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?