The human side of Nineteen Eighty-Four

N843I first read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in my early twenties. I was struck by its powerful ideas and have found them impossible to shake off. The book creates a brutal world in which an oppressive political system controls the people through fear. It’s a nightmare vision with many parallels to today’s society, including constant surveillance from CCTV cameras and the recent revelations on the NSA. There are so many comparisons with the present world that ‘Orwellian’ is now a much used term to describe breaches of privacy, restrictions of liberty and surveillance under the pretence of security.

However, Nineteen Eighty-Four has humanity and it’s Winston Smith’s fragility that draws me in. He’s constantly struggling to remember how things once were − I’m moved by his sentimental attachment to objects and childhood songs as if these hold a key to something more human. He wants to experience life and follow his instincts, and there’s a glimmer of hope in his secret and illegal love affair with Julia. He’s willing to risk everything in order to feel something real. That is what I hold on to from the book. He’s a physically weak man resisting at all costs a society where love, individuality and freedom of expression are banned.

In illustrating this book I wanted to show some of his fragility contrasting with the imprisoning atmosphere. I drew him hunched over with very pale and sickly skin against settings made of straight lines bearing down on him − and everywhere the dictatorial face of Big Brother, watching.

View more of Burton’s illustrations and explore our edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four here.

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