Orwellian Dystopia ‘1984’ Turns 75: Is It Still Relevant?

1984, 1984. George Orwell
Virgin (UK)/Courtesy: Everett Collection.; Public Domain

Short answer: Yes!

While the year 1984 has come and gone, there’s a reason the classic dystopian novel 1984 is still taught in schools 75 years later: British author George Orwell was almost as good of a psychic as he was an author. Published on June 8, 1949, and modeled after the real-life dystopia of life in the Soviet Union, Orwell’s ninth and final novel offered brilliant foresight into the problematic nature of totalitarianism and authoritarianism and was probably one of the most influential science fiction novels ever written (it was also turned into a film as well as being the inspiration for the 1985 film Brazil).

1984 75th anniversary book cover


In case you have not read the novel (and if not, you should!): 1984 tells the cautionary tale of Ministry of Truth bureaucrat Winston Smith, who dreams of a life free from the oppressive regime he’s forced to work and reside within, where citizens are at constant war and banned from free expression of thought or action, and even love. Despite his horrific surroundings, he manages to fall in love with a woman named Julia, but is then tortured into betraying her and himself after being caught by a member of the Thought Police.

29th June 1965: A poster with the famous words 'Big Brother is Watching You' from a BBC TV production of George Orwell's classic novel '1984'.

Larry Ellis/Express/Getty Images

Many terms from this novel are eerily relevant today and throughout all cultures and times, which is what makes the book so timeless. Big Brother, the unseen monolithic leader of the Party (clearly the inspiration of the title of the reality show about a group of strangers who live in a house under constant surveillance); Doublethink, a term that describes one’s capacity to hold two contradictory beliefs at one time; Newspeak, purposefully ambiguous and confusing language; Hate Week,  a week of events designed to make the citizens of Oceania feel as much hate as possible towards certain enemies (this could perfectly describe many areas of the internet); and finally, the Ministry of Truth, whose purpose it is to rewrite history to fit Party doctrine. (Interestingly, the Soviet Union’s biggest newspaper was called Pravda, which is Russian for truth.)

This is a book that will likely never feel too dated to read, as it explores human nature on a deep level, and the huge pitfalls surrounding government and power that countries and cultures all have to work hard to avoid.

You should also check out the film 1984 starring John Hurt and Richard Burton, which turns 40 this year, as it is not only called 1984, it also came out in 1984!