Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Orwell, George. (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Penguin Books; London. 

There are many novels which you will want to read at least once in your lifetime, and this is one of them. Containing suspense similar to the distorted culture of Brave New World, mixed with the apocalyptic fear of The War of the Worlds, and as strangely other-worldly as The Martian Chronicles, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian novel where individualism, personality, and private thought are squelched. Many of the concepts in the novel (e.g. Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime) have entered into common parlance since its release (Wikipedia article).

You might have heard the term “Orwellian“, which originated with this novel and describes “official deception, secret surveillance, and manipulation of the past by a totalitarian or authoritarian state” (Wikipedia article). This manipulation of the past is highlighted through the protagonist’s job at the beginning of the novel; he must rewrite past newspaper articles to match the desires of the elite and mysterious Inner Party (Wikipedia article). The protagonist is Winston Smith, an average mid-30’s man with no particularly outstanding qualities. His desire to escape a life where he can’t feel attachment to other people, can’t use beautiful language to describe the world, and can’t consume delicious food products drives him to take drastic action – a love affair with fellow rebel, Julia.

Although there is a  film based on the novel, I would recommend reading it first to get the full sense of mental anguish which comes from never fully knowing ‘the truth’. Propaganda, rather than drugs (as in Brave New World), is the tool used to control the masses of this dystopian world. If you’re interested in political ideologies and their effect on the human psyche, this book has much to offer. It also suggests the importance of human bonding in situations of poverty, suffering, and oppression.

To better control the populace, for example, the Inner Party and Big Brother establish rules and social norms to suppress normal human functions. Winston reflects in Part 2 (Ch. 3) on the twisting of sexual bonds and family ties in service of the party’s political goals –

“There was a direct intimate connection between chastity and political orthodoxy. For how could the fear, the hatred, and the lunatic credulity which the Party needed in its members be kept at the right pitch, except by bottling down some powerful instinct and using it as a driving force? The sex impulse was dangerous to the Party, and the Party had turned it to account. They had played a similar trick with the instinct of parenthood. The family could not actually be abolished, and, indeed, people were encouraged to be fond of their children, in almost the old-fashioned way. The children, on the other hand, were systematically turned against their parents and taught to spy on them and report their deviations. The family had become in effect an extension of the Thought Police. It was a device by means of which everyone could be surrounded night and day by informers who knew him intimately” (Orwell, 1949).

The strain of always being under observation takes its toll on Winston very early in the plot. As the reader spirals with him into the mental world of certainty/uncertainty, only one thing becomes clear: this book is heavy with its own kind of doublespeak and thoughtcrime. Great read, and a must-read at least once in your lifetime!

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. robertlfs says:

    Good review of a real classic . . .

    . . . Oh, and as a Canadian, I think you might particularly enjoy this:

    http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2014/05/20/my-syllabus-with-trigger-warnings/

  2. marialegault says:

    Thanks for the hilarious link share, Robert! Definitely laughed my way through the article – trauma or no trauma over my Canadian heritage 🙂

    I couldn’t resist listening to Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” after reading this article, which I will probably now be humming all evening.

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