A dream changed the mind of one of the greatest political writers of the twentieth century. George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) reached a watershed in his thinking in the summer of 1939, when he discovered that – despite his deep commitment to revolutionary causes and ideas of the Left – he remained a patriot at heart, ready to fight and die for his country. The change was worked by a dream.
In his essay “My Country Right or Left” Orwell recalled that the night before the Nazi-Soviet Pact was announced he dreamed that the war had started. “It was one of those dreams which, whatever Freudian inner meaning they may have, do sometimes reveal to you the real state of your feelings. It taught me two things, first, that I should be simply relieved when the long-dreaded war started, secondly, that I was patriotic at heart, would not sabotage or act against my own side, would support the war, would fight in it if possible.” A few weeks earlier, he had been calling for the creation of an underground network to spread anti-war propaganda in the event that hostilities broke out between Britain and Germany; no thought of that now.
In his terrifying parable Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell’s protagonist, Winston Smith, is a dreamer, and resistance to Big Brother begins with a dream. Winston Smith dreams that as he walks in the dark, a man’s voice tells him that they will meet in “a place without darkness”. He trusts that voice and it sows the hope that there are others who oppose the Party. His first act of defiance is to start keeping a journal. He writes his private thoughts in a contraband notebook just out of view of the spy cameras of the Thought police that are built into the “telescreen” on the wall that spews out propaganda day and night and cannot be turned off.
In the second dream reported in the novel, Winston finds himself in a place of freedom in nature, in a “rabbit-bitten” field where fish swim in green pools under the willows. In this “golden country”, a young woman throws off her clothes with magnificent abandon, defying the Party’s ban on love and passion. As he embraces her, Winston becomes a rebel, and knows rebellion is possible.
In Orwell’s novel, both dreams are played out. The young woman from the second dream invites Winston to a tryst in the landscape of his golden country. As their love blossoms, she promises that whatever happens, “They can’t get inside you.”
Alas, the way the earlier dream is manifested proves her wrong. Winston decides to confide his hopes of fighting the regime to a senior Party member he believes to be the voice in his dream. The “place without darkness” proves to be a torture cell where the lights are never turned off, where the prisoner’s mind is raped until he is ready to believe any lie he is told to repeat, and to betray everything he ever loved.