1984: Looking Backward at Orwell's Novel of the 1940s

  • Gene Bell-Villada
Keywords: Media


He could just as well have set the novel in 1978. Or 1981. Or 1994 or 1999. Of course there was the practical consideration of making protagonist Winston Smith just old enough to remember a nebulous 1950s, but also young enough not to have known such historically-laden dates as 1929 or 1939 or 1945. The nightmarish anti-Utopia of Orwell is a future without a past—history having been expunged by the Party—yet a future still specific and proximate enough in time for Orwell's coevals to have identified with and anticipated within their lifespans. Not for him the remote, millennial visions of Wells, Huxley, or Jack London, set hundreds of years hence. Today, however, Orwell's relatively shabbier and homelier "dystopia" seems less of a guide to the peculiarities of our own confused and fearsome 1984, and more of a grand projection out of an anxious 1948, the year when Orwell, in a furious race against tuberculosis, wrote most of his long-gestating satire. His original intent was to call it, apocalyptically, The Last Man in Europe. A simple reversal of digits is the probable source of its chosen and now ever-present title.