Book Title: 1984
Author: George Orwell
Number in #100bookproject: 9
Level of Recommendation: Extremely High
Favourite Quote: “But if the object was not to stay alive, but to stay human, what difference did it ultimately make? They could not alter your feelings; for that matter you could not alter them yourself, even if you wanted to. They could lay bare in the utmost detail everything that you have done or said or thought: but the inner heart, whose workings were mysterious even to yourself, remained impregnable.”
Tied with –
“ ‘At the time when it happens,’ she had said ‘You do mean it.’ He had meant it. He had not merely said it, he had wished it. He had wished that she and not he should be delivered over to the –
Something changed in the music that trickled from the telescreen. A cracked and jeering note, a yellow note came into it. And then – perhaps it was not happening, perhaps it was only a memory taking on the semblance of a sound – a voice was singing
‘Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me.’”
Review: In short 1984 is one of the best, if not the best, dystopian novel you will ever read. George Orwell was a writer who thrived on creating essays, and novels that focused on political criticism and exposing the injustices of his day. 1984 is the pinnacle of Orwell’s fears, beliefs and political agenda. 1984 is so influential and was so ahead of its time (it was originally published in 1949) that certain modern day terms like Big Brother, thoughtcrime, telescreen, Newspeak and Orwellian (referring to official deception, secret surveillance and manipulation of recorded history by a totalitarian or authoritarian state) spawned from it.
1984 is set in a dystopian future where multiple wars have divided the world into three superpowers, one of them being Oceania, which is the combination of countries formerly known as Great Britain and The United States. Winston, the main character of the tale, lives in London, which is the capital of Air Strip One (a.k.a former Great Britain). 1984 is told primarily through Winston’s perspective – apart from a few pages that a presented in the form of another book that Winston is reading. Therefore, everything we know about the party and Big Brother is given to us by Winston. There are so many great twists and turns in 1984 that I don’t want to give away any of the plot (if you haven’t ready it already).
So here is a short summary – Winston works for the party in the Ministry of Truth, his job is to alter books and newspapers so they reflect the Party’s version of history. He is a middle-aged man with ailing health who secretly hates the Party. This, of course, is dangerous because the Thought Police are constantly seeking out those disloyal to the party. Yet Winston cannot help his growing disdain for his situation and through a series of events he begins to become more and more rebellious; he begins to write in a diary, starts an affair with a young woman named Julia, and eventually attempts to join a resistance against the party.
For the rest of the story, you’ll have to read it for yourself. But to continue the review, in my opinion there are two things that make 1984 a masterpiece. One – Orwell’s ability to predict a future that in many ways is coming true and his skill in presenting the reader with a world that you not only absolutely believe in, but at the same time manages to eerily mirror the terrors of our own.
In 1949 computers were barely a concept yet Orwell managed to see a world where computers and screens (what he called telescreens) were such an integral part of everyday life that they were used to monitor and control citizens. Of course when the actual year 1984 rolled around Orwell’s vision was still a little far off, but if we compare it to now, when everyone has multiple screens in their homes and mini screens in the form of cell phones constantly on their bodies we see the truth in Orwell’s predictions.
Additionally, in 1984 these telescreens are used to spy on citizens of Oceania and motivate them to be what the government wants them to be (for example in 1984 a women appears on the screen every morning to conduct an exercise class and if citizens didn’t participate the camera in those telescreens would report that to the Thought Police, who would in turn see that as disloyalty.) Does a government agency spying on us through technology in our homes sound at all familiar to our modern world? Patriot Act anyone? Not to mention our constant saturation of media outlets and social media outlets telling us what we need to look like, sound like and act like in order to be acceptable to society.
Somehow seventy years ago Orwell saw elements of this in our future and more than that saw the danger in it. And as the popular saying goes ‘Big Brother is always watching’. Orwell made that theology possible, before that technology to make Big Brother a reality was even remotely close to being created.
Lastly, in regards to point number one it has to be said that there is a section of 1984 where Winston is reading a book that explains the origins of the party and the ‘necessity’ of it. I won’t go into details, but the amount of political intellect that Orwell crams into maybe ten or twenty pages is stunning. And this political examination not only fits into the world of 1984 it easily fits into Orwell’s world of the 1940’s and our modern day world.
That to me is an insane genius, but maybe that’s just me.
Now for Two – Orwell’s mastery of pace and language is incredible. Orwell’s vivid descriptions move with the tone and progression of the characters. For example in the beginning Winston’s world is very cold, grey and sterile yet as he begins to develop a sense of who he is and a desire to rebel he begins to see beauty, colors, sounds and sensations that are vivid and succulent.
Orwell’s subtle change in language to signify character development is brilliant as well. For example, about two-thirds into the story (after Winston has been sleeping with Julia for a while and has made moves to move towards becoming a rebel agent) he uses the word ‘gelatinous’ to describe how he feels in the morning and then goes on to think about why he chose that word. In the context of Winston’s world, that is a monumental thought – the kind of the thought that could get him caught by the Thought Police. But you see that’s the beauty of Orwell choosing to use that word. By placing such a lavish word in Winston’s vocabulary, he is showing how much Winston has grown and how ready he is to take on the party, simply by thinking a certain word.
In a similar fashion after some very intense stuff goes down – stuff that makes Winston and Julia’s relationship impossible to regain – Winston sees Julia. They talk and he thinks about wanting her, but throughout their interaction Winston refers to her only as ‘she.’ This is a subtle craft technique, but by choosing to refer to Julia as ‘she’ Orwell is showing that Winston has evolved again and a woman he once so desperately loved is now no more than a thing to him.
I could go on and on about all things I love about 1984 including how Orwell gives the reader an ending that they don’t want but is so poignant and in turn serves as a warning for not only the future but the fragility of the human soul.
But – I won’t do that. Instead I will leave you with this, if you’ve been reading/watching dystopian literature/movies and thinking well these are predictable, have the same characters and same plot, etc. – then 1984 is for you.
If you have any interest in political criticism and satire – 1984 is for you.
If you have any interest in works about the future that lean towards science fiction – 1984 is for you.
If you want to be challenged, and made to think about the state of the world like never before – 1984 is for you.
If you want to be riveted and thoroughly engrossed in a book – 1984 is for you.
If you can read – 1984 is for you.
Next Up: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte