Orwell's 1984: The Totalitarian Dystopia after Stalin
If Zamyatin We gains a special poignancy from the striking fulfillment of its dystopian warnings under Stalin, George Orwell 1984 takes its energy from the ability to look back on the worst horrors of the Stalin years-with a side glance at Hitler as well. It may be because of this close contact with reality that Orwell's book has probably become more a part of the vocabulary and imagination of modern Western culture than has any Other dystopian fiction. Phrases and slogans from 1984 like "Thought Police," "doublethink," and "Big Brother Is Watching You" are well known even to those who have never read the book. And the recent passing of the year 1984 was greeted with considerable popular and media reference to Orwell's master-and with relief that Orwell's "predictions" had not come about.1 But 1984 gains its power not so much from its predictions of the future as from its bitter satire of the very real horrors of the Stalinist Russia upon which the book was principally based.
Of course, 1984 is far more than a simple condemnation of Stalinist Russia. For one thing, fascism is clearly implicated as well; for another, Orwell himself later described the book as a warning against the excesses that might develop in England in the attempt to combat Stalinism-much in the vein of Sinclair Lewis's earlier warnings to America in It Can't Happen Here.2 Either way, 1984 is intensely embedded in contemporary history, though Orwell also draws upon a number of literary sources.3 Zamyatin was a particularly important influence, though echoes of other dystopian works (including