “1984” because it may help us understand and put into words the overwhelming reality of our situation. While we don’t have telescreens or ThoughtPolice and love isn’t illegal, many of President Trump’s statements, as well as those of his staff, parallel some of the Party’s practices.
Throughout his campaign and continuing into his presidency, Trump hasn’t wavered in his insistence, despite lack of evidence, that there are three million illegal voters out there who need to be stopped. Additionally, Trump’s ridiculous attempts to cover up his underwhelming inauguration attendance numbers left White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer looking an absolute fool as he defended the President by stating that the clearly sparse crowd was “the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period.” Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway then tried to defend Spicer in an interview on MSNBC and ultimately sparked the comparison to “1984” with her whole “alternative facts” deal, which corresponds to the Orwellian concept of “doublethink,” accepting two contradictory statements as truth. News publications have had a field day with this revelation. The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik called Trump’s lies “pure Big Brother crude.” On Jan. 31, CNN published an op-ed where lawyer Alexander J. Urbelis referred to Trump’s controversial and ironic Cabinet appointments as a form of doublethink.
It’s no secret that President Trump hasn’t been pleased with the media’s portrayal of him thus far. On his first day in office, Trump even referred to his relationship with the media as a “running war” and journalists as “the most dishonest human beings on Earth.” Just days later, Trump’s chief White House strategist, Stephen Bannon stated, “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile.” Bannon continued his attack on the media insisting that they are “the opposition party.” In her MSNBC interview, Conway stated that if the media continued its unsavory depiction of the Trump administration, they would have to rethink their relationship with the press. For the better part of last year, Trump blacklisted news outlets, including The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, from attending official events because he didn’t like their coverage of his campaign.
In “1984,” the Party completely controls the media and literally rewrites history. Winston contemplates, “if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed — if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth.” Winston knows the Party’s declaration that “two plus two equals five” is a lie but it doesn’t matter. And it seems it doesn’t matter that countless politicians and the general public know voter fraud most likely isn’t an issue and Trump didn’t have a record-breaking inaugural crowd. President Trump believes it, and that makes it true.
As the Party says, “Who controls the past controls the future, who controls the present controls the past.”
And yet at times, the novel provides some hope that humanity will prevail. Despite President Trump’s lies and hateful rhetoric, despite the Muslim ban and the border wall plans, we will keep standing and fighting together. As Orwell said, we’re “a people who had never learned to think but were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world.”