1984 is not my favorite book, but it’s still pretty good. I had to read it in high school, alongside Brave New World (which I liked better), and now my monthly book club at the library is reading 1984, so I’ve read it all over again. I think I appreciated it better this time. I won’t give away any spoilers about it, because while most people out there have read this at one point or another in their lives, I know certain members of the book club who follow this blog have not read it, and I don’t want to ruin anything for them.
Anyway, this is a dystopian novel about where Orwell thought society would go, where it would be by 1984, if certain trends didn’t change. Society in 1984 is rigidly controlled. Sex is outlawed except for the purposes of having children, and then not allowed to be enjoyed. Relationships and friendships are outlawed, though this law, like many, is unspoken. History is rewritten as often as needed to make sure that the Party is always right. Society is constantly at war. People are encouraged to focus their hate on the elusive enemy. Everybody is watched at all times. Party members must swallow whatever the Party says, without realizing that what they are swallowing might be an overt contradiction to what was previously said (If the Party says it’s at war with Eastasia, then it is, and always has been, even if five minutes before, the Party was at war – and always had been – with Eurasia). It’s like a brainwashing exercise in purposeful stupidity.
Winston Smith, the main character, is a member of the Outer Party (sort of like the middle class) and is dissatisfied with life, though he knows such dissatisfaction is a crime. He seeks to rebel, first privately, then alongside an Outer Party woman named Julia, and then with a man in the Inner Party named O’Brian. He is, of course, caught, which isn’t a spoiler because it’s obvious from page 1 that no rebellion is possible in this society, that no crime will go unpunished. Even a facial twitch (an indication of thoughtcrime) can induce them to arrest you. Big Brother, the symbol of the Party, is everywhere, the Thought Police are always watching, there are telescreens (like two-way audio and visual televisions) on every surface, children are raised to spy on their parents. There is no escape. Winston himself knows this, and often refers to himself as the Dead.
The book is unnerving in places and, for the most part, well written. My only real qualm with it is one I’ve had periodically with other Orwell novels. I don’t like the end, the last two chapters. I think he leads up to them very well, and he had something very important to say, but when we as readers get to the elusive Room 101, the things that happen in there are supposed to be earth shattering, and for me, they just seemed badly executed (text-wise). Winston’s supposed to change, but I don’t feel that happen. And because that chapter is so anticlimactic, the last chapter, which is based on that one, is less realistic, too. Since the whole book feels unnervingly realistic, to the point where it’s easy to recognize portions of their society in our own, having an unconvincing end like that really makes me feel like the book fell apart. The last chapter is supposed to be terrifying when we see Winston after his transformation, but to me it was just unbelievable. I’ve felt that about other Orwell novels, in particular, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, which also was well written and then had a botched important end. But other than that, I think this is a good read, and it certainly makes you think. I do recommend it.
Note: Review date is only an approximate of when this book was read/reviewed in 2008.
Note: Originally read in fall 1996.