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Fiction

1984 by George Orwell

War is peace; Freedom is slavery; Ignorance is strength.

So chant the party’s slogan.

The year is 1984, Winston Smith lives in London which is part of the country called Oceania. The world is divided into three countries that encompass the entire globe: Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. The leader of Oceania, is the omnipresent Big Brother. Oceania was a totalitarian society, which censors everyone’s behaviour, even their thoughts. The structure of the society is organised in 3 tiers. There is the Inner Party,  Outer Party, and The Proles. 

In the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue), protagonist Winston Smith is a civil servant responsible for perpetuating the Party’s propaganda by revising historical records to render the Party omniscient and always correct, yet his meagre existence disillusions him into rebellion against Big Brother and secretly longs to join the fabled Brotherhood, a supposed group of underground rebels headed by O’Brien that aims to overturn the government. Winston kept a secret journal. He writes his thoughts against the party into this journal. He had committed a “Thought Crime” and knew sooner or later they are coming to get him. His thought had turned into words, and his words became actions. This is why thought crime is considered a sin in the eyes’ of the party members. 

Winston tries to get in-touch with the past buy purchasing antique items at Mr. Carrington’s run-down shops, which have become rare and, for the most part, illegal. There are remnants of Oldspeak in Winston’s writings although Winston is in charge in creating the structure and abbreviation of the NewSpeak Language. 

For example the Newspeak would say:

Times 3.12.83 reporting bb dayorder doubleplusun-

Good refs unpersons rewrite fullwise upsub antefiling

In the Oldspeak (Old standard English) it means:

The reporting of Big Brother’s order for the Day in the Times of December 3rd 1983 is extremely unsatisfactory and makes references to non-existent persons. Re-write it in full and submit your draft to higher authority before filing.

Winston meets Julia and they secretly fall in love and have an affair, something which is considered a crime as the ultimate goal for marriage in the eyes of the party is to breed. Winston who is against the orthodoxy of the political party, and Julia “who present n appearance of orthodoxy while having no grasp whatever of what orthodoxy means”. One day, while walking home, Winston encounters O’Brian, an inner party member, who gives Winston his address. Winston had exchanged glances with O’Brian before and had dreams about him giving him the impression that O’Brian was a member of the “Brotherhood” an organisation which plot to overthrow the Big Brother regime. Since Julia hated the party as much as Winston did, they decided to join the underground movement. 

Winston and Julia are sent to the Ministry of Love which is a rehabilitation centre for criminals accused of thought crime. There, Winston was separated from Julia, and tortured until his beliefs coincided with those of the Party. Winston denounces everything he believes him. Faced with his greatest fear, he denounces his love for Julia. The agreement between Winston and Julia about “All you care about is yourself” led me to the pit of disappointment in humanity. Perhaps self preservation is an inherent instinct and above all else that matters, even above love……

Winston was released back into the public, no longer the same person, he wastes his days at the Chestnut Tree drinking gin, void of human emotions, professing an undying love to the Big Brother. 

This book is a definitive, prophetic, tragic and terrifying account of one man’s futile attempt to break from The Party and lead a normal life. Orwell’s plausible dystopia is the cautionary North Star by which we seem to chart our course as a society – are we there yet? Are we there now? Are we getting warmer? It’s a parable of the most powerful sort because it’s at once so specific to the novel and yet so general you can see signs of it in our contemporary society. The fact that this book is written in 1949 (not 1984, when communism was at its height) made me all the more impressed with how prophetic Orwell has been. So many things about post-9/11 society could be termed “Orwellian” if we had mind to, all our emails and Internet exchanged are monitored by some unseen Big Brother, the threat of nuclear warfare between countries, the threat of “imaginary” enemies which the politicians purports to be a bigger threat than it suppose to be, so that the constant state of at war is really an attempt to keep the society intact, hence “war is peace” …… 

War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair. In the past the ruling groups of all countries did fight against each other, and the victor always plundered the vanquished. In our own day they are not fighting against one another at all. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word ‘war’ has become misleading. It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist. 

…..The similarities keep mounting. But this is just the newest set of astonishing parallels… I don’t think we have ever been entirely out from under the thumb of Big Brother since Orwell invented him. 

It is said as literary science fiction, 1984 is a classic novel of the social science fiction sub-genre, thus, since its publication in 1949, the terms and concepts of Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, et cetera, became contemporary vernacular, including the adjective Orwellian, denoting George Orwell’s writings and totalitarianism as exposited in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm (1945). For example, several terms are used that have been integrated into today’s world. The most well-known term is Double-Think. Double-Think is being aware of two ideas that contradict each-other, and believing in both of them.

Having shunned all things political for the better half of my life, I took for granted of these English words and expressions (i.e. Big Brother, totalitarian and thought crime) and perceive them as contemporary lingo of the 21st century. Now that I know it was introduced by Orwell 60 years ago just made me gawp at awe at the work of this amazing author. Truly brilliant. Political satire at its best.

What Orwell does well in the midst of writing a tough political novel as such, he injected warmth and tenderness in Winston’s yearning for life’s basic luxury, i.e. a journal, a crystal, a cup of freshly brewed coffee, a forgotten childhood song etc. The impending doom and forbidden love between Winston and Julia, stolen moments of nestling up against each other in their love nest, a moment of just being a normal human being, made me all the more sadden when they are arrested and tortured. (For guys out there, if you think picking up girl is tough, compare to Winston experience, you’ll be thankful that it is not as bad it seems!) 

My rating: 5/5

1984 will disturb and provoke your thought for a long time. The influence of this book is so omnipotent that it’s a must-read for any literate person. I love Animal Farm, but 1984 is something else. It’s Animal Farm 10 times over. Along with “The blinding absence of the light”, this is the most thought provoking book I have read for this year. 

More about 1984:

In the novel 1985 (1978), Anthony Burgess proposes that Orwell, disillusioned by the Cold War’s onset, intended to title the book 1948. The introduction to the Penguin Books Modern Classics edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four, reports that Orwell originally set 1980 as the story’s time, but the extended writing led to re-titling the novel, first, to 1982, then to 1984, an inversion of the 1948 composition year. Like most dystopias, Nineteen Eighty-Four has been, throughout its history, either banned or legally challenged as intellectually dangerous to the public. In 2005, Time magazine included it to its list of one hundred best English-language novels since 1923. 

This is the new cover of the 60th anniversary edition. For a study of the novel1984, click here.

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.

Discussion

6 thoughts on “1984 by George Orwell

  1. You wrote: “The fact that this book is written in 1949 (not 1984, when communism was at its height) made me all the more impressed with how prophetic Orwell has been.” Actually in 1949 the *fear* of Communism was much greater than in 1984, and in 1949 at least *some* people were able to see Stalin for what he was (whereas he was thankfully long dead by 1984). By 1984 Communism was actually “winding down” so that Gorbachev, the great reformer, was able to take over in 1985. But it is certainly true that Orwell was prophetic in his description of many aspects of what the USSR became. And in contemporary times, many political scientists contend that the sophistication of media manipulation combined with the short attention span of modern audiences generate a similar, but less obvious, deleterious outcome. Oh well, at least we can still get a cup of freshly brewed coffee! :–)

    By the way, when reading your review, the resonance with Invasion of the Body Snatchers suddenly hit me on the head. I wonder if that too was meant as sociopolitical commentary. Do you remember the ending? It reminds me exactly of Winston’s fate!

    Great review! And thanks for teaching me the mouse trick of getting the title from a book cover! :–)

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | December 15, 2009, 1:01 am
    • I swear when I wrote that statement last night there was a nagging feeling that I might get it wrong. It certainly feel, for me, like there was a lot more buzz about the Cold War and Communism then, than say in the 50’s. But it is true it was winding down with Gorbachev…. Reading this book, Big Brother extends beyond the world of communism and is very much alive and kicking. Very recently, Facebook is closed down in China, Bloggers are arrested in other parts of the world, and I had experienced of my email being intercepted and even now I’m careful of what I say and what I type over my phone message, my credit ratings are available for those who wants to check…. it’s just crazy! But yeah, I thank God that I still get a cup of freshly brewed coffee every morning. 🙂

      I haven’t read “The invasion of the Body Snatchers” but it does sounds interesting!

      No sweat. One caveat, the mouse trick only works if the filename is the same as the book title! :o)

      Posted by jovenus | December 15, 2009, 8:12 am
  2. This is on my endless to read list and I am looking forward to it.

    Posted by jessicabookworm | December 15, 2009, 3:53 pm
  3. I know I’m late to the game here, but if you’re still reading comments – any idea where I can find a copy of 1984 with that cover? I’ve looked all over and no luck.

    Posted by Mason | May 20, 2011, 12:25 pm

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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