Friday, May 27, 2022
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Big Bother over 1984

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I FIRST read Nineteen Eighty-Four early in 1964, just after my 13th birthday, when it was a set book in the second year at grammar school. Our English teacher handed out copies, telling us it was one of the greatest modern novels, and left it at that, giving us a term to read it, form an opinion, and then write about it.  

Crucially, we didn’t get a trigger warning about the book, unlike undergraduates at Northampton University in 2022, who are reportedly being told that George Orwell’s masterpiece contains ‘explicit material’ which some students may find ‘offensive and upsetting’. 

My heart goes out to the poor things. Even though they’re presumably aged 18 or more, the trauma of turning the first few pages – for those brave souls who dare even start the book – must be overwhelming.  

The news report made me realise that at the tender age of 13, my classmates and I had been abominably treated by our school in being made to delve into Nineteen Eighty-Four without so much as a cautionary word, never mind a trigger warning.

As a result of that scandalous neglect, for almost 60 years I believed Nineteen Eighty-Four was possibly the best book I have ever read. I savoured every page.  

I took to heart the grim warning implicit in Orwell’s brilliant depiction of a future society where people are oppressed and brainwashed, and history is manipulated by a totalitarian regime.  

I watched with approval as Big Brother, the Thought Police, Thoughtcrime, Newspeak and Doublethink became part of the language, brilliantly encapsulating dire socio-political developments we should beware of and fight against.  

I read and re-read Nineteen Eighty-Four, praised it to skies and encouraged everyone I know to read it as an enthralling story in itself and to take heed of its message.  

I have been astonished and dismayed by how depressingly accurate Orwell was in predicting many aspects of our lives, particularly in the last two years during the State-imposed dystopia of the coronavirus.  

So thank goodness I’ve learned of the timely intervention of Northampton University. I now realise that because of its explicit and offensive content, I’m a victim of false memory syndrome and post-traumatic stress.  

Had we youngsters been given a trigger warning back in 1964, my mind might not have been infected with such misplaced enthusiasm. I might have avoided what surely amounts to Thoughtcrime.  

I’m now trying to contact old schoolmates to launch a class action (Class 2A, as we were) against my alma mater for historic offences of constructive abuse, failing in duty of care and breach of human rights.  

Like Winston Smith in the novel, the scales have fallen from my eyes. After consulting my legal advisers, I look forward to adapting the final paragraph of Nineteen Eighty-Four.  

‘O cruel, needless misunderstanding! But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Payout.’  

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Henry Getley
Henry Getley
Henry Getley is a freelance journalist.

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