Inspiration For ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’
George Orwell’s disdain for totalitarianism began at a young age. Born Eric Blair in India on June 25th, 1903, he went on to earn a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school in England. Because of his unique background, he famously described his family as “lower-upper-middle class.” This was a strain for him, as he never felt that he fit in. He also felt outraged by the dictatorial control that the boarding school exercised over the lives of the students.
Orwell decided to forgo a college education and dedicate himself to becoming a writer. And it was one of his writing assignments that further steeled him against fascism. He traveled to Spain in 1936 to report on the Spanish Civil War, where he witnessed the atrocities committed by fascist political regimes firsthand.
The rise to power of dictators like Adolf Hitler in Germany and Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union inspired Orwell’s growing hatred of totalitarianism and political authority. After seeing the mounting destruction of Nazism and Stalinism, Orwell devoted himself to writing politically charged novels, beginning with Animal Farm in 1945 and Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949.
Before writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell worked at the BBC as a propagandist for the British government during World War II. His experience in this position influenced his perspective. He even modeled the novel’s Room 101 – the Ministry of Love’s torture chamber in which victims are exposed to their worst nightmares – after an office at the BBC.
Several of the messages used by the all-controlling Party and its leader, Big Brother, were inspired by strategies used by fascist governments of the time. The slogan “2 + 2 = 5” originated from the Communist regime of Russia, which used it as a motto in an effort to accomplish the goals of their five-year plan in four years. Also, Nineteen Eighty-Four’s “Thought Police” was based on the Japanese wartime secret police who arrested citizens for having “unpatriotic thoughts.”
But Orwell didn’t just draw influence from the real world, he also coined new terms to speak about the threat of fascism. One of the hallmarks of Nineteen Eighty-Four is wordplay. Orwell introduced a number of words and phrases in the novel that have since made their way into everyday vernacular. The terms used in Nineteen Eighty-Four that have been added to the Oxford English Dictionary include “Newspeak,” “Big Brother,” “doublethink,” “thoughtcrime,” and “unperson.”
‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ in Popular Culture
Nineteen Eighty-Four is widely regarded as one of the defining pieces of dystopian literature, and it has frequently appeared in pop culture references in the years since it was first published. One of the most well-known adaptations of the material is Apple’s television ad for the first MacIntosh computer. The ad was directed by Ridley Scott and premiered during the 1984 Super Bowl to an estimated 96 million viewers.
In the early 1970s, David Bowie planned to produce a rock musical adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four, but Orwell’s widow and co-executor of his estate refused permission. Instead, Bowie turned his eighth studio album, Diamond Dogs, into a concept album featuring some of the songs he had originally written for the musical. Songs on the album include “1984,” “We Are the Dead,” “Big Brother,” and “Rebel Rebel.”
In addition to receiving a movie adaptation that was fittingly released in 1984, the novel has also gone on to influence the work of countless other authors, musicians, and artists. One such example is Margaret Atwood, who cited Nineteen Eighty-Four as one of the inspirations for her own dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. Other celebrities that have claimed Nineteen Eighty-Four to be among their favorite novels include Stephen King, Kit Harrington, and Timothee Chalamet.
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