To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone – to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone: From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of doublethink – greetings!
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Everyman’s Library, New York, 1992, at page 30
In the aftermath of a devastating atomic war, a ruthless totalitarian government rules over the city formerly known as London. “The Party” demands loyalty in both action and thought. There is no privacy – citizens are subject to constant surveillance by the thought police. There is no freedom of expression - citizens are compelled to express opinions consistent with the Party’s ever-changing political orthodoxy. Reality is what the Party says it is at any moment in time - the lessons of science are suppressed and the historical record is altered constantly to conform to the government’s present narrative.
Winston Smith is a troubled member of the Party. He is an individual in a society that does not tolerate eccentricity. His initial treasonous act of keeping a diary to articulate his unsettling thoughts is compounded by an unlawful romantic relationship with another Party member. As Winston seeks out other like-minded individuals, he underestimates how far the Party will go in its efforts to control the behaviour and the thoughts of its citizens.
Orwell’s harrowing novel is brimming with meditations about what it means to live in a free and democratic society. His novel also serves as a warning that the battle for our rights and freedoms never stays won.
His perceptive insights into the machinations of power in the modern age and his clear and accessible writing style ensure the novel's continued relevance.
His novel should be required reading for all criminal lawyers tasked with reinforcing the basic principles of liberal democracy every day in courthouses across the country.