February 7, 2009

1984 by George Orwell: Review

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1984, Orwellian, Thought Police, unperson. Are you familiar with these words? George Orwell started a new vocabulary with his stark, dystopian masterpiece 1984. Having heard these terms my whole life, I wanted to know what the big deal was about 1984. It's not a big book but it packs a wallop.

In 1984, the nation of Oceania is constantly at war with other world powers. The Party, headed by Big Brother, keeps watch over it's citizens for their own protection. Winston Smith works for The Party, shredding old newspaper articles and occasionally rewriting them the suit the political whims of The Party. The workdays are interrupted by the Two Minutes of Hate, when all the workers rant at a video of Goldstein, enemy of Big Brother. All the while, they are being scrutinized through telescreens for any sign of dissent. Even at home Winston has no reprieve from the constant surveillance. He takes a chance after buying a journal and starts writing his true thoughts on Big Brother. It's both exhilarating and terrifying.

Winston believes he is the only person who feels this way until he meets Julia. Where Winston uses his writing as a protest against tyranny, Julia uses her body. Sex for pleasure is forbidden in Oceania. Having found a safe place for rendezvous, Julia tells Winston that Big Brother may watch them every moment but they can't get at their thoughts: "They can't get inside you." Or so it seems.

I read 1984 for both the For the Love of Reading Challenge and Dewey's Reading Challenge. Since Dewey had read this, I checked out her review where she interviewed her husband. He had some very interesting thoughts.

I had always that 1984 was about Communism but it's not. It's about totalitarianism which could happen in any government that has too much power. What's disturbing about 1984 isn't so much the lack of privacy but the government's desire to know the thoughts of it's citizens and then control them. At least, if you are being watched your thoughts are safely tucked away in your head. Big Brother has ways of getting them out.

1984 is brutal and violent, but the people seem to enjoy that brutality. In the first pages, a group of moviegoers cheer after seeing a film of a boatload of children being bombed to pieces. Violence is part of their daily lives. When I started reading the book, I imagined a world of yellowish-brown, dirty and bleak. Orwell describes an ugly world, even the people are described as small and beetle-like. Occasionally, there are moments of beauty: a bird on a branch, a field of bluebells, and a woman singing as she hangs laundry. Those moments stand out about against the ugliness.

Dewey admitted to skipping the section called the book, which is an explanation of history of the party and it's tenets. It is dry reading but is very important to the story. Winston starts to understand but "He understood how; he did not understand why." When at the end, he finds out why, my reaction was, "um...huh...that's just nuts!" I wasn't alone in that thought: "I know that you will fail" says Winston. Unfortunately, Winston, the individual, fails and it's seems that mankind is doomed, but Orwell, that tricky little devil, has one last trick up his sleeve. There is an Appendix on Newspeak, the language of The Party, it's an academic paper and it's written in past tense and seems to indicate that The Party has fallen out of power before 2050. It's been the subject of much argument. Has mankind been saved? Being an optimist, I believe that Winston's prediction that, "If there is hope, it lies in the proles" (the ordinary people) is right.

1984 both repulsed and fascinated me. When I finished, I felt like I needed to scrub my brain, but I couldn't stop thinking of it. I'm glad I read it. Orwell died a year after 1984 was published. I wonder if he had any idea of what an impact his book has had on the world.

Highly recommended.



Other Reviews:
Maree @ Just Add Books

16 comments :

  1. This is definately one I should re-read. I hardly remember anything from it.

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  2. This is one of my favorite books, Chris. It is just so fascinating like you said. And the reason it is so terrifying is because of how much reality there is in this "fantasy world". It is just such a brilliant book. I am glad you got the chance to read it!

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  3. I read this as an assignment in school. It sounds like it would be worth a re-read as an adult.

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  4. I read this MANY years ago. Just reread Animal Farm. Must give this a reread too. Awesome review.

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  5. I've heard a lot about this book but I never read it.

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  6. I've heard a lot about this book but I never read it.

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  7. Thanks, Chris, for reminding of this fascinating and fabulous book. It's been years since I've read it, but reading your review makes me want to pick it up again and look at it with fresh eyes. It is one of those books that sticks with you for a long time.

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  8. Animal Farm is more about Communism. Did you read than one? I preferred it to this one, but it might be a case of whichever I read first. I also hear that about Huxley's Brave New World. People who prefer it to 1984 seem to be the same ones that read it first.

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  9. I read 1984 as well as Animal Farm, but I guess I should re-read them both because I read those as highschool reads. So way too long ago. And I see I'm not the only one ;-). I still have fond memories though! Thanks for sharing your review, makes me wanna pick the books up again!

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  10. So many of you want to reread this! Definitely pick it up.

    John- I remember Animal Farm even though I'm sure it was in 6th or 7th grade. I remember so much from it. Orwell knew how to write something that sticks with you.

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  11. I read this last year, and thought that it was a very good book. I did think that it was a heavy read though, and was saddened by the ending.

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  12. I read this while going through a political science class (it wasn't part of the class, just what I happened to pick up at the time). Made for an interesting read!

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  13. I have not yet read this book. I really must.

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  14. This was one of my favorite books, but I haven't read it since high school! I would love to go back and read it as an adult.

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  15. Great review, Chris! I read this one a couple of years ago (having never read it in school) and had many of the same reactions that you did. The thing about rewriting history really stuck with me -- I took several Russian history classes in college, and one of the things that was mentioned time and again was how the Soviets continually rewrote history to serve their purposes. Of course, I'm sure you could find that in many governments, including supposed democracies.

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  16. I commented back in February saying I needed to reread it. I just read it and I really don't think I'd ever read it before! I would have remembered!

    It repulsed me too. I was pretty annoyed that it wasn't a happy ending. I totally missed the past tense on the index because I was listening to the audio and it didn't stand out to me. I really hope it didn't work. Surely the Proles could have figured things out? There were so many of them, they couldn't all be completely stupid, right?

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