1984 by George Orwell
Published by Signet Classic, 1949
Genre: classics, dystopia
Source: Library audiobook
Summary in a Sentence (or two):
Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell's nightmare vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff's attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell's prescience of modern life--the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language--and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell.
I find it very intimidating to review a well-known classic. I think since there is so much information on both the book and the author that I will just touch on a few of the concepts pervasive in the novel and, considering this is one of the daddies of dystopia, how the novel's presence has impacted literature as a whole.
War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.
Big Brother is the ever-present leader of the party, staring at the citizens of Oceania wherever they go with the aide of telescreens. Winston, an employee of the Ministry, isn't really sure if Big Brother actually exists or if he's really even an actual entity. The point Orwell is making here is that the party is always watching and has complete control over its citizens' bodies and minds. As party members go higher up in the ranks, vagueness ensues until one realizes that no one really knows who is ruling the country.
First draft of Orwell's 1984.
One of the most disturbing examples of the Party's mind control, and there are many, is illustrated in the description of Winston's job. His role within the party as propaganda officer is to alter official government publications in order for them to fit with the Party's official version of how events really went down. The Thought Police are constantly vigilant, searching out dissenters of the Party. They monitor citizens to the point where having a dissenting thought against the party is against the law and punishable.
Inevitably, Winston becomes one of these disillusioned dissenters,and he is arrested and tortured for it. During his interrogation, his captors explain to him that he will be re-integrated, or brainwashed, back into the Party.
The influence of Orwell's 1984 is indeed extensive; how many times have you heard someone describe something as "Orwellian"? Anthony Burgess wrote 1985, which was intended to be a sequel to Orwell's original work. In more recent work, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother directly references 1984's Big Brother, and Doctorow's main character, Marcus Yellow, is a direct reference to Winston Smith.
I recognize this book's extreme importance in the field of dystopian literature, and I found parts of it to be truly terrifying. However, parts of the novel, especially the segment in which Winston reads aloud entire chapters of the underground opposition party's manual, moved very slowly and were very dry. I'm glad I've read it but will probably not revisit it.
- The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
- The Children of Men by P.D. James
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick
Four Month Challenge.