This is perhaps the most terrifying book I’ve read in a long time, in that the level of destitution and hopelessness is nearly unparalleled in its scale, rivaling that of only The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan. Even writing this passage out is strangely scary, as a major theme of the work is censorship, and the prevention of free thought. It is easy to contrast this dystopian society with that of Brave New World. As a start, sexuality is prohibited in this work, whereas BNW encourages promiscuity to prevent insurrection. In 1984, a continuous war and a police force that stops free thought are what stifle “radicals”, while genetic engineering and threats of banishment are used in BNW. BNW’s World Controller parallel’s O’Brien in 1984, in that they are highly intelligent individuals who see the “qualms”, and yet persist for the “greater good”. Indeed, the prominent feature of the thought police is the ability to conceal themselves among the ordinary folk, and therefore their understanding of natural human curiosities and tendencies to rebel must be up-to-par in order for them to be successful. The world controller, Mustapha Mond, is much kinder and generous to heretics than O’Brien, and conformity is achieved by sensory control. In 1984, however, conformity is not innate to the system, and no such “conditioning” occurs. Therefore, a torturing system and confinement is used to break spirits. BNW has a dystopia that harkens to The Matrix, whereas the dystopia in 1984 is FAR more sinister, and is often drawn in comparison with the Soviets. Both societies have a primary society that the character is entrenched in, and an other world that calls and is “uncivilized” or distinct from the primary society. The amount of modern day cinematic parallels is vast. Right off the bat, I can think of The Truman Show as an example of a unique form of censorship, and in the film Divergent, the concept of confronting a mortal fear is similar to Room 101 in this book.
1984’s Soviet theme is prominent, and was something I picked up on fairly early. However, Part 3’s torture truly ingrained in me the horror of that society. I remember in high school orchestra, we played Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet #8, which was composed during the Soviet era and brought Shostakovich immense scrutiny. The nuances in the piece could be drawn back to Shostakovich’s fear of being exposed, much like Winston Smith is terrified of being exposed. In some movements, harsh “doorknocks” can be heard, which are meant to imply the secret police has found Shostakovich. Shostakovich’s recurring motifs are powerful and breathtaking, and show up in his other pieces (my favorite instance is that of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto). His music is drenched in emotion, and you can really truly feel the pain that he felt when playing this piece, both physically at those portions with what he demands, and emotionally, with the despair that the music is conveying. This book lent that piece infinitely more meaning to me, and it already had established a place in my heart. To think that such a world could exist where people aren’t free is exceedingly terrifying, and I feel blessed for having the life that I do.
Another interesting point that I noted as I read this book was the concept of social class and the caste system. There is an argument made for inequality, that equal societies are too unstable and therefore inequality is needed to survive. Even if this is not actively worked for, this is an equilibrium that must always remain in place. The book also brings up the idea that mechanization and education are what give the chance for a truly equal society to exist, but less of a convincing argument exists here. The point that inequality may be an equilibrium is perplexing. Am I, as a future (hopefully) physician, a part of that equilibrium? Is my practicing on patients affecting that equilibrium one way or another? Is the medical doctrine of viewing a patient as an ill human, regardless of social class or other factors, a “control” of some kind to ensure that equilibrium shifts resulting from treatment is a matter of random chance, with no bias (i.e. I shouldn’t be concerned with the social class of my patients when it isn’t of utmost importance, because otherwise the effect on the population of each social class is magnified)? Is th
e world ready for equal societies, and if not, is my desire to help people in poorer conditions meaningless? I drive forward with this ambition because of human empathy. Because I do care for people who don’t get the same chance. What this book has done, however, is made me consider not only whether or not it’s fruitful to help the poor, but also whether I should do this through medicine directly, or some other manner.
I plan on serving the underprivileged with conviction as a consequence of reading this book and its description of the proletarians. However, I might consider building a school, as opposed to a clinic. This is far into the future, and nobody is more conscious of that fact that I am. However, this book has further shaped my worldview, and why I wish to help people. It is as John the Savage mentioned in BNW: people deserve the right to be unhappy, and live the life that they choose. If my practice gives people more time to exercise the right to be free, then that seems perfectly fair to me, and aligns with my worldview already that people should live for happiness.