Author: George Orwell
Genres: Dystopian, Political, Psychological and Philosophical
Release Date: 8th June 1949
Reviewed by: David
“The year 1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell’s prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1949 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. 1984 is still the great modern classic of “negative utopia” -a startlingly original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny the novel’s hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions -a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.”
Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth in London, chief city of Airstrip one (United Kingdom), which is a province of Oceania one of three great superpowers, which control the globe. Orwell’s classic piece of dystopian literature documents the grim and harrowing existence of Winston Smith as he tries to survive in Oceanic society, forever under the watchful eye of Big Brother and the thought police. However, as Winston drifts dangerously into unorthodoxy and rebellion, he attracts the attention of his powerful, totalitarian overseers.
1984 is definitely one of my favourite books of all time, if not the favourite. I was first introduced to this book, just short of a year and a half ago and yet in that time I have read the book at least five times (possibly more) and seen the 1984 film adaption (one of my favourite films, actually released in 1984) just as many. Indeed, following my first reading of the book, I immediately read it from cover to cover once more, something I have never done with a book before or since. It is hard to describe what I find so fascinating about this novel; there probably aren’t even words to describe it. Nonetheless I will attempt to do so to the best of my abilities.
Firstly I feel that it is partly the historical context of this novel that I find incredibly atmospheric. Orwell wrote 1984 as a warning against totalitarian rule, some say of communist dictatorships, others of fascist dictatorships. I believe it is a warning against both as both the Nazi’s and the Soviets are named within the novel and there is little difference between the totalitarian extremes of left and right wing. Orwell wrote and finished this book not long after the conclusion of the second World War, the bloodiest and most violent conflict mankind has ever seen, which sprouted out of the totalitarian rule of leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini. Following that he would have witnessed the rise in power and influence that communism had following WWII as the Soviet Union grew to envelop all of eastern Europe to Berlin, and Chairman Mao took over in China. The 20th century was the bloodiest ever witnessed in mankind’s history, with great wars and genocides being committed across the world, and I feel that crushing sentiment is contained in the pages of this powerful book, with reference to eternal, never-ending war and great purges ubiquitous throughout.
Orwell creates a crushing world where everything is bleak and harsh. The people are malnourished, the living conditions are squalid, all commodities, such as soap, gin and tobacco are poor and the work is long and hard. Not only that but the power of The Party extends everywhere, from police patrols and helicopters, to hidden microphones and telescreens which spout constant propaganda, whilst also being able to observe anyone near them. In Winston’s world there is no comfort, no joy and certainly no privacy “Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull.”
However In Orwell’s dystopia even those precious cubic centimeters can be invaded and moulded into The Party’s image “Men are infinitely malleable”, which demands that its populous is unthinking and gullible, willing to believe, with zeal, anything that The Party says, even complete lies. The principle of doublethink is instilled in the government workers, which means that they can believe completely contradictory things, without seeing any logical inconsistency, and also instantly alter their own memories of events to match The Party’s account. The commoners on the other hand, known as the proles, are kept stupid and unaware of their slavery by means of their lives of poverty and hardship, ameliorated, just sufficiently to prevent rebellion, with government manufactured alcohol, pornography and other such base pleasures to keep them complacent. Orwell’s depiction of a world in which people are reduced to the level of animals “proles and animals are free” or have their minds controlled by authority, is deeply unsettling and frightening and leaves the reader feeling disturbed and uncomfortable.
It is not only Orwell’s skill in creating a bleak and crushing world that makes this book so incredible. Orwell’s writing style is also incredibly pleasurable to read. Orwell in life hated superfluous use of words as he believed politicians used this approach to make what they said seem important whilst also being incredibly vague and vacuous. As a result Orwell writes clearly and concisely and often very matter of factly, even at his most philosophical ” if you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face- for ever “. This to me makes the impact of the novel even more potent as none of the poignancy of Orwell’s writing is lost in the translation of large sections of text. His meaning is always direct and hard-hitting.
Another particularly powerful part of Orwell’s writing is the way he shows how we take the basic liberties we have in life for granted, but then exaggerates how important they are and how oppressive and void a life without them is. Orwell recognises the joy and pleasure we extract from even the simplest things. Winston for instance is amazed by tea ” It’s real tea. Not blackberry leaves.” and recognises the beauty of spontaneous singing, which is discouraged in party members. Even basic rights like the right to free speech and even free thought are completely non-existent in Oceania, leading Winston to state that “Freedom is the freedom to state that 2+2=4. If that is granted, all else follows”. Orwell constantly demonstrates just how easy it is for even the rights to free thought to be taken away, and this to me is incredibly powerful. A world where even maths and the laws of nature can be contradicted by the government is a terrifying prospect.
Overall, 1984 is a bleak and oppressive imagining of the future no matter what time you live in and, for me, is so emotionally powerful and melancholy that I am always left with an unsettled feeling in my gut after reading it as though I have lost something dear to me. Perhaps it is recognition of the fragility and precariousness of freedom and other basic rights that we enjoy in the west, that we assume are permanent and unchangeable but are actually quite unique in human history. 1984 rips off the metaphorical Band-Aid, and makes us realise that we must be ever vigilant, in order to prevent Orwell’s prophesy coming to pass.
I would recommend this book to everyone, especially in light of recent events where basic liberties such as freedom of the press, scientific enquiry and the movement of people are being eroded and threatened, as western countries become increasingly hateful and isolationist. It is no accident that sales of 1984 have skyrocketed over the past few months and, despite the worrying shift to the right the West is taking, this gives me hope!
Be sure to check it out on Book Depository using my link here: Loisreadsbooks
Until next time,