A Review of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ by George Orwell, In Our World of Little Privacy

Taking us back to 1984

WhatsApp recently announced an update of its terms of service and left some of its users unsettled, especially by the ultimatum they gave to either agree to the terms or no longer use the app.

‘Big Brother is watching you.’

It’s not just WhatsApp and Facebook though. Social media at large, or rather, the Internet, may have become things we can’t live without but it seems there is a heavy price to pay. It does feel like one is gambling with their privacy. With the aim to use personal information to cater to users better, there is also the risk of having one’s information landing in the wrong hands.

It also leaves some people wondering how much is known about them, are they being constantly being listened to, or being watched? How much control does one really have over their privacy?

I recently read Nineteen Eighty-Four and in the world that we live in that is filled with the above questions, the novel is a bit terrifying and it’s hard not to draw similarities to our world.

George Orwell’s ‘1984’

The story is set in the nation of Oceania where the Party is in rule and controls everyone and everything. Everyone is being watched, history is altered, and thoughts and language are also regulated. Everything is under a perceived ruler known only as Big Brother.

Winston Smith works at the Ministry of Truth where he alters historical records. As the story progresses he commits rebellious thoughts and acts – illegally purchasing a diary, getting into a relationship and renting a rendezvous, and other crimes against the laws of the Party. Eventually, he’s arrested and tortured.  

Back cover of ‘1984’ by George Orwell

This novel is loaded with the dangers of censorship and surveillance, and we may not be necessarily watched by Big Brother, or being monitored by the Thought Police, but one can’t help but draw some parallels. One of the themes that stand out in the novel is psychological manipulation, done through technology. Thankfully, we do not live in a complete totalitarian regime as in the novel (well…most parts of the world) but without sounding paranoid, there are traces of Orwell’s work in the world we live in.

There is so much information overload on the Internet that you have to take great care of what you consume, especially what information your children are exposed to. There are dangers of information that can manipulate what we believe about the world. In Orwell’s novel, people’s minds are flooded with propaganda and it’s not too far-fetched to think of how easy it is these days to pick up on certain information and run with it without questioning. We’ve seen enough fake news, okay?

It’s also not difficult to imagine Big Brother in our world. The character in the novel never really appears but he is everywhere, watching and listening. There is this vagueness about who actually rules Oceania, the actual human powers. In our world, we do know the names of leaders, of the super-wealthy, and the parties who own companies such as the ones who create these apps. Do we know exactly where our data goes and what it’s actually being used for? Are we aware of the people who pose as threats to our personal details and what the actual risks of giving up so much information to unknown parties are? Sadly, we don’t.

However, it’s not all bleak and Nineteen Eighty-Four wasn’t a prediction of the present. It is, however, a novel worth reading and paying heed to its relevance to the society we currently live in.

It’s also easy to read, with straightforward language and style. The style mirrors the depressing mood of the story and evokes emotions of misery and gloom but for achieving the effect of reflecting the life of people like Winston.

We’re not in Ninety Eighty-Four but don’t forget to pay close attention to how you protect your privacy and what sensitive information you’re giving out.

If Ninety Eighty-Four is too heavy for you, try Animal Farm by the same author. Another masterpiece but lighter.

Enjoy.

The Beauty of Strong Female Relationships in Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’

Celie narrates her life through letters to God, where she lays out her journey from her traumas to when she finds a sense of empowerment. As a young girl she is abused and raped by her father, and after giving birth twice her father takes away both babies and lets her believe they’ve been killed. She also loses her mother and when the widower, Albert, comes over to their house wanting to marry her younger sister Nettie, her father refuses and offers the “ugly” and uneducated Celie instead.

It is an abusive and unhappy marriage, where she spends all her time looking after Albert and his litter of children. Nettie stays with them for a little while but Albert’s interest in her causes her to flee, for so long that at some point Celie believes she’s dead.

Celie forms a bond with the woman her husband is in love with – Shug. There is also her step-son’s wife Sofia. As the story progresses, we see how the passive Celie learns how to assert herself and change the tone of her personal story. The friendship she has with these women become a good place of refuge, she finds ears that listen, voices that encourage and their presence and the bonds they share play a role in her growth and confidence.

The Color Purple is a significant and vital book which explores themes which have been and are still necessary to be heard. There is the strength of self-expression, language and how one can assert themselves, eventually freeing themselves through finding and using their voice. Race and oppression are also big themes of the story, as well as abuse and the distorted beliefs about relationships between men and women.

The form of letters to tell the story, along with the rural English Celie uses, help create a genuine narrator, one we can feel for and journey with. It’s an impressive book, keeps you turning its pages and has such a strong and powerful message to share.

The book was adapted into a film in 1985, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah, Danny Glover, Desreta Jackson, Margaret Avery, and other incredible actors.

Rereading “A Very Easy Death” by Simone de Beauvoir

The unkind sport between death and dying.

There are many who looked to January 2021 as the arrival of new beginnings, fresh starts, and with less of last year’s bullshit. For some, the year started as the second version of 2020 – more Covid cases, deaths, the loss of jobs, and just that 2020 dick signature move of toppling over people’s lives.

I recently lost a loved one after they battled with illness and old age. Of course, it’s expected of a nonagenarian to go anytime but what is heavy is watching them suffer through illness, their body slowly taking its time to sign out. The past few weeks reminded me of A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir, and a story has never felt more profound, more stitched to my reality than this one has. So, I reread it and wanted to repost the review.

A Very Easy Death is a poignant day-to-day account of her mother’s last weeks on her deathbed. Simone de Beauvoir writes honestly and compassionately about the race between pain and death that her mother goes through.

A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir

After a fall, a fracture of the neck of the femur is diagnosed. With more problems arising they finally discover cancer. At 78, Mme de Beauvoir has been widowed for more than twenty years and has two daughters.

From what seemed to be nothing to serious, Mme de Beauvoir’s body sinks into a devastating hole of rapidly deteriorating health. The doctors’ efforts to keep her alive through surgery and medication seem cruel than helpful, as her mother’s suffering intensifies. Simone bears witness to all these moments of how the illness tortures her mother.

“For the first time I saw her as a dead body under suspended sentence.”

– Simone de Beauvoir, A Very Easy Death

This raw story really shows the tragedy of dying and how worse it is to be dying than death itself. It also shows how lonely death can be, and how helpless the ones close to the dying person can be. The false hopes and the witnessing of pain and death playing a brutal game of tug-of-war. De Beauvoir records her despair, one greater than she had felt when her father and other family members died.

It’s intelligently written, as one would expect nothing less from Simone de Beauvoir. It’s brief and powerful, moving, and shocking. Beautiful and tragic at the same time.  

If you’re going through or have gone through the same experience, of anticipatory grief, this book can let you know that you’re not alone. It’s a lonely place to be, for the one dying and the one witnessing this process. I hope it helps.

Heal. At your own pace.