I read 1984 earlier this year, and found it to be one of the best novels I’ve ever read.
It’s utterly bone-chilling, moves at a break-neck speed, and foretells all sorts of things happening in this day and age, from microaggressions (see “thoughtcrime”) to NSA shenanigans. It also reminded me that the novel is indeed an art form, and should be treated as such.
But my biggest takeaway from reading 1984 was on a theological level. Simply put, 1984 depicts a world without God. Such a world is a very scary place.
In this book, evil has gone ape over the whole world. The terms “true” and “false” have no meaning, because “the Party” determines by fiat what the facts are.
War, death, and sex are the primary objects of worship. The state effectively controls reality, and there is no means of stopping it from within or without. There is no hope of freedom or happiness, for the Party actively suppresses both through the omniscient Thought Police.
In this world, the character of O’Brien bluntly denies the common justification for Communist dictatorships, that such tyranny is necessary for the ultimate good. He instead states that “God is power” and that the Party seeks only to maintain its control over Oceania.
They know that they will forever remain in perpetual warfare with Eurasia and Eastasia and their people will continue to wallow in poverty. They rejoice in their evil, fully immersed in the concept of “doublethink.”
“God is power.” How appropriately demonic. Having just recently finished rereading The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, which seems like an amusement park compared to 1984, I can see the connection with new clarity.
In a world where the Devil has won and God has no power, good has no hope of winning because He that is good, God, does not exist. If God existed, the Devil could not win.
The novel’s protagonist, Winston Smith, is asked at one point by O’Brien whether he believes in God or not. Winston replies in the negative, instead appealing to “the spirit of man” as the source of truth and goodness. But when O’Brien demonstrates from Winston’s own words that he was perfectly willing to do evil things in the name of freedom, Winston realizes that he has no moral high ground to stand on.
The book’s author, George Orwell, an anti-religious atheist and, paradoxically, a socialist, probably would not agree with my interpretation of his work. From what I’ve read of him online, his personal biography and writings are rife with contradictions and leaps of logic.
All that said, I am only encouraged to read more of his writings, namely Animal Farm and Homage to Catalonia, his autobiography. It’s important to read primary sources.
1984 is a novel which I was thoroughly engrossed by, but which I would be reluctant to read again. But Orwell was without a doubt a visionary. He wrote of a plainly totalitarian, fascist regime which is not too far off from what you might see in North Korea and China, all in the year 1949.
Orwell may not have had much affection for God, but he undoubtedly understood that the principles which spring from the Bible, on which Western civilization is built, are incompatible with Communism. If only this colorful Englishman had been able to see the full implications of this line of reasoning. Perhaps he did.