Novel: Nineteen Eighty-Four

Author: George Orwell, 1949
Genre: Dystopia, Political Fiction, Social Science
Format: Ebook, 223 pages

Something tells me Orwell was not a very optimistic man. But then again, at the time when 1984 was written the world was a crazy, unstable place. After finally emerging out of World War II it faced a major aftermath of uncertainty, loss, and nuclear fears. Most Orwell’s writings dealt with rather somber topics, but this one took it to the ultimate level of darkness. 1984 depicts the world being divided into three countries – Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia, – who are constantly shifting their political alliances between each other, but are generally ruled under the same totalitarian system. Winston, who is the protagonist here, lives in a part of Oceania that was once called England, and he, like many others, works for the Party. His duties include rewriting newspapers to match the Party’s ideology and destroying the evidence that might contradict those changes. He seems to be just another ant in a giant colony that is the government, but he is painfully aware of the rebellion against the system that grows within him every day.

Winston is doomed to die. He knows it when he writes his thoughts down in a journal, when he sneaks out to buy a prostitute, when he visits an antiquary shop. He is aware that his actions might alarm the Thought Police and cause his immediate arrest, but he continues to do it anyway. Everyone he had known disappeared at one point or another, so perhaps he had come to grips with the fact that it is bound to happen to him as well.  It scares me in a way, how desperate a person’s life can be under the circumstances. It is if his brain keeps reminding him of all the cameras and spies around him, but his body is just earning to enjoy the forbidden before the trap closes. He also seems to despise other people if they display commitment to the Party. Actually, Winston is not seen talking to them much all together. Because of this I have a hard time completely relying on his narration. Why is he the only one who seems to see the truth, while everyone around him is blind? If so, why is he so sure that O’Brian might be his co-conspirator, when all they shared was a glance. It lasted just a moment, but Winston is convinced that they have started a revolution. Maybe he feels so alone in his quest, he is desperately willing to follow the first person who shows any signs of reason. If so, how is he any different from the people he despises?

Then there is Julia – a strange creature balancing herself between the dogma and reality. She is pictured in the book as rebellious, just like Winston, but she is very different in her rebellion from him. Let me explain why. Unlike Winston, Julia doesn’t care for the truth; all she cares about is defying the Party. When Winston tells her that airplanes have existed before the times the Party claimed to invent them, she seems rather indifferent to the fact. “After all, what did it matter who had invented airplanes?” (p.110) Moreover, she chooses not to remember that Oceania used to be at war with a different nation just a few years ago. She might declare that any war is just a political sham, but she still falls into the ideological doctrine proposed by the Party by switching the enemies unquestionably. Is she really any different from the rest of the Oceania? Julia is a rebel for her own sake; she does not care whether her actions would bring freedom or equality to others, as long as her own needs are met. The revolutionary romantic and the egoistic rebel  – the two of them would have never succeeded in the resistance. In fact when Winston reads the description of revolution the secret book, it sounds rather prophetic:

For long periods the High seem to be securely in power, but sooner or later there always comes a moment when they lose either their belief in themselves or their capacity to govern efficiently, or both. They are then overthrown by the Middle, who enlist the Low on their side by pretending to them that they are fighting for liberty and justice. As soon as they have have reached their objective, the Middle thrust the Low back into their old position of servitude, and themselves become the High. Presently a new Middle group splits off from one of the other groups, or from both of them, and the struggle begins over again.” (p.144)

In other words – Revolution does not work because people tend to commit it out of selfish reasons. I love this quote. I actually have re-read it multiple times since finishing the book. It sums up my personal beliefs perfectly, as if Orwell snatched them from my head and put them on paper (I would have to be born almost 70 years ago for that to happen, but still). The book addresses many issues that I strongly feel about, which made the process of reading exceptionally enjoyable. Also, I have to say that I picked up the novel having a very general assumption that it was mainly an anti-Communist work. However, nothing is farther from truth. 1984 is more anti-Totalitarian than anything else. Many details are lifted off the period of Stalin’s rule in USSR, but Stalin took Communism and perverted it into a cult of persona, rather than everyone-is-equal-and-is-ought-to-share kinda thing. See the difference? Now I do too. To conclude the post, here are a few more wonderful quotes providing some food for thought:

  • The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible (p.25)
  • To know and not know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. (p.25)
  • It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of the words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. […] Take “good”, for instance. If you have a word like “good”, what need is there for a word like “bad”? “Ungood” will do just as well – better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. (p.37)
  • In the crucial years, the fact that the Party was not a hereditary body did a great deal to neutralize opposition. The older kind of Socialist, who had been trained to fight against something called “class privilege” assumed that what is not hereditary cannot be permanent. He did not see that the continuity of an oligarchy need not be physical, nor did he pause to reflect that hereditary aristocracies have always been shortlived, whereas adoptive organizations such as Catholic Church have sometimes lasted for hundreds or thousands of years. The essence of oligarchical rule is not father-to-son inheritance, but the persistence of a certain world-view and a certain way of life, imposed by the dead upon the living. A ruling group is a ruling group so long as it can nominate its successors. The Party is not concerned with perpetuating its blood but with perpetuating itself. (p.150)

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