Wednesday, December 9, 2015

1984 (Nineteen Eighty-Four) Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: George Orwell
Publisher: Secker and Warburger
Genre: Dystopian Science Fiction
Series: Standalone
Pages: 326

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1984 may be the most widely referenced book from the science fiction genre in popular culture.  The book is widely mentioned in other forms of literature, film, television, music, etc.  Quotes in the book are easily recognized by people who have never read the book such as…
“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
“Big Brother is watching you.”
“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
1984 created the quintessential look at a dystopian future. Nearly every book or story with a dystopian future in it since, has faced the inevitable comparison to 1984.  The book gives off an eerie premonition of what the future could be like for people living in the modern world, especially if they surrender their freedoms to a controlling government.  1984 is a giant in the world of literature, and it rightfully earned that reputation, as it engages one man’s struggle against the totalitarian regime in Oceania that is headed by the dominate dictator, “Big Brother.”

Meet Winston Smith, the primary protagonist of 1984.  He is a low ranking member of the ruling party in London, Oceania.  Oceania is one of three countries left in the world, and it is nearly always in a state of war with one of the other two existing countries.  Winston’s job is to find articles written in the past about the government, and to change them so that history coincides with ruling party’s current political agenda.

Winston hates the party because it watches his every movement via television like screens, it has outlawed every form of individuality including having sex and thinking against the government (called a thoughtcrime in the book), and he hates the new language called Newspeak that he is helping the government develop, which has the goal of removing all other existing languages.

Winston’s hatred inspires him to rebel…quietly by buying a diary and writing his thoughts in it.  Slowly he grows bolder in his resistance.  He meets a woman who shares his hatred for the party, and he learns about the brotherhood, a group inside Oceania that resists the ruling party.  As Winston continues to resist the government, the risk of being caught grows greater and greater.

1984 explores the horrors of living under a totalitarian government that has access to advanced technology.  The government of Oceania is supposedly led by a man only referred to as “Big Brother.”  Whether or not Big Brother is real is ambiguous, but his power and control over Oceania is absolute.  Absolute power in the government, combined with advanced technology makes resisting and overthrowing this government seem impossible for any individual in Orwell’s story.

This leads to the central conflict faced by Winston throughout the book: should he resist the government or should he submit?

The government does more than make harsh laws and develop new technologies to keep the masses subdued.  It uses psychological manipulation, along with it’s ability to re-create history to oppress its population. The government is particularly good at psychological manipulation, which it does by unleashing its propaganda everywhere, and by introducing new words and concepts that help eliminate a person’s individual identity and individual thoughts.

The strength of 1984 as a novel lies in its ability to describe the ruling government’s methods in manipulating the masses to oppress its people.  In many ways characters like Winston and Julia are secondary in importance to the different political concepts and forms of oppression that are being introduced by Orwell throughout the book.

1984 forces many inevitable comparisons to the way the modern world is developing.  The negative premonitions that the book seems to suggest seem to be coming true in today’s world despite the fact that Orwell was warning people about them more than half a century ago.  This is an aspect of Orwell’s writing that is particularly fascinating, because it make 1984 a book, that in a political context, always seems to be relevant as the book continues to age.

1984 is ultimately a cautionary tale.  It serves to remind the world of what can be lost by surrendering freedoms, while it simultaneously opposes the idea of totalitarian governments.  At times the characters in 1984 can feel dry, and they certainly don’t have the depth of Orwell’s futuristic world.  But that is the only down side to Orwell’s book.  Regardless, 1984 was a story more about a concept, rather than its characters, and its concept did more than just carry the story: it transcended the world’s image of a dystopian society.

Score: 9.9

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