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Nineteen Eighty-Four

The Last Man in Europe

a novel by George Orwell, published in 1949. The Last Man in Europe was the working title of Orwell's most celebrated novel, which projects a totalitarian future from the austerities of the early Cold War. Orwell worked on the manuscript during a protracted stay on the remote Scottish island of Jura; he had none of the usual distractions of his editing, reviewing, and broadcasting routine and, as a result, the narrative has a much clearer sense of direction than his other fiction. The hero, Winston Smith, lives in a box-like flat in London, the ‘Airstrip One’ of the new super-power, Oceania. The texture of his daily life, with its bad food, chronic shortages, faulty goods, ambient propaganda, and inescapable surveillance is composed of selective features of life in post-war Europe but it has also become the model for many subsequent fictions, literary and cinematic, which pit the individual against the system, the advocate of free speech against the operatives of the secret society. Winston is employed in the misnamed Ministry of Truth, where he is forced to rewrite history in accordance with the official line of Ingsoc, or English Socialism: the Party. His inevitable act of rebellion is focused on a forbidden love affair with Julia, another Party member. Together, they attempt to get in touch with the Brotherhood, a quasi-Trotskyist underground movement, but choose the wrong channel in O'Brien, a high-ranking Party official who successfully uses torture to make them betray each other. The book is most famous for its creation of Big Brother, the Thought Police, and its image of a hopeless future: ‘If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever’. But perhaps its most disturbing prediction concerns the less sensational but more profoundly undermining corruption of language by Newspeak, a deliberately impoverished version of English which by systematically removing, rather than adding, items of vocabulary and forms of speech, drastically reduces the scope of thought and feeling of its speakers. See also Utopia and anti-Utopia.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: New from Tartary to Frank O'connor