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"1984" & "Animal Farm" - Evergreen Orwellian Literary Classics

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

It is pretty curious - of the more than a thousand novels I have read, there are probably only two books, whose lines are indelibly seared in my brain, and which instantly spring to mind whenever the situation dictates. What is even more curious, is that both were written by the same author, the incomparably dystopian- (or utopian???) - minded and irrepressible George Orwell!

Animal Farm established George Orwell as a serious author, made him financially prosperous and thrust him into the literary limelight. The publication of 1984 a few years later (coupled with the critical acclaim he received for Animal Farm) catapulted him into the rarefied circles of literary maestros and garnered him worldwide fame.

Line 1 (seared eternally in my animalistic brain)

“ All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Animal Farm - Some students would be familiar with this novel - an allegorical novella by the superb George Orwell. For those of you who have not had the privilege of reading this satirical novel about a group of animals (led by Napoleon, a 'fierce looking' Berkshire boar turned Animal Tyrant) conspiring to take over a farm, please pick it up and devour it!

We all know that inequality is a fact of life. Many of you look much more handsome (or pretty, as the case may be) than yours truly, have a billion more rabid fans, and probably have a set of impassive-looking NFT self-portraits from which you can generate millions of dollars from - so what's the big deal here? Well, you tell me!

This immortal line has remained stuck in my mind ever since I read Animal Farm in the early 1980s, when I was a bleary-eyed P4 kampung boy. After taking over the farm, the animals established ‘Animalist’ commandments to prevent the recurrence of the oppressive behaviour of humans. Unfortunately, as time passed, that was precisely what happened.

The now-tyrannical Napoleon ends up changing the final rule of ‘All animals are equal’ to the above. This was a betrayal of the utopian aims of the revolution - the barnyard animals had overthrown their exploitative human masters, so that an egalitarian society of their own can take root. However, over time, the animals’ powerful leaders, the 'more intelligent' pigs, subverted the revolution and formed an animal dictatorship whose bondage was even more oppressive than that of their erstwhile human masters. After all, power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

This is a parody of Stalinist Russia which Orwell was up in arms about at that time. Of course, in today's context, we can see how this is equally applicable - various people (or Napoleon-The-Pig-like "leaders") have set out to create their vision of a Utopian society, only for it to become another group’s dystopia.

Flip through the pages of a newspaper and you see this happening all the time in various parts of the world today. If you are clueless as to what I am talking about, well, it's high time you start reading the news and make it part of your daily ritual.

Trust me, this knowledge will stand you in good stead in the years to come. All these nuggets of information may just prove the difference in your acing some interviews, the General Paper, Literature / Language Arts Exams, or just making you stand out more prominently and capturing the attention of the swooning and "impressed" general masses - ha!

Now, on to George Orwell's second novel: 1984.

73 years on from its initial publication in 1949, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is just as resonant in today's era of gross misinformation, errant social media and ludicrously fake news, as it was in the incipient Cold War era. We may live in 2021, but the themes skilfully depicted by Orwell in 1984 definitely feel more relevant than ever. Just look at the GOP in today's USA and the prevalence of Trumpism. The dystopian classic has found new life in the Trump age, where it seems like doublespeak has become the official language of all those associated with the former US president, the first guy in US history who did not concede power gracefully and who had delusionally insisted that a fair election was ridiculously stolen from him.

I remember 1984 for many reasons.

The vocabulary of the seemingly all-knowing and all-powerful Party that rules Oceania with the "utopian" political ideology of Ingsoc — Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Thought Police, Room 101 — have all entered mainstream English language as instantly recognizable emblems of a dark and nightmarish future. Personally, I find it almost impossible to talk about secret surveillance, abominable authoritarianism, or pathetic perversions of the truth / political propaganda without dropping a "cool" reference or two to 1984.

At the beginning of the novel 1984, these words were presented as the official motto of the super-state of Oceania:

War is Peace Freedom is Slavery Ignorance is Strength — George Orwell, 1984

These "doublethink" slogans were created by an entity known only as “The Party,” the rulers of the super-state. Printed in gigantic letters on the white pyramid of the Ministry of Truth, this scene is the epitome of dramatic irony at its best. Truth be told, I unabashedly pride myself at being a master of irony and doublespeak - haha! Where did I learn them from? Well, you know the answer now!

In this dystopian masterpiece, ‘Big Brother’ wields complete control over every aspect of people’s lives in Oceania. The party's invention of the language ‘Newspeak’ was an undisguised attempt to eliminate political rebellion; the brilliantly cathartic term - ‘Throughtcrimes’ - was conceived to prevent people from harbouring even the slightest thought of anything considered rebellious. Through these and numerous other "initiatives", the Party was able to control what people read, spoke, said and did. Violators were inevitably sent to the dreaded Room 101, to receive the punishment their rebellious acts or thoughts merited.

Line 2 (immortalised in my aging brain - is this DOUBLESPEAK?)

"He loved Big Brother."

This is the last line in 1984, and in my personal opinion, one of the most quietly devastating and heart-breaking lines in literature. As I pen this, all the hairs on my skin are standing ramrod straight in their follicles, and a few tears are starting to well up in my eyes (lest you take me too seriously, I also love acting! After all, the world is my stage, remember? Well, more of that later...).

The one sentence that sums it all - "He loved Big Brother."

I have to admit that I have shamelessly used it like a billion times to explain how I somehow contrived to "miraculously" know some juicy nuggets or "secret" information.

Whom does the "He" in the line above refer to? It refers to the protagonist and hero of the book, Winston Smith. An employee of the Ministry of Truth, Winston's job was to rewrite history by editing past newspaper articles to better reflect the Party's agenda. (Does this sound familiar to you? Ding-Ding! If no hint of recognition chimes in your head -the student- please heed my advice again: Keep abreast of what's happening in our world today!)

Disillusioned by the Party and its mysterious leader, Big Brother, Winston embarked on a covert journey towards rebellion. In the end, it all proved futile - such was the ultimate subversion of his own mind by the Party and its relentless propaganda machinery - that Winston eventually accepted, in his distorted reality, that he loved Big Brother and all 'the milk of societal goodness'** that Big Brother purportedly symbolised and stood for (**If this phrase seems vaguely familiar, it is because I had borrowed & conveniently adapted this from Lady Macbeth). Having been completely indoctrinated, Big Brother was now the messiah, the saviour of his, and everyone else's world.

Who is Big Brother in today's context? Shhhh.....In the digital universe, in the cyberspace where all walls have ears, or in the soon-to-emerge metaverse for that matter, a not-so-surreptitious Big Brother might just be peeking over your shoulder. What do you think? Wink*Wink*!

Final Words

Literature, unlike magazines or books meant for light reading, often contain useful vocabulary, and touches on themes which are useful for us to better understand the world we live in.

By reading novels and learning literature, a student also learns many new words / phrases and unconsciously imbibes a myriad of writing skills. Everything I learnt about writing and all the vocabulary I possess today, are SOLELY gleaned from reading.

Finally, it is through reading that I am able to reimagine the world, and make it my STAGE.

" All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players"

- William Shakespeare's 'As you like it' -

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