One of the most unusual first lines in literature is the opening to George Orwell’s 1984:
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
A fitting choice for this week’s First Line Friday, given the chaos of the American Presidential election year and the recent Brexit votes in the UK, 1984 is the story of Winston Smith, a member of the Outer Party who works for the Ministry of Truth in Airstrip One (formerly Great Britain). His job entails rewriting newspaper articles from the past, so that historic records show that they’ve always supported the party, and there is no evidence that the government has ever lied to the people.
As Wikipedia notes, “Many of its terms and concepts, such as Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Room 101, telescreen, 2 + 2 = 5, and memory hole, have entered into common use since its publication in 1949.”
Indeed, 1984 is the novel most responsible for introducing the world to the concept of something being “Orwellian” – that is, the constant system of surveillance and repression that is destructive to a free and open society.
Therefore, the opening line is most fitting, in the context of a clock being physically unable to strike 13 – something we may not quite fathom in an age of largely silent 24-hour clocks, but which certainly made sense in Orwell’s time. Clocks only cycled through 12 hours, then repeated themselves, so the idea of a clock striking 13 suggests that everything that came before this incorrect time would now fall under closer scrutiny, and that nothing is really as it seems.
Another important quote, from an immensely quotable novel, comes from Inner Party member O’Brien:
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”
Scary stuff, no? What do you make of Orwell’s vision of the future?
What’s YOUR favorite first line?
Leave a comment below and your favorite first line could be featured in an upcoming Friday post!