1984 was written between the years of 1947-48, only 2-3 years after the end of World War II. This conflict of immense proportions, the outcome of which was critical to the survival of democracy, inspired Orwell to consider the tenuousness of the people’s rule. Orwell, a deep proponent of socialism, had his doubts during the Second World War that Great Britain would be able to make it to the other side with its governmental systems intact. He feared for the future of his country and its ability to win the war and recover from the losses it suffered. 1984 serves as a warning against complacency. Nothing about democratic systems should be taken for granted. Additionally, as technology develops, governments are only going to become more powerful.
While the historical context of the novel is important, what is perhaps even more so is the relevance it continues to have, seventy years after it was completed. The novel was translated into 65 languages and has been enjoyed by people all over the world. This speaks to fear still present in contemporary society that George Orwell’s vision of a world consumed by its own technology, able to monitor and arrest its citizens at any time, and kill without consequence, is possible.
World War II did not bring about the end of totalitarian rule. Countries still suffer under the hand of burgeoning or well established dictatorial systems, making it unlikely that 1984 will ever truly lose their relevance.
Publication and Legacy
The book was finished while Orwell was ill on the Scottish island of Jura. After the novel was published, it was revealed that Orwell was divided between the title, The Last Man in Europe and 1984. The latter was eventually chosen by his publisher, and put forward by Orwell as an inversion of the year that the novel was finished. This was an obvious attempt to relate the imagined world of 1984 to that of 1948.
1984 was first published in the United Kingdom in June of 1949. Since its publication, the novel has become incredibly popular. It solidified George Orwell’s legacy. His surname has become an adjective (Orwellian) synonymous with totalitarian states and dystopian systems. Some of the most poignant moments in the book were created through the invention of new terms and phrases. Many of these have come into common use today as well, the most prominent being “Big Brother”.