1984, by George Orwell, is consistently referenced by political commentators on both sides of the aisle. Whenever freedoms are perceived to be at risk, when authorities blur the line between liberalism and totalitarianism, or when speech is threatened by censorship, comparisons to this dystopian novel are all too common. Unfortunately, the relationship between our society and the events in this book were lost on me. I hadn’t read it because it was not part of my Christian high school’s curriculum (assigning a book about free-thinking and the dangers of indoctrination would’ve gotten someone fired).
But after hearing about 1984 on every news channel for the last ten years, I finally decided to pick it up. I’m glad I did, but I’ve gotta say: this book was a page-turning delight to read, but the overall tone was a total bummer!
I’d recommend this classic to anyone looking for a well-paced thriller with dark tones and memorable characters.
Short Life Long Road’s Rating: 5/5
Synopsis (No Spoilers)
Winston Smith is one of many who work for the Records Department at the Ministry of Truth. His job is to rewrite historical texts that are inconsistent with the Inner Party’s current narratives. Any document with the potential to expose hypocrisies, contradictions, or weaknesses within The Party gets incinerated and replaced with the corrected version. The public is none-the-wiser, and the truth is known only by the select few in power.
Every aspect of Winston’s life is controlled by the ruling class (Inner Party or Big Brother) of Oceania. They determine when he wakes up in the morning, what he eats and drinks (lots of gin), what media he consumes, who he marries, and when he has marital relations. They have audio and video surveillance equipment across the nation and monitor everything he does in his home through his T.V.’s. Big Brother also has spies everywhere, including child snitches, waiting to report citizens for even the slightest transgressions, such as using an incorrect word or committing thought crime. Yes, being accused of thinking thoughts outside of what The Party approves can lead to torture and death—citizens of Oceania are expected to be appreciative and never question what The Party does. Ever.
Through generations of mass indoctrination, The Party is attempting to eradicate thought, emotion, and natural instincts from human consciousness. Their intent is to create an obedient and docile population which will make it easier to keep power and maintain order among the masses. One of the more complex tactics they use involves keeping Oceania in a state of perpetual war which is the foundation of their economy. Without war, the system will collapse. They also use propaganda depicting The Party as an omnipotent provider and protector while using fear to convince people that outsiders are sinister, villainous, less-than-human creatures.
Winston is fed up with Big Brother’s lies and having his thoughts policed. Eventually, he rebels by secretly buying an old journal to write his illegal thoughts in. His desire to defy The Party’s regime intensifies when he meets a young woman and experiences passion and emotional love for the first time. Enticed by the prospect of loving each other freely, the couple eventually plot to join the resistance and vow to do whatever it takes to overthrow their oppressors.
What Resonated With Me
There’s a lot to unravel in this book. Every sentence was written with purpose, and one could spend an entire year deconstructing each lines’ underlying meaning. The text is also rife with politics, but I’m going to try and focus on other aspects I found intriguing (there will still be some political commentary below).
At the beginning of the book, Oceania was at war with Eurasia and had always been. Halfway through what The Party calls Hate Week, they switch gears and proclaim they are at war with Eastasia, which they’ve always been. Winston and his co-workers had to work tirelessly to correct the publications’ claiming to be at war with Eurasia. The people of Oceania believe this revelation to be true, actively participating in doublethink—willful acceptance of contrary beliefs at the same time (war is peace, freedom is slavery). We’ve seen these corrections and contradictions occur in our own media (example HERE), and have seen people conveniently forget the hypocrisies of their own social/political stances.
In an attempt to restrict speech, The Party actively reduces the amount of appropriate words and phrases the population can use. They constantly revise their dictionary to include dumbed-down words, attempting to remove the possibility of using ambiguous, offensive, or contextual language. This is called Newspeak, and it is designed to ‘diminish the range of thought.’ Using unapproved words, even by accidental ignorance, results in severe punishment.
1984 also describes a youth group in Oceania called the Junior Anti-Sex League. Their goal is to take pleasure and enjoyment out of sex so it becomes routine; procreational only (sounds a lot like the abstinence nonsense taught to me in my private school years). Desire was to be eradicated, and sex was conducted out of responsibility to The Party. As mentioned before, mates were chosen for them and fraternizing or communicating with the opposite gender was not allowed. The Inner Party claimed these rules were for the population’s own protection.
There are undeniable similarities between our society and George Orwell’s 1984. However, instead of comparing them to how conditions are now, we should use his book as a warning of what might come when authoritative power becomes corrupted. We must continue to maintain a balance of power, understanding that in a free society government is both liberator and oppressor, never stepping too far to one side.
1984 is one of the best, most horrifying dystopian novels I’ve ever read. It’s lessons will stick with me for the rest of my life, and I recommend everyone read it at some point. I know I will be reading again in the near future.
Before You Go!
Have you read 1984? What did you think? Be sure to leave your thoughts below!!! Also, if you like what you’ve read above, you may enjoy my book as well! More details below!
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