“1984″ prepared me for adulthood

As a millennial, I was raised to believe in my limitless potential. Orwell showed me I wasn't destined for success

Topics: PolicyMic, 1984, George Orwell, Animal Farm, ,

"1984" prepared me for adulthood
This article originally appeared on PolicyMic.

PolicyMic Dystopian narratives have a particularly prominent place in the Young Adult canon. It’s unsurprising that narratives featuring individuals struggling against a system would appeal to young adults navigating between the pressures of conformity and their emerging individuality. In this, I was no exception. Throughout my childhood and early adolescence, my penchant for dystopian fiction drew me towards curriculum staples such as Lois Lowry’s The Giver and John Wyndham’s The ChrysalidsIt wasn’t until high school, however, that I encountered the full spectrum of dystopian fiction.

George Orwell wrote 1984 in the years following World War Two, inspired by the 1943 Tehran conference, which Orwell saw as an attempt by Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill to divide post-war world between themselves. In the book, three fictitious super states exist in a kind of cold war (a term that Orwell coined in an earlier essay). While the population is relentlessly monitored for any signs of criminal dissidence, the protagonist, Winston Smith, attempts and fails at an intellectual and emotional rebellion against the Party and its leader, Big Brother. Orwell’s most famous work is now so closely associated with our understanding of our own surveillance societies that its role as a work of literature is sometimes overlooked, but at the time I encountered it in high school, the book marked a major turning point in my own appreciation of the function of fiction. I had read Orwell before (the result of which had been a confused book report on Animal Farm for my fifth grade class). But, unlike Animal Farm, which went more or less completely over my head, I read 1984 at the right time. Since my adolescence, I’ve come to better understand the role Orwell’s masterpiece has played in shaping our perception of contemporary society, but at the time it was the human element of the story that was most powerful: the pathos of Winston Smith and his fellow citizens that is evoked when Smith’s interrogator tells him “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”



The idea that the human spirit may not always prevail, that there are forces stronger than human personality, was a reverberating wake-up call for someone who, like many millennial teenagers, had been raised to believe in boundless possibility. Neither Winston Smith, nor Julia O’Brien (his lover), nor any of the other characters with which they come into contact are caricatures of political ideologies. They’re individuals, and it’s as individuals that they suffer. For me, bearing witness to such believable distress gave license to my own teenage angst. In a way that was paradoxically liberating, it validated an occasionally gloomy outlook by showing me there was reason to worry about the future: that hardship was real, and that things don’t always work out. Most importantly, it showed me what can be done with that angst, as it’s impossible to read 1984 without getting a sense of Orwell’s own struggles. As he states in the essay ‘Why I Write’: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist or [sic] understand.”

As I’ve gotten older, my appreciation of 1984 has changed. Orwell’s elegant prose — a reflection of his own aphorism, “good prose is like a window pane” — may no longer stand up to such lyric dystopias as Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, but the book contains nuances that merit closer examination. This is particularly true of the appendix to the novel, which suggests that, far from being inevitable, the world of Big Brother and the Party is fundamentally unstable. While there’s no salvation for Winston Smith, the appendix indicates that ‘Newspeak’ — the reductive shorthand that the Party attempts to impose as language — fails, along with the entire Party structure because the ideas expressed in art, literature, and everyday human interaction defy simplistic expression. Although it’s doubtful that Orwell could have foreseen the exact ways in which his masterpiece has remained relevant, it’s nonetheless true that literature, which works like 1984 have helped myself and others appreciate, is still part of what makes us human.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...