“The thing that he was about to do was to open a diary. This was not illegal (nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws), but if detected it was reasonably certain that it would be punished by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced-labour camp. Winston fitted a nib into the penholder and sucked it to get the grease off. The pen was an archaic instrument, seldom used even for signatures, and he had procured one, furtively and with some difficulty. . . To mark the paper was the decisive act. In small clumsy letters he wrote:
April 4th, 1984.”
On this date, Winston Smith’s subversive diary begins. Smith is a civil servant, working for the Ministry of Truth – he corrects historical records to agree with Big Brother’s truth.
By the end of George Orwell’s story, Winston has seen the error of his ways – thanks to the Ministry of Love, which tortures and brainwashes. He has been re-educated to the point of loving Big Brother, into believing that war is peace and that 2+2=5.
Nineteen Eighty-Four has been translated into 85 languages, more than any other novel. Orwell died at 47, but gave us both the story of Winston Smith and Animal Farm, iconic foreshadowings of our future. And he gave us the vocabulary for our time: newspeak, doublethink, memory hole, Thought Police, Big Brother and the always useful ‘Orwellian.’
* * *
Belated best wishes to Eddie Murphy, David Hyde Pierce, Alec Baldwin and Jane Goodall, all of whom celebrated yesterday. Jane Goodall marked 77 years, most of them spent trying to improve life on the planet. Her groundbreaking work with the chimps of Gombe made millions aware of things like the environment, habitat and endangered species.
She began her study of the chimps in 1960 with very little formal training, but her decades of observation of chimpanzees’ family and social life are invaluable, her critics notwithstanding. Her chief transgression apparently was anthropomorphizing the animals she studied – unforgivably, she even gave them names.
But anthropomorphizing – within limits – can be a very good thing. See animal behavior as analogous to human behavior and pretty soon you are treating animals with a modicum of respect. That can’t be bad.