It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, narrowly dodging two small, very indoctrinated children who were playing a game. “Bang!” one shouted. “You’re shadow-banned, Devin!”
“Ah,” Winston’s neighbor said. “Winston! Good. We are all getting a letter together to try to discourage the advertisers of a political opinion television program with which we disagree, but you don’t have to sign it if you don’t want to. It’s a free country."
Winston suppressed a shudder. Had it really come to this?
Winston worked in the Ministry of Truth. It was one of three key ministries, other than the Ministry of Peace and the Ministry of Love. The Ministry of Truth’s employees were in charge of writing down the most negative things about Big Brother they could, by transcribing verbatim what came out of his mouth, and that seemed unfair to Winston. He had begun to keep a secret diary in which he noted that he thought Big Brother was actually pretty cool.
With some difficulty, for it is not easy for a pig to balance himself on a ladder, Snowball climbed up and set to work. The animals’ Commandments were written on the barn wall in great white letters that could be read 30 yards away. They ran thusly:
1. Whatever goes on two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes on four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3. Twitter is the appropriate noise for a winged animal, and no animal shall ever be deprived it, for any reason.
Winston went to stand in front of his telescreen. It was time for the Two Minutes’ Hate, his scheduled hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness that filled him with a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledgehammer. (The Two Minutes’ Hate was something Winston attended voluntarily on his own time, and only a broken, dystopian society would have tried to make him face consequences for doing so.)
Julia smiled at Winston and loosened her red chastity sash. “We must go somewhere secret where we can express our views freely,” she said. She led him upstairs over Mr. Charrington’s shop and into a small room with a picture, an old-fashioned clock and a glass paperweight.
“Here,” she said. “My cable news show.”
The animals crowded around to see. Napoleon was forcing Snowball the traitor pig to pay the ultimate price for sabotaging the windmill. He was being ratioed.
Winston knew without looking where they had arrived. They were at the door of Room 101.
“What is in Room 101?” he wondered. But he had always known. The thing that was in Room 101 was the worst thing in the world. He opened the door and quailed in the anticipation of pain. Yes, there it was: a sign asking him to put on a mask while he shopped in a store.
Behind the metal gate, Winston could hear a faint scratching, growing louder. “You know what is about to happen,” O’Brien said, his voice infinitely patient and sad. “I will press this button and the rats will be released.”
Winston shuddered. The only thing waiting for the rats on the other side of the metal gate was his publishing contract, and the rats sounded hungry. “No!” he screamed. “Do it to Julia’s publishing contract! Not to mine; to Julia’s!”
“Goodbye, Boxer,” the animals cheered, as Boxer the Horse climbed into the van.
“Fool!” Benjamin the Donkey cried, stamping his small hooves. “Do you not see what is written on the side of that van?”
Muriel began spelling it out. “Alfred Simmons, Horse Deplatformer—”
“Get out, Boxer! Get out!” Benjamin cried. “They’re moving you to Substack!”
Boxer kicked and kicked, but his old tired legs were not strong enough.
Winston shuddered. He had finally surrendered. The Party had won its ultimate victory over him. He had been stripped of his freedom, his mind, his voice. All that he had left was his freedom, his mind, his voice, the massive subscriber base of his podcast and the ability to post on dozens of platforms. Big Brother had won.
“This is—” Winston said. He tried very hard to think of the word for what it was, but it was difficult because he had never read a book.
Watch Opinions videos:
Read more from Alexandra Petri: