George Orwell’s 1984 is an iconic work of dystopian fiction. And while the 80s, in real life, brought nothing more sinister than jogging suits, 1984 was prophetic of the increased government surveillance and thought-policing that Westerners face today.
1984 is about Winston, a widower, his struggle to reconcile his humanity with an oppressive government, and his secret love affair with a secretary named Julia. Julia initiates the relationship, passing him a note in the hallway that reads ‘I love you.’ They have never spoken to each other before this. Winston’s wife was a complete conformist, unquestioning of the government’s rule. But Winston is different. He finds himself mired in depression and sexual frustration. Julia gives him a reason to live and a way to rebel. Their opposition to the government is found out, and both are brainwashed into submission. The book closes with Winston and Julia meeting by accident and then parting ways, showing no interest in each other.
Sex = Humanity
1984 equates sex with identity.
At the beginning of the book, Winston is still lucid enough to realize that the government is bad. During a meeting, he compulsively writes “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” over and over. His own defiance freaks him out; he wants to stay below the radar as much as anyone else. Point is, Winston has no hope. He tries to repress his own thoughts, lest they be found out and Winston executed for them.
One mind alone is no match for the government. It is only through Winston’s physical affair with Julia that he finds courage in himself. He contacts what he thinks is a rebel organization and tries to join the resistance. Granted, he fails miserably because it was really government officials posing as a rebels to weed out traitors, but, through Julia, Winston wakes up enough to try. This kind of resistance against such a huge force is crazy, but it’s through the madness that is love that Winston and Julia wake from dormancy. (And are promptly sedated by the government.)
The government wants to repress attraction and affection between humans. Because of this, Winston’s marriage was full of disconnect and largely abstinent. He recounts one night when he went to visit a prostitute. He says she was lethargic and toothless “but I did it anyway.” He feels horrible afterward, but it’s better than feeling nothing. This is another instance of Winston using his sexuality to wake himself up.
The message is that humanity is hopeless against that which it has created. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster kind of deal. Orwell (who died in 1950) was not an optimistic guy. Shame he never got to see the 1980s. He would have gotten a kick out of Bowie.