A week or so ago, I finished rereading “1984,” George Orwell’s vision of a dystopian future ruled by a central party where “thought police” kept the population under control through near constant surveillance and extreme tortures. Children joined a club called “The Spies” and reported any incorrect ideas (badthink) that their parents may have suggested. The population lived in a constant state of fear and Big Brother kept an ever present watch.
Winston Smith and his girlfriend Julia stand central the to the story. Winston privately revolts against the party by making seditious entries in his diary. “”Down with Big Brother!” He wrote over and over along with other criminal thoughts like, “2 + 2 = 4, if the party claims it equals five, it still equals four.” After he and Julia find a way to steal away together and perform downright revolutionary acts like having sex, enjoying black-market chocolate, high quality coffee and time together away from the ever present spying telescreens. Winston believes that they can change the system; Julia, somewhat dubious, follows. Winston feels he can trust, although warned not to, a member of the ruling elite called O’Brien. He also realizes that if he tells his secrets to O’Brien he and Julia will be at great risk. Finally, in an entry in his secret diary, Winston Smith writes that it doesn’t matter whether O’Brien can truly be trusted or not, he and Julia would make their stand for justice, ask for O’Brien’s help and succeed or fail as they might.
The story ends after Winston and Julia have spent time in the tortures of the “Ministry of Love” and both has betrayed the other. Winston and Julia meet only once after their release, Winston a broken alcoholic and Julia, now scarred and thickened, hopelessly continue their miserable lives apart.
I hadn’t read “1984” since high school, about 30 years ago. In the time that has past, I have studied both literature and creative writing. I’m especially fond of twentieth century American writers but, including Orwell, I find many modern and post-modern British and Irish authors very compelling as well.
Orwell ends the narrative seemingly without hope. Winston and Julia have grown apathetic, their lives seem without joy and there seems no way to change the miserable totalitarian system. The book, at the end of the story, feels very depressing. Then, as something of an afterward, Orwell includes an essay about “Newspeak” the language of the English Socialism that governs his dystopian view of the future. Well before 1949, the year “1984” was published, authors had used the concept of narrative perspective as a tool in creating their novels. William Faulkner would change first person speaker without informing the reader but one could follow the lives of the Comptons anyway. James Joyce and Marcel Proust would change tense frequently to demonstrate that the narrator might know the outcome or not. Orwell, it can be assumed, had read works by these giants of literature and, a great writer himself, must, therefore have been aware that the fictional author of the essay at the end of “1984” speaks in the past tense. As the essay contains phrases like, “it differs from the English we speak today,” he must, therefore, have intended to leave the readers with a belief that the party, at the time this essay would have been written, in Winston and Julia’s future, had fallen.
I, therefore, present you with a short sequel to “1984” written by me. I don’t claim anything near Orwell’s agility with the English language nor do I claim that I possess his imaginary skills. Like a music student of average talent might practice by improvising on Coltrane riffs, I, an unofficial student of literature and writing, will make my best attempt to explore the work of a master 57 years hence.
Of course, because Orwell based his story in the then future year 1984, I will imagine a horrendous past that didn’t happen. I will bring a 2006, a blindness and disability perspective to the story as well. I hope this doesn’t suck.
If you haven’t read the book, I recommend it. “1984” is a “must read” portion of the pantheon of twentieth century English language literature.
[Author’s Note: This piece is a work of fiction. Excepting a few references to individuals from history, any resemblance, real or imagined, to an actual person, living or dead, in this text is purely coincidental. The characters Winston Smith, Julia and O’Brien all come from George Orwell’s original work and have been lifted by me without permission. Any other characters, excepting the aforementioned historical figures come directly from my own imagination. I hope all who read this piece enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I rarely dive into actual fiction but do admit that some anecdotes that appear in this blog may have had their reality stretched a bit for entertainment value.]
Winston Smith awoke in his shabby apartment with his usual hangover sometime around 1100. He swung his legs, clad in his thread bare party issued pajamas to the floor and reached for his party issued pack of cigarettes. Winston slid one of the loosely packed, poor quality cigarettes from its packet, put it into his mouth and, with his party issued lighter, lit it and took in a long drag.
Winston curiously observed the image made by the telescreen in the grey-blue smoke he had exhaled. With his right hand, he rubbed his right eye as his left brought the cigarette back to his mouth. Transferring the cigarette from hand to hand, he rubbed the other eye.
The telescreen pronounced something about the third or fourth three year manufacturing program having exceeded its shoe lace targets by 4 million pairs. Winston cautiously stood up, testing one leg and the other to ensure he could balance. He sat back onto the bed, grabbed his party issued bucket that he kept nearby for such occasions and vomited into it.
Winston finished his cigarette, marveling all the while at the ghostly images made in the exhaled smoke by the image on the telescreen. He lit another and continued staring at the random, kinetic sculpture of light and smoke. The telescreen delivered the news from the front lines, the war with Eastasia, with who Oceana had always been at war, had taken an interesting turn.
Winston arose once again, tested his legs and, assured he could maintain his balance, walked to his percolator to prepare a pot of the low quality party issued coffee. As the coffee started to brew, Winston went to his toilet, installed his dentures, shaved with a dull blade and glared at his face, the face of the man who betrayed his one true love, the face he detested more than any other.
Winston had, during his torture sessions in the Ministry of Love, learned to love Big Brother. Winston learned that Big Brother was the only one worthy of love. He learned that 2 + 2 could equal five or even three if Big Brother declared it so. He returned to his coffee pot, poured some of the weak fluid into an unwashed cup, sat in a chair beside his little table, lit another cigarette and stared into the dancing smoke picture.
Winston, absorbed by the ballet his cigarette choreographed, couldn’t pay attention to the telescreen. Since returning from the Ministry of Love, the telescreen rarely addressed him directly, the party no longer believed he had any real value and had grown confident that Winston posed no threat to the status quo. The telescreen repeated the three slogans central to the party’s doctrine, “Freedom is Slavery!” “War is Peace!” and “Ignorance is strength!”
Intently watching the images in the smoke, Winston started to wonder why he found them so fascinating. He continued to chain smoke and continued to delight in the dance of the smoke sculptures. Winston slowly started to remember. A word from his past, had a year passed? Two? He drew on his cigarette and muttered softly a single, two syllable words that had long ago been removed from the language, “beauty.”
Winston hadn’t gone to the café for his regular session of drinking clove flavored gin and working chess problems at his reserved table in more than a week. Was it two? He had grown very confused. The numbness he had carried since his time in the Ministry of Love would break periodically. Winston would start to cry for no reason he could determine. On other occasions, he would burst out in maniacal laughter, shout angrily at arbitrary strangers and when smoking in his apartment, stare at the smoke and contemplate beauty as if it were one of the most challenging chess puzzles he had ever encountered.
O’Brien, at his desk in the Ministry of Love, would, from time to time, observe Winston through the telescreen. He grew concerned that Winston had hardly a sip of gin in nearly a month. He didn’t worry, Winston had simply gone mad and like schizophrenics (a word also erased from Newspeak as no one suffered from mental illness under the rule of the party) of which chain smoking was a common symptom had taken Winston’s defeated mind. O’Brien knew he had Winston’s trust; he had always had Winston’s trust and would always have Winston’s trust. O’Brien couldn’t imagine even the smallest probability of his terrified Winston betraying him as he did his one true love. Winston, he knew, feared a return to Room 101 and trusted that O’Brien would have the caged rats ready for him if he did or said anything unseemly.
Staring into his abstract smoke cinema, another phrase, a slogan maybe, something from the history he had helped to erase when he worked in the Ministry of Truth would enter and then, just as quickly disappear from Winston’s thoughts. “Freedom is Slavery!” “War is Peace!” “Ignorance is Strength!” proclaimed the telescreen. “I am sick and tired of feeling sick and tired,” a statement from the distant past that his alcoholic father would sometimes utter during Winston’s childhood. “What could this mean?” Asked Winston as he lit another cigarette and tried to return to his reflections on beauty.
“Sick and tired of feeling sick and tired,” insisted Winston’s fragmented mind. “Beauty,” he tried to fight the word into the front of his consciousness. “Sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.” “Beauty.” “Sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.” “Beauty.” “Sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.”
“Freedom is slavery,” heard Winston as if for the first time. “War is peace!” “Ignorance is Strength” All rang in Winston’s mind as if he had never thought of these constantly repeated slogans before. “Sick and tired of feeling sick and tired,” his conscience reminded him, “Beauty… Julia…” The thought alone startled Winston to nausea. The love he had once betrayed, the name he couldn’t say, the emotion he could no longer feel, the thought he could not think had returned.
“If freedom is slavery, war is peace and ignorance is strength,” thought Winston, a few months after returning to work and chess problems, “then, death could be life and love could be hate.” In the Ministry of Love, O’Brien had taught him that the converse of these statements were also true, the party had said so. Then, drawing on his own logic, Winston thought, “Love for Big Brother could be hate for Big Brother; Hate for Julia must, indeed, be love for Julia.”
Following his thoughts further, Winston concluded that he could only achieve life through his own death. Winston stood up from the conference table where he and his colleagues debated which words they should remove from the next edition of the Newspeak dictionary, excused himself and walked out of the Ministry of Truth for what he assumed would be the last time.
Winston walked briskly toward the most dangerous part of London, the region most likely to be struck by one of Eastasia’s missiles. “Had Oceana always fought Eastasia?” thought Winston, “he couldn’t remember such details any longer. He did remember his once strongly held belief that the future lies among the proles.
Upon reaching one of the most dismal sections of one of the regions occupied by the proles, Winston entered a pub, ordered himself a liter and looked for the oldest person he could find. “Tell me old man, can I buy you a liter?”
The elder squinted, looked at his newspaper, Manchester had defeated Chelsea in a match he seemed quite interested in learning more about and asked, “What do you want from me?”
“Just a listening ear and a friend to talk to,” replied Winston.
“Then, my friend, get me a liter,” grumbled the old man, “of the bitter, not the porter, I can’t take the weight of it at this age.”
Winston set down his glass, walked to the bar and bought the old man his ale. When he returned he sat and asked the older gentleman a very dangerous question, “Have you studied history?”
The old man took a long sip from his glass and asked, “Do you follow football?”
Winston said, “I can only find life through death.”
The old man’s interest seemed to take hold as he took a long sip from his glass. The elder’s eyes widened with what appeared to be recognition and he said, “No, you need to be invisible to be seen.”
“I need to die to live. I need to die even to become invisible,” replied Winston after finishing his ale in a single swallow. Was he wrong, he wondered? Could one become invisible without dying?
The two sat and drank a couple more glasses of ale when the elder gentleman suggested they leave for, “a breath of fresh air and a nice stroll.” Winston agreed.
When the two reached the sidewalk and walked a short distance, the old man spoke with great determination and more steadily than he had in the pub. He also seemed to grow younger before Winston’s eyes as he stood taller, walked briskly and with more intention than Winston had observed the man do anything in the pub. “You see,” said the elder to make his point, “I am invisible. Most so called senior citizens are invisible. Blind people, cripples, deaf and dummies are invisible. Our own families can hardly see us and,” he paused to open an unmarked door on an unmarked building in an unmarked alley, “you can be invisible too.”
The two men entered a dark room, lit only by the setting sun through the open door. When Winston had gone fully into the dark and strangely sweet smelling room, the old man shut the door firmly and engaged a few locks. The room, now totally dark and silent except for the breath of Winston and the old man and, “Were there other people here?” Thought Winston as he felt himself slammed to the floor and felt his consciousness fading away.
Winston awoke in his shabby apartment at 600 and remembered the terror he felt just before he blacked out that afternoon, a memory that remains strong in his mind. He recalled that for no logical reason he had once again chose to trust someone. Hadn’t he and Julia been betrayed by a member of the thought police they assumed to be a prole? Hadn’t his time in the Ministry of Love, in room 101 taught him to only love Big Brother and not to trust anyone else? He, sat up and, using his thread bare pillow as a back rest, lit a cigarette and watched the smoke dance in the light that entered the room through the slits in the blinds. “Beauty,” he thought as he daydreamed about how life had changed since that afternoon with the old man.
With his cigarette in his right hand, Winston turned to his left and softly started to stroke Julia’s once again long hair. Lovingly, he ran a finger down the scar on her forehead. He returned to stroking her hair and thought, “Beauty.”
On that day long ago, a few more people stood in the dark room when Winston and the old man, a man he now knew as Bill, a man he now knew wasn’t much older than himself, a man he now understood clearly, a man who also lived as a refugee from the party walked in. Bill had signaled ahead, the team had formed and prepared their ambush. When he regained consciousness, Winston found himself naked in four point restraints, sore in every orifice in his body, thirsty as he ever felt and craving for a cigarette. “Bill stood at the foot of the bed smiling, like O’Brien had once smiled at him but without the old man disguise on anymore. “Please… No…” was all that Winston could utter. Bill’s smile broadened and, in a soft, reassuring voice, he told Winston that he needn’t worry. “But…” Winston uttered, “Hush,” Bill reprimanded.
Bill removed Winston’s restraints, handed him a packet of cigarettes, good ones, not party issued and a cup of strong smelling coffee. Winston’s fear grew as O’Brien had welcomed Julia and him with similar luxuries years before. Either the old man serves in the very inner party or he has excellent black market connections.
After a few puffs on the cigarette and a swallow of the excellent coffee, Winston found the courage to ask, “Where are we?”
Bill laughed and said, “Nowhere.”
“What?” Asked the puzzled and groggy Winston.
Bill sat in a chair beside Winston’s bed. “Sometimes, we joke and call this place the Ministry of Invisibility but, officially, we don’t give it a name. Invisible places have no name. You, my dear Winston, are now among the invisible.”
“What?” Asked Winston.
“This place, this non-place serves as the headquarters for the invisible,” Bill stated slowly as if he had said these words many times.
“Yes, the invisible. The old, the blind, the deaf and dumb, those who the party cannot see even if we’re standing in plain sight.”
“But you don’t look old anymore,” Winston stated wondering how this transformation could have happened to the old man he had met in the pub yesterday? A week ago?
“Enjoy your cigarette and I’ll explain, said Bill as Winston lit another. “The invisible fifth column battles the party. The party can’t see us so they don’t know how to fight back. When they review the tapes, they see an old prole or a blind man and believe instantly that the perpetrator must come from a foreign land and must have blown himself up or escaped detection somehow.”
A smile came to Winston’s face and he repeated the sentence the old man had told him in the pub, “One must become invisible to be seen. But don’t we need to die to become invisible?”
“Of course not,” laughed Bill, “You only need to make the party believe you are dead. We placed your clothes, your dentures and a few random body parts we picked up at a local murder scene in the rubble after a missile attack. The party officially declared one Winston Smith dead. You got a lovely obituary in The Times. Very nice really, I didn’t realize you had done so much to advance the cause of truth.”
Winston laughed and, as Bill refilled his cup, asked his original question once again, “Have you studied history?”
“Yes and you will too, in good time,” replied Bill. “First we need to heal your mind, the party, the Ministry of Love, Room 101, causes lasting damage. We will include some history lessons in your psychiatric treatment but the detailed facts will need to wait another year or so. Now, let’s get you some clothing.”
As each week passed, Winston worked with his fellow invisibles. A blind woman taught him to trust his sense of touch and to analyze the things he hears. A man who could not move his arms, legs or even head taught him logic, critical thinking and that, “just because the party claims something to be scientific, it may really be bollocks.” A deaf girl taught him to trust his visual observations and one who could not speak taught him how to communicate non-verbally, a requirement for a member of the invisible revolution.
Winston met with Bill, a former member of the staff at the Ministry of Love, before his defection and invisibility occurred, for the hardest part, the psychology and the unlearning of ideas that he heard nearly every day of his life. Winston, daily, begged Bill to get his Julia, “Use force if you need to get her, just save her, kill her, make her invisible.”
Daily, Bill would pat Winston’s hand and remind him that no one, not even the party could predict the future. Once Winston had assumed his calm, they would go to work on one of the slogans he had to unlearn. They started the big three in reverse order.
“Ignorance is Strength,” said Winston. Bill referred to the immobile scientist’s lessons as often as possible. He used logic, mathematics and the scientific method to demonstrate how much power we could have when we conquered Ignorance. One day, while working on the third slogan, bill started the session by saying “A long time ago, more than 200 ears, Europe went through a philosophical revolution. Historians,” Winston perked up at the sound of the word, “call this period The Enlightenment.
“You don’t need to learn the details now but just know that humans made tremendous discoveries, scientific, philosophic, political, artistic, etc. The period had about run its course when one of its great heroes, Thomas Jefferson and a few others defeated the world’s strongest military in the name of free expression, religious freedom and many other sacred freedoms that existed in the land once called America before its empire crumbled.”
These ideas frightened and delighted Winston. He couldn’t imagine a world like that. Like a character from a book he translated into newspeak years earlier, Winston constantly asked about rabbits, he would ask Bill to, “Tell me about the Jefferson again.”
Next, came the slogan, “War is Peace!” Bill taught Winston, using more examples from history that the truly great of the past all stood for peace. Winston learned of people like Jesus, Buddha Gautama, Gandhi, Mandela, Martin, a singer called John Lennon whose work had only recently had been discovered by invisible archeologists. Bill taught him of the many movements of the many lesser known pacifists and of how the warlords had decried them as divisive.
Sometime during the work on the middle slogan, certainly before they started into the first, Winston caught a glimpse of Julia out cold on a stretcher. He broke into laughter and tears at once. He enjoyed his lessons much more after that although he would not be reunited with his love for some time to come.
Winston continued daydreaming of his early days as an invisible. Julia started to stir and, catching sight of his face, she asked what he found so amusing; apparently his smile gave away his mood. He remained silent as Julia got up, put on her robe and crossed the small apartment to make coffee.
“Come on, let it out,” she teased, “what’s on your mind.”
Smiling he pronounced,, “Freedom is Slavery!”
“You remember your history my darling, abolitionist northern Christians fought General Lee and won freedom from slavery,” she pronounced proudly as she didn’t always study her lessons as diligently as her groom. They both laughed heartily but remembered that the party remained in control – for now at least.
2016: An Epilogue
Winston and Julia, the party having long ago crumbled, in part do to the invisibles but mostly due to the avarice of its inner circle, retired to the region once called America to the province once called Virginia to the town still called Monticello. Winston wanted them to live out their final days near Thomas Jefferson.
Their only son, the one they loved and cherished, worked as a field archeologist to help restore the history that the party erased. He, at the time of this writing, worked in the region once called America, in the province once called Florida in a town thought to be called Kiss Me. There, he and his colleagues worked to unearth something called the “Experimental Planned Community of Tomorrow.” This place, called “EPCOT” by its contemporaries they believed contained the original home of the party, the place where Big Brother first started rewriting histories.
Bill remained in London and still preferred Chelsea to Manchester. He still drank bitter ales and, now that he had grown old, felt invisible once again.
O’Brien was believed to have drowned in his own vomit after partying a bit too hard at yet another Deep Purple reunion concert.