I’ve been putting off this review for about a month now. My thoughts upon finishing it were rather scattered and my emotions disturbed, so I needed some time to sort my thoughts and feelings regarding 1984.
1984 is downright disturbing. As I told my mom, I felt like I needed to take a shower after reading it and wash off all the ickiness of it.
That being said, 1984 would not have been the profound book it is without so grossly perturbing and frightening. Orwell wrote his dystopian novel as a warning, he wanted his readers to fear and work against the society he wrote of.
Winston Smith lives in Oceania where the people cannot, nor desire to, escape the watchful eye of Big Brother, the head of the State.
Thinking for oneself is illegal, (Thoughtcrime), and one must be reported if they are suspected to have committed such an act. They are taught from childhood to suppress thoughts that go against what the state has taught. This is called Doublethink, the act of instinctively thinking one way, but telling yourself that your instincts are incorrect.
Marriage is legal, but love is illegal. Sex is only a duty to the Party, not something that occurs between a married couple because they love one another.
The world exists in a constant state of war. (Is there a war? Or do they just want one to think there is?) The people are focused on defeating an enemy that may or may not be a creation of the government.
No one’s life is there own, but nobody knows that they no longer belong to themselves.
The synopsis back of the Houghton Mifflin hardcover reads, “In 1984, London is a grim city in the totalitarian state of Oceania where Big Brother is always watching you and the Thought Police can practically read your mind. Winston Smith is a man in grave danger for the simple reason that his memory still functions. Drawn into a forbidden love affair, Winston finds the courage to join a secret revolutionary organization called The Brotherhood, dedicated to the destruction of the Party. Together with his beloved Julia, he hazards his life in a deadly match against the powers that be.”
I could go many ways with this review.
I could talk about the love affair between Winston and Julia.
I could explain the plot.
I could bash the book over your head and tell you the world is ending.
But I don’t want to do any of those things. I think you would miss the point if I did that.
I want to talk about what was so dangerous in 1984. Beginning with the fact that Winston is not even sure if the year he lives in is 1984.
Why? Because history has been rewritten and altered so many times that it is impossible to know anything for certain about the near and distant past. There is even an organization devoted to this process, the Ministry of Truth.
“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
This deception is a result of the misconstrue of words. In Newspeak, the language of Oceania, the English language is distorted so words serve the purposes of the government. All words that express emotion and thought are eliminated so one cannot even express ideas and feelings contrary to those of Big Brother, who forever looms over the people of Oceania.
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
Through telescreens and microphones, Big Brother watches the people of Oceania. There is no escape from his watchful eye. (Minor spoilers ahead.) Even when Winston and Julia believe they have found a safe haven from Big Brothers eyes, they are being watched more than before.
Winston believes for most of the novel that his mind is his own. But it isn’t.
I think this is what is so deeply unsettling about 1984. The people have been brainwashed to such a degree that they don’t even know how to think beyond what they are told.
They are oppressed, but they don’t even know it.
This is where our society begins to mirror Orwell’s.
(Bear with me here, I promise I’m not trying to be the doomsday caller.)
Although most would argue that Orwell’s novel depicts the evils of a totalitarian government, I would argue that the Party of 1984 is not possible unless the people allow it to happen. Especially in a democracy.
To allow yourself to be brainwashed to a degree where you believe two plus two make five, is an act of will. One does not passively accept such an absurdity.
“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”
As my dad says, it doesn’t take a government to control people’s minds when your mind is controlled by that device you constantly have in your hand.
Yes, to some degree, indoctrination of ideas convolutes people’s ways of thinking. Especially when this indoctrination occurs from a young age, as it does in 1984.
I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but our society isn’t that far off from the one headed by Big Brother.
In the novel telescreens and microphones leave the people with no private moments. Nothing they do, say, or think is their own.
In our society, we carry around these devices with cameras, microphones, and media that has more of an affect on our ways of thinking than we allow ourselves to believe. Who’s to say that we aren’t being watched and listened to?
(Total bunny trail, but one time my sister and I watched Cinderella and the next day when she checked her email she had one from Pinterest recommending her a bunch of Cinderella pins. The scary thing is, she never searched Cinderella on her Pinterest before. This has happened more than once now.)
In the novel Doublethink, Newspeak, and the ideals of the Party are taught to children from the moment they enter school. They are almost incapable of thinking for themselves when they are taught to snuff every original thought. People are tortured for any twitch of the eye that appears against the Party.
Is that not what our society does? Anyone that doesn’t agree is branded wrong, evil, or hateful. A government ordained system of education dictates what is taught. As Winston argues, one is not a lunatic just because they are a minority.
“Being in a minority, even in a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”
“Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth had stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.”
I’m going to spoil the end. But I don’t think that ruins the book. It was spoiled for me and I gleaned far more from it than I thought I would.
What is so horrifying about 1984 is that it does not end with some grand rebellion against Big Brother. It ends after Winston is found out and tortured. It ends with these four words, “He loved Big Brother.”
You see, when we become complacent we give in because it’s easier to throw the towel in than to fight. Winston comes to love Big Brother because he’s tired of fighting against him. There was no where for him to run. No escape.
The Bible says in the end that there will be no where to go. When Jesus comes again the world will be a chaotic mess of evil. Even now, one cannot really escape the corrupt nature of the world.
I could keep going, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. Really I just encourage you to read the book yourself. Tell me your thoughts on it, I’d love to hear.
In reading 1984, my perception of the world was shaken. Honestly it scared me, it does scare me. It makes me want to run into the hills and chuck my iPhone over the face of a cliff and live like it’s 1800.
But that would be stupid.
What Orwell wished for his readers to do, the ones who were terrified and disturbed by his book (as he intended), was to fight against lies. To fight against those who convolute words and say “War is peace, Freedom is slavery, Ignorance is strength.”
Of course, the lies won’t be so blatant. The lies in 1984 are obvious to readers because most know better. They sound absurd.
But the lies of our society are subtle. And it’s the subtle that is most powerful and dangerous.
From the subtle comes the blatant control of the Party.
By the time that something like that comes into power, no one will even know it has.
That’s what the Bible warns of too, if we do not stay awake and alert in our faith, we’ll believe the lies that will come at the end too. And whoever sides with evil does not have their name written in the Book of Life.
Our hope, trust, and perception of truth are in the Lord. Not in the government. Not what society labels “truth.”
(Sorry for the depressing book review. I hope it was thought provoking more than anything.)
(Images from Pinterest.)