Nineteen Eighty-Four:Freedom In The Cage

People are born with the nature of chasing freedom.

Book Name: Nineteen Eighty-Four

Author: George Orwell


In 1984 the world is divided between three superpowers – Oceanic, Eurasian, and East Asian.

The three countries are in constant war with each other, and the social structure within the countries is completely disrupted, and all of them are ruled by highly centralized power, clamping down on people’s thoughts and instincts by extreme means such as changing history, changing language (e.g. “New Talk” – Newspeak), breaking up families, and controlling people’s behavior by means of “telescreens” with surveillance and eavesdropping functions. The “telescreen” controls people’s behavior, and the personal worship of leaders and hatred of domestic and foreign enemies are used to keep society running.

Book Review:

“There are as many creatures in the universe as there are centers. Each of us is the center of the universe, so when a hoarse voice says to you that you are under arrest, heaven and earth fall apart.”

This quote by Solzhenitsyn flashed through my mind when I saw Winston and Julia arrested in the Charrington hut.

In 1984, the author has created a totalitarian society in which the world is divided into three superpowers – Oceanic, Eurasian, and East Asian – and there are constant wars between the three countries. The social structure within the countries is completely broken, and all of them are ruled by a high degree of centralization, changing history, changing language, and other extreme means to clamp down on people’s minds. The whole society is like a prison because of the “electric screen” with surveillance function to control people’s behavior.

Winston of Oceania originally had an independent mind, but unfortunately was captured by the “Thought Police” O’Brien and underwent brutal brainwashing, and eventually believed that two plus two equals five and submitted to the dictator. As Winston himself says, “Thoughtcrime does not lead to death, thoughtcrime is death.”

Winston, who insisted on independent thought, was bound to die, but Winston, who gave up independent thought, was no better than a walking corpse.

People are born with the nature of chasing freedom.

“Some birds are not destined to be locked in a cage, because each of their feathers shines with the light of freedom.”

In the movie “The Shawshank Redemption”, Andy, who was falsely imprisoned, spent nineteen years digging a tunnel and successfully escaped from prison. The freedom Andy aspires to is more of physical freedom, while the freedom Winston aspires to in 1984 is dual freedom of body and mind.

In the Ocean State, there are not only “electric screens” to monitor people’s bodies, but also “double thoughts” to occupy people’s minds. “Doublethink” means having two opposing beliefs in one’s head at the same time and accepting both.

In the book, the Ocean State is clearly at war with Eurasia, and suddenly the news comes from the front that the Ocean State is at war with East Asia, so everyone immediately turns the tables and starts attacking East Asia – the same tone, the same attitude, without the slightest doubt.

All the literature promoting the war with the Eurasian countries fell out of fashion, and everything had to be replaced at lightning speed. People were convinced that the Oceanic countries were at war with the East Asian countries from beginning to end. Everyone had an ulterior motive to weave lies but sincerely believed them. What is the truth? The truth is a lie wrapped in a lie, a memory distorted by memory.

It is intriguing that people are locked up in big social prisons without ever thinking of escaping. Do they not know that they are being fooled? No.

In fact, the more intelligent and brilliant people are, the more mediocre they are. This was the case with O’Brien, the “thought police”. He knows very well that society is regressing and the world is full of lies, but he is willing to be a screw in the institutional machine while being under the surveillance of Big Brother. At this time, he is not the representative of “banal evil” in Hannah Arendt’s book, but a sober evil man. It is human nature to seek freedom, why does he not want it? Perhaps, Fromm can tell us the answer.

This is perhaps the case with Obama, who understands freedom as not only domination over oneself, but also over others. However, this absolute freedom is both an alienation of the spirit of freedom and disrespect for others. At the same time, he internalizes the “truths” proclaimed by the totalitarian society, inscribing himself in this pathological system and becoming part of the environment.

He is subject to the environment, but also depends on it, and even enjoys it. He is like the old man in “The Shawshank Redemption” who, after 50 years in prison, does not want to get out. Because once released, he will find the horror of “freedom”: having freedom means he loses his position in prison and has no one to rely on, only a lonely mind and heart. The fear of freedom eventually led him to commit suicide.

Freedom in a cage is not true freedom. Can you say that a bird in a cage has freedom just because it can sing and dance? Obviously not.

Freedom full of control is extreme freedom. Because the area of white paper is limited, if every circle on the paper expands infinitely, it will inevitably intersect, and freedom without interference does not exist in practice.

The words of Madame Roland before her execution: “Freedom, how many evils are committed in thy name! This is pseudo-freedom. Freedom full of slavery is cynical freedom. If everyone were submissive to surveillance and gave up thinking, wouldn’t human beings become “beings on the level of biological vegetables” in Havel’s words, as advocated in 1984?

“We will meet in a place where there is no darkness.”

This is O’Brien’s promise to Winston. At the end of the book, O’Brien finally fulfilled this promise. Winston has become a complete “cage-free man” under his transformation, enjoying the light of freedom at the bottom of the well, and his heart is full of gratitude.


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