The Ministry of Truth The Biography of George Orwell's 1984

Review :

This is about the making and repercussions of the book 1984 (also known as Nineteen-Eighty-Four). It is divided in two sections: Orwell's life and how he came to write 1984 - and the impact and durability of 1984 since its' publication in 1949.

Orwell died of complications from tuberculosis in 1950, he survived 1984's release by only 227 days (page 186, my book). 1984 was a long work in the making and Orwell was scrupulous about editing his writing. He eliminated portions of his work that he felt unnecessary and detracted from the main themes.

The foremost impact on Orwell was his participation in the Spanish Civil War where he witnessed first-hand how forces like the Soviet Union were abusing power with the Republican Spanish forces that were against Franco. It would seem that there was more animosity within the Republican coalition than against their Franco opponents. Friends one day could easily become enemies the next day. All this influenced his two most important works of fiction "Animal Farm" and 1984.

Orwell also realized that totalitarian regimes can be an intersection - Fascism and Communism - both are authoritarian with a strong emphasis on an omnipotent and worshipped leader (Hitler, Stalin, Mao), an unrestricted secret police, surveillance with informants

The author also discusses the various works and authors who influenced Orwell. H.G. Wells is prominent with many of his works of science fiction. Also, Edward Bellamy, and very interestingly, Yevgeny Zamayatin, a Russian writer of the book "We" who fled the Soviet Union, and Arthur Koestler.

Unlike many intellectuals and writers of the era, Orwell was never fooled by the professed workers paradise of Stalin's Soviet Union. In a very real sense Orwell would have agreed with Groucho Marx's expression "I don't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member". He was an honest and profound skeptic.

1984, like "Animal Farm" was popular from the moment it was published. It continues to be successful due to the many levels of meaning within it. Winston Smith is the common underdog trying to find his way through an oppressive and labyrinthine regime that constantly saps his energy and relentlessly removes his privacy. He finds temporary bliss and companionship with Julia.

In the 1950's and 1960's it served to exemplify the Cold War and the totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union and its' repression in the Eastern Bloc countries. It also served as a warning to the conformity and witch-hunts of the Joe McCarthy period. Later (Big Brother) it came to represent government, large corporations (IBM, Exxon) and then the growth of computer data.

There were some after the year 1984 that felt the books' relevance would fade away. But then came 9/11 clearly illustrating the malevolence of fundamentalist religion (admittedly Orwell does not touch on religion, but in a very real way they are a form of Big Brother's conformity and surveillance). This was followed by the endless wars in the Middle East, the rise of Putin in Russia, the economic rise of China and the total control by the Chinese Communist Party on its population where among other issues they have erased any reference to the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, and then came Trump with fake news, a constant word-play of truth and lies, enemies of the people

Page 168 (my book)

One of the novels' dark jokes is that it may not even be 1984. When Winston comes to write in his diary, he realises he isn't sure, because "it was never possible nowadays to pin down any date within a year or two." So the very first line he writes may be untrue. Orwell is telling the reader early on that this is a book in which you can trust nobody and nothing, not even the calendar.


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