1984

March 31, 2017
1984 Book Cover 1984
George Orwell
Speculative Fiction
Plume
2009
Hardback
294
Library
June 8th, 1949

Nineteen Eighty-Four (mostly written 1984) is a 1948 dystopian fiction written by George Orwell about a society ruled by an oligarchical dictatorship. The Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, and incessant public mind control. Oceania is ruled by a political party called simply The Party. The individual is always subordinated to the state, and it is in part this philosophy which allows the Party to manipulate and control humanity. In the Ministry of Truth, protagonist Winston Smith is a civil servant responsible for perpetuating the Party's propaganda by revising historical records to render the Party omniscient and always correct, yet his meager existence disillusions him to the point of seeking rebellion against Big Brother. 

(via Goodreads)

 

It’s obvious why 1984 is considered classic literature. Originally published in 1949, Orwell’s story projects a future for post-war England right at the start of the Cold War. A 1950’s atomic war transformed the globe and now is divided into 3 super-countries which control their population through shortages, surveillance, torture, propaganda, and fear. Oceania, the Americas and England, are ruled by the Party, led by Big Brother. Only those who are completely committed and loyal survive. No one trusts their neighbors, their coworkers, or even their family. After all, they could turn you into the Thought Police and you might become an unperson– someone who was wiped out of history.

“But how can you stop people from remembering things?” cried Winston, again momentarily forgetting the dial. “It is involuntary. It is outside oneself. How can you control memory? You have not controlled mine!”

This reading was my first of 1984. It was really fascinating reading Orwell’s dystopian novel which contains many words and phrases he developed which we still use in vernacular today. Like reading Shakespeare, seeing the words “Big Brother” and “Thought Police” and “doublespeak” in their original use case is both mesmerizing and terrifying. Orwell’s prose outlines a seemingly simple transition from the reality of 1949 to his haunting tale of conformity and identity in this alternative 1984.

Winston’s story is not a happy one.  His job is to literally rewrite history. He works in a cube where “they” send him scraps of paper identifying newspaper articles to re-write for any slew of stupid reasons. He is unhappy, paranoid, and knows what he is doing is completely destroying the truth of all history. He is a cog in solidifying the Party’s control. Yet, he continues to do so because those who resist the state, even through facial expressions, are brought swiftly into line. Emotions and relationships should only exist to better the state. Sharing your opinions on anything is a death sentence. Orwell’s eloquent prose throws us easily and completely into this horrifying world; he quickly shows us how easy the world can turn into this idea of reality.

Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.

1984 was a hard book for me to enjoy. Orwell completely ignores the “show, don’t tell” principle of authorship. Once, in the middle of the book, Winston reads a book outlining the history of how Oceania came to where it is today.  It was exhausting and long-winded. This begins around the halfway point and outlines nothing Winston didn’t speak or the reader didn’t infer, with the exception of explicit details. Even Winston points out after reading:

In a sense, it told him nothing that was new, but that was part of the attraction. It was what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order.

Yes. I completely agree that nothing was new, Winston.

Honestly, from that point on, I was bored. Then, the final act felt overly repetitive. I finished the book feeling as though I had heard two very long-winded, poignant, and eloquent philosophers debate the same viewpoint in loud voices for an hour, only to walk away going, “Good. I’m glad we agree.”  It was infuriating. If this was an essay or a short story, I would have been blown away. Unfortunately, the preachy philosophic tone with bland characters and limited plot points left something to be desired for me. I know that’s the whole point– but it didn’t work for me.

In the end,  I appreciate Orwell’s prose and his mastery of dystopian literature. I am blown away by what he was able to predict (he predicted Listerine strips in this book, for goodness sake!) in this short novel and what a harrowing world he was able to create in a realistic way. I respect what he has done for literature through this masterwork; including the words he has introduced and how he further pushed science fiction and dystopian literature.  I cannot imagine reading this in 1949. I would have been shaking in my boots.

Everything faded away into a shadow-world in which, finally, even the date of the year had become uncertain.

Perhaps it’s that I already knew the plot, I knew the point, I knew the historical significance. While I’m glad I read 1984, and I will be recommending it to anyone who hasn’t yet read it,  I certainly won’t be reading it again.


What do you think?

  • What you read 1984? If so, did you read it recently, or many years ago? How does thaty affect your opnion?
  • What is your favorite dystopian/speculative literature novel?
  • Do you think Orwell’s 1984 could be real? What examples do you see in the world to prove your point?

30 Comments

  • Resh Susan @ The Book Satchel March 31, 2017 at 9:08 am

    I am sorry you did not enjoy the book as much as you thought it would. We all have different reading tastes and yes, the writing style of the book isn’t for everyone. 1984 is one of my favourite reads though. I was blown away the first time I read it.

    • Jackie B April 3, 2017 at 1:42 pm

      I’m so glad this is one of your favorite reads! I am actually really shocked I wasn’t more into it. What do you love about this book?

  • Rebecca March 31, 2017 at 11:07 am

    I feel like I’ve already read this classic, but the truth is – I haven’t. I’ve read synopsis after synopsis and I’m familiar with the details. But haven’t actually read it. Bad me!
    Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review
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    • Jackie B April 3, 2017 at 12:08 pm

      That’s totally fine! There are sooo many classics I haven’t read yet. But, I felt like I had already read this book before I even picked it up. I think that contributed to some of my disinterest, honestly. I already knew what was going to happen. Orwell’s prose is beautiful when it’s not lecture-y, though. I strongly encourage you to read it someday. I hope you will enjoy it more than I did!

  • AvalinahsBooks March 31, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    I didn’t enjoy this book either. But I was a teen and it gave me nightmares… I think it was just a bad time to read it, or maybe I’m just too sensitive overall.
    But I’ve heard people say that for 1949 it’s surprising how CLOSE to the actual future of the Soviet Union Orwell cane when writing this! Which is really freaky, when you think about it.

    • Jackie B April 3, 2017 at 1:49 pm

      I can definitely see how this book would give someone nightmares! I imagine if I read this as a teen I would have probably become an aggressive political activist/revolutionary. I don’t think that you’re too sensitive at all. Orwell really nailed the transition from the place the world was in mid-1940s into his dystopian 1984. It’s so easy to see how we could end up there, too!

      All this crazy dystopian classic literature always freaks me out. Have you read Brave New World? The things Huxley predicts for the future from 1932 blows my mind. Televisions in every home, birth control is common, and antidepressants are real. Same with Orwell! I am just blown away…

      • AvalinahsBooks April 9, 2017 at 2:16 pm

        I actually have! But I thought Brave New World was so much brighter than 1984, I not only could stomach it, but absolutely loved it.
        You’re absolutely right though, it’s dead on with technology and even society stuff. It’s like they were oracles! And then also, think of Jules Verne!
        BTW, I haven’t seen you around a lot. Super mega busy? Been missing you!

      • AvalinahsBooks April 9, 2017 at 2:18 pm

        P.S. Read Island by Huxley. It will also blow your mind for the same reason. And some others.

        • Jackie B April 10, 2017 at 9:08 am

          I am so embarrassed to say that I DNF’d Journey into the Center of the Earth and that’s all the Verne I’ve read. And I only DNF’d it because I got distracted and sorta just stopped reading it. I really should try some Verne again. What of his

          Also, I haven’t HEARD of Island. But you apparently loved it (thanks, Goodreads!). I have added it to my TBR. 🙂 You’re the best!

  • KrystiYAandWine March 31, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    Oh, I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this one as much. I did love this one, but because when I read it a couple years ago, I was struck between the similarities between what Orwell imagined way back when and our reality today. It’s really fascinating to me.

    • Jackie B April 3, 2017 at 12:01 pm

      I completely agree! I am blown away with how Orwell was able to take his 1947 world and project into the future the way he did. I felt the same way about Brave New World. There are some amazing similarities and some frightening parallels. It’s easy to see how we could slip to it. I appreciate the book, but I just didn’t enjoy reading it all that much. It’s so embarrassing to say that about such a classic! But, to each their own. I’m glad you loved this. 🙂

  • Anna @MyBookishDream March 31, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    Great review! 🙂 The only book by Orwell that I have read so far is Animal Farm and I completely adored it. So I definitely plan on picking up 1984, I also already know the plot sooo we shall see how much I’m going to enjoy it. (But I’m hopeful!)

    • Jackie B April 3, 2017 at 1:51 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed Animal Farm! I read it when I was in high school, but we read it before studying Russian history so I didn’t really follow what was happening. I love Orwell’s prose. I know, now that I understand Russia and the players a bit more, I should re-read Animal Farm.

      I hope you enjoy 1984 when you finally get to it! Don’t let my review stop you. 🙂

  • Ann Marie March 31, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    I read this book for the first time as a teenager. I’m getting together with a core group of “regulars” from my book club to discuss it over a boozey brunch on Sunday. It’ll be an interesting conversation to be sure though I’m not sure I’m liking the book as much this time around.

    • Jackie B April 3, 2017 at 1:53 pm

      You’re not the first person to tell me that they think the book might have been more enjoyable as a teenager. I wonder why that is? I imagine that teenaged Jackie, upon reading 1984, might have turned into a revolutionary. I can definitely see my younger self getting all worked up about this.

      How did your book discussion go? Did anyone feel the same as you, that you enjoyed it more as a teenager?

  • Books, Vertigo and Tea April 1, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    I simply love 1984 for a variety of reasons. I felt the true bleakness and dismal aspects really heightened the sense of what Winston’s world was. It felt real. Agree it was a slow and depressing read, and at times I struggle but again it all contributed so well to the atmosphere and true of what “life” was. I think the relevance and importance of it all so many years later is fascinating! Great review Jackie!

    • Jackie B April 3, 2017 at 2:01 pm

      You make some great points about the bleak and dismal aspects heightening the realism. I completely agree. I also felt like some of Winston’s own repetitiveness really spoke to the sort of demi-lunacy he was experiencing trying to keep his reality in line. It was certainly frightening. I’m so glad that you enjoy this book!

  • Laila@BigReadingLife April 3, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    I’ve not read this. Somehow, I managed to escape high school and college without being assigned this book! It’s one I’ve thought about reading, though, simply for the timeliness of the message. I still may, but it’s not one I’m dying to read. I appreciate your honesty!

    • Jackie B April 3, 2017 at 2:13 pm

      I escaped all of my schooling without reading it, as well. I’ve heard a lot from people who were really affected by reading 1984 in their developmental years, but now don’t enjoy it as much. Little reflection as to why that might be, however.

      I hope that you enjoy it when you finally get to reading it. I agree, it’s definitely very timely– and I look forward to your review, Laila!

  • LizScanlon April 4, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Great review.. love your directness and no BS policy! 🙂 i found it a difficult read as well in certain points but I am willing to reread it in the future… 🙂 I did recently saw the movie and that creeped the hell out of me for some reason… more than the book did 🙂

    • Jackie B April 6, 2017 at 4:48 pm

      Thanks, Liis! I was a bit worried about how this review would be received, honestly. But it turned out all right in the end. 🙂 I will probably re-read it some day. I have this silly dream that when my kids are in school, I’ll read all their books with them at home and we can discuss the books together at dinner. #MommyDreams So, I imagine it will happen then. There is a lot to get out of this book!

      I didn’t realize there was a film! Oy– that must be nightmare inducing. Particularly with the rats…

  • theorangutanlibrarian April 6, 2017 at 7:38 am

    Ah I can see why the “show don’t tell” thing would bother you, but personally, that’s a very modern idea that this is such a bad thing in writing and I don’t hold by it (everyone does it at times anyway- it’s impossible to hold authors to account- it’s just like everything, fine in moderation- but I am getting wayyy too bogged down by this). I can understand what you mean about how he kind of hits you over the head with his ideas- it’s why I didn’t enjoy Animal Farm- I think it’s cos I read this when I was so much younger that I enjoyed it much more. And I was actually like you when I finished- I never wanted to reread it… Now though- I feel like I need a refresher!! Awesome review!

    • Jackie B April 6, 2017 at 9:20 am

      Thanks! I appreciate your comments– Yes, the “show don’t tell” thing is definitely more modern. I’ve been spoiled a bit by that, I know. It’s hard for me to step out of my time and my reading preferences for the classics due to that. 1984 is not the only book which has suffered for that in my reviewing. Honestly, if the book-within-a-book portion hadn’t existed, I probably would have enjoyed this book much more. I just couldn’t get hooked back in for the final third of the book after that lecture.

      If you do re-read this, I’d love to hear what you think differently of the book now reflecting as an adult vs. as a teenager (at least, I assume you read it when you were a teen). I wonder how your opinion might have changed!

  • Grab the Lapels April 7, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    My husband and I will read to each other before bed, and last summer her chose 1984. I remember thinking the book was VERY long, but, than again, it’s being read aloud. I was really engaged in the end when he was being tortured because I felt like I was breaking down along with the main character. I also looked the news about boot production: how many are made and sold despite no one buying boots, all in the name of making society feel productive and healthy. There’s a similar theme in Brave New World (“ending before mending”).

    • Jackie B April 7, 2017 at 5:19 pm

      That’s so fun that you guys read to each other! I tried that with my partner at one point, and well, he wasn’t a huge fan. We do listen to audiobooks together, though. 🙂
      I can imagine the ending would be really engaging being read aloud. I wonder what the audiobook would be like, then? It’s so scary… And I agree with the comparison to Brave New World. The little details, like that of the boots, were the creepiest and most engaging parts of the story in my opinion.
      Thanks for your feedback!

  • cw @ readthinkponder May 8, 2017 at 3:57 am

    Haha, I completely agree that Orwell ignores the show, don’t tell rule. I found the book very dense, but at the time, I was studying sociology and in my deepest pits of despair (HAH) so I found this book very apt at the time. I think the ending was what blew my mind, and why I came to love the book so much.
    In hindsight, I think I enjoyed Animal Farm much more. More so, I like to juxtapose 1984 with BNW, and though I appreciated the themes of BNW very much, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed 1984!

    • Jackie B May 8, 2017 at 2:59 pm

      This is the most insightful comment I’ve gotten a long time! Thanks for your thoughts, CW. This is great. And, I think it parallels really closely to the question I just asked you in my It Started with Goodbye post. It sounds like you read 1984 at just the right time in your life. I can totally see why people might adore this novel, for sure.

      I read Animal Farm without studying Russian history, so I imagine I might like it now that I know more.

      I love that you juxtapose 1984 with BNW. I like reading BNW better. I felt like I could relate to the setting and characters more. I also felt like it was an easier read. This goes back to the show, don’t tell concept! To each their own! 😀

  • Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity May 15, 2017 at 8:39 pm

    I read this for a high school assignment, and I think I was maybe 16? So I read this eight years ago, and I don’t really remember a lot of it. I remember liking it, and thinking that it was pretty amazing in a lot of ways. I think my favourite part was the bit in the meadow (which I think is in this book, if my memory is serving me, haha). I’d be interested to read it again now that I’m older and have read so many more books.

    I’d like to read Brave New World, as well. The two seem to go hand in hand when taking of classic dystopian fiction. Besides, I really liked the movie Equilibrium, which borrowed a lot of the same themes from the two books!

    • Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity May 15, 2017 at 8:39 pm

      I forgot to close my italics. Forgive me! Haha.

      • Jackie B May 16, 2017 at 9:54 am

        You nailed it! The meadow part is definitely this book. I really enjoyed that scene, as well. It helped me understand the ways in which you can rebel without openly rebelling… but it also gave me food for thought: If you are rebelling without being open about it, is that really a form of rebellion?

        I completely agree about comparing Brave New World with 1984 (no fret on the italics! I do that all the time…). It’s easy to draw parallels. Plus, with all the fuss about The Handmaid’s Tale lately, I’ve been comparing that too. It’s interesting to see how they are different, yet so similar.

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