Orwell’s novel remains relevant today. Plenty of column inches were used in the year itself to discuss which aspects of modern life he had correctly anticipated, and we’re still doing it today. The themes of censorship and surveillance in particular are constantly in the news, although they have been since the Second World War, and would have been anyway regardless of Orwell – many of the concepts he describes were inspired by events and actions taken during the conflict. But it’s useful shorthand to describe anything that appears to invade privacy as ‘Orwellian’, as we understand this to mean something not just intrusive, but arbitrary and excessive. In the novel, Winston’s job involves re-writing past newspaper articles, so that historical records always support the government’s current position. Previous versions of books and newspapers are destroyed, so if someone remembers things differently to what officials are currently passing off as the truth, there is no way to verify it. It could be argued the recent Google “right to be forgotten” ruling is only one step away from this.
Words, phrases and names from the book have also passed into our language. The unseen character Big Brother is a household name; the internationally syndicated television show named after him is based on the concept in the book of being under constant scrutiny. Room 101 is also a commonly understood phrase and has a British television show named after it. “Doublethink” and “thoughtcrime” are used when discussing governments, organizations or individuals whose actions are believed to be totalitarian; we often add the suffix ‘speak’ to words (as in the novel’s “Newspeak”) to describe linguistic concepts, such as management-speak. Portmanteau words
Orwell himself remains an important literary figure. The first substantial volume of his poetry was published last week.
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