The Road to 1984


George Orwell

Plume, 2003, ISBN 0452284236; Paperback, $15.95. [Browse/Order]

Selection from Thomas Pynchon’s Introduction:

George Orwell’s last book, 1984, has in a way been a victim of the success of Animal Farm, which most people were content to read as a straightforward allegory about the melancholy fate of the Russian revolution. From the minute Big Brother’s moustache makes its appearance in the second paragraph of 1984, many readers, thinking right away of Stalin, have tended to carry over the habit of point-for-point analogy from the earlier work. Although Big Brother’s face certainly is Stalin’s, just as the despised party heretic Emmanuel Goldstein’s face is Trotsky’s, the two do not quite line up with their models as neatly as Napoleon and Snowball did in Animal Farm. This did not keep the book from being marketed in the US as a sort of anticommunist tract. Published in 1949, it arrived in the McCarthy era, when “Communism” was damned officially as a monolithic, worldwide menace, and there was no point in even distinguishing between Stalin and Trotsky, any more than for shepherds to be instructing sheep in the nuances of wolf recognition.
The Korean conflict (1950-53) would also soon highlight the alleged Communist practice of ideological enforcement through "brainwashing,” a set of techniques said to be based on the work of I P Pavlov, who had once trained dogs to salivate on cue. That something very much like brainwashing happens in 1984, in lengthy and terrifying detail, to its hero, Winston Smith, did not surprise those readers determined to take the novel as a simple condemnation of Stalinist atrocity.

© Thomas Pynchon 2003

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