Today, I want to talk about a quote from one of the most famous books of the 21st century. Such a passage might seem like just another throwaway line, but today, I want to explore the impact this quote has on the entire story, and how it’s even more valid today than when the book was written.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” means that what you’re about to read may or may not be true.
It’s from George Orwell’s 1984.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at why the quote matters to both the book and the world we live in.
Let’s start things off by talking about the book it comes from 1984.
1984 is a dystopian fiction novel written by George Orwell. Orwell was a Social Democrat, and today, everyone claims that 1984 is about the politics they disagree with. With the left saying it’s against fascism and the right saying it’s against communism.
But to tell the truth, both of them are right. 1984 is a warning about extremist and tyrannical ideologies from all over the political spectrum.
It’s a cautionary tale about why we need to always be critical of the people who rule over us.
Why start with this line?
“It was a cold bright day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” isn’t just a line in the book, it’s the first line in the book.
When authors are selecting how they choose to open their stories, they need to be very careful. The first line is going to have an impact on the tone and message of the entire story. So why did Orwell pick this quote to start his story?
As mentioned in the introduction, he wanted to make it clear that what’s about to happen might be true, but it might also not be true. Whether or not it becomes a reality is up to all of us.
Are we in 1984?
I hate to be a pessimist, but I want to address the idea that we’re already living in 1984.
Firstly, we are continually being monitored. And I’m not just talking about the CCTV cameras that are being used to cut down on crime. I’m also talking about the websites we visit and social media apps we like to use.
Almost all of them will monitor what we click on, what on Google, and many even suppose they’re able to read our minds.
Every click you make, someone is watching.
But then again, we do also have a lot of freedoms that people in other countries don’t get to enjoy. So it could be argued either way as to whether or not we currently live in 1984.
Is it possible to be cold AND bright?
The very first line is “It was a bright cold day”. This seems like a bit of a nonsense sentence, surely if it’s bright, that means it’s warm, and therefore cannot be cold.
But I disagree. Brightness is to do with light, not temperature. Although during the summertime, it’s usually very bright and very warm, there are other times of the year when it’s both bright and cold.
The sun can be out, even when it’s cold. Most of us have been out during the daytime when it’s snowing.
Can clocks strike thirteen?
A typical analogue clock will only ever go up to 12. Therefore, for a clock to strike 13 doesn’t make any sense. Right?
The 24-hour clock uses numbers higher than 12 to show the PM times. Whilst a 12-hour clock would say 01:00 PM, a 24-hour clock would say 13:00.
Believe it or not, you can even buy analogue clocks that have 24 hour time on them. Therefore, for a clock to strike 13 is technically possible.
I want to talk about a quote from another book that has a similar meaning.
At the end of “The Boy in Striped Pyjamas”, the author says “Of course all this happened a long time ago and nothing like that could ever happen again.
Not in this day and age.”
By ending a story about the Holocaust like this, you would be forgiven into thinking this line is to stop people from worrying. However, it’s actual intention is quite the opposite. The purpose of such a quote is to make the reader see just how easy it is to dismiss evil, and act like it isn’t there.
William Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers that England has ever had. And you could argue that Orwell took inspiration from Shakespeare by his use of paradoxes.
A paradox is a sentence that contradicts itself, yet is also true.
“Fair is foul and foul is fair”. To achieve what’s right, some nasty things need to be done.
“You’ve gotta be cruel to be kind”. Making someone upset is sometimes the thing for them.
“It was a bright cold day in April” might be looked at as a Paradox as bright and cold don’t usually go together.
How to use these ideas
You can take inspiration from Orwell’s quote in your own writing. Starting your story off with such a quote is a super-effective way of making your stories even better.
Starting things off with a paradox is going to make the reader keen to know more about your story, and read on, because they want to get to the bottom of what’s going on.
It’s also a great way to indirectly tell your reader what the theme of the book is going to be about.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen”is the opening line to one of the best dystopian fiction books of all time- George Orwell’s 1984.
The purpose of having such a paradox to open the story is to confuse the reader into wondering whether or not this story is true. Of course, it can be both cold and bright, just as it is for clocks to strike thirteen. Although such descriptions are very uncommon in fiction.