I had an old (price 95p) copy of 1984 in my bag before meeting newspeaks (or maybe duckspeaks?) ‘mumbod’ and ‘dadbod’ made me realise that it was time to enter Orwell’s distopia again, this time with brain engaged.
Why had I been carrying it about? Simply because one day it had come to hand as a slim (therefore light in weight) alternative to those copies of Saga and Hello which accompany a wait for the attentions of doctor, dentist or hair-stylist. I am one who can’t be without a book and who curses any guest who wantonly carries off my reading matter from the lavatory.
This morning at the bus stop I found that previous sittings had taken me to page 59 of the Penguin edition which, according to the book-plate at the front, came from the library of my elder daughter. (Way back that must have been since it was before she changed the spelling of her name.)
To recap: Winston works in the Ministery of Truth (‘Minitrue’) ‘rectifying’ malreports and malquotes so that they fit in with ‘the thing which had actually happened’. He hardly dares to think for fear of the Thought Police. He wonders, as he reworks events and speeches, if he is the only one who remembers the past, a past which is being rewritten out of history. He has just begun, in great secrecy to entrust his thoughts to a diary…
If there is hope, wrote Winston, it lies in the proles
If there was hope, it must lie in the proles, because only there in those swarming disregarded masses… could the force to destroy the Party ever be generated. The Party could not be overthrown from within. … But the proles, if only they could somehow become conscious of their own strength, would have no need to conspire. They needed only to rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies. If they chose they could blow the Party to pieces tomorrow morning. Surely sooner or later it must occur to them to do it? And yet–!
He remembered how once he had been walking down a crowded street when a tremendous shout of hundreds of voices – women’s voices – had burst from a side-street a little way ahead. It was a great formidable cry of anger and despair, a deep, long ‘Oh-o-o-o-oh!’ that went humming on like the reverberation of a bell. His heart had leapt. It’s started he had thought. A riot! The proles are breaking loose at last! When he had reached the spot it was to see a mob of two or three hundred women crowding round the stalls of a street market… But at this monent the general despair broke down into a multitude of individual quarrels. It appeared that one of the stalls had been selling tin saucepans. They were wretched, flimsy things, but cooking-pots of any kind were always difficult to get. Now the supply had unexpectedly given out. The successful women, bumped and jostled by the rest, were trying to make off with their saucepans while dozens of others clamoured round the stall, accusing the stall-keeper of favouritism and of having more saucepans somewhere in reserve. There was a fresh outburst of yells. Two bloated women, one of them with her hair coming down, had got hold of the same saucepan and were trying to tear it out of one another’s hands. For a moment they were both tugging, and then the handle came off. Winston watched them disgustedly. And yet, just for a moment, what almost frightening power had sounded in that cry from only a few hundred throats! Why was it that they could never shout like that about anything that mattered?
Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.
Orwell continues to elaborate on how the despised proles are managed (‘Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer, and above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds’).
To keep them in control was not difficult. A few agents of the Thought Police moved always among them, spreading false rumours and marking down and eliminating the few individuals who were judged capable of becoming dangerous; but no attempt was made to indoctrinate them with the ideology of the Party. It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations. …..
Now I am certainly not labelling the mass of my compatriots (however defined) as proles but Orwell should not be remembered only for Big Brother (aka Facebook which persists in suggesting I make a friend of people whom I have reason to believe are no friend to me or my perceived interests). Texts, Twitter and Newspeak? The Two-Minute Hate and the election orgies we have just gone through?
Just ruminating. Maybe things are changing? The book was published almost 70 years ago, indeed Winston, who thought he was born in 1944 or 1945, would be 70ish today. Anyway I have moved 1984 from my bag to the pile by the bed. Timely to read on from page 61. In hope.
And perhaps put Animal Farm in my good-for-your-back bag? I suspect this thought is not unconnected by the bunnies on my daughter’s book-plate.