Thursday, May 09, 2013

Review: 1984 by George Orwell

1984 is one of those books I thought I'd read in school, but hadn't actually read. I did see the movie with John Hurt as Winston Smith and most of the language of 1984 has passed into common use, like Big Brother, thought police, thought crimes, etc. George Orwell's take on the future is powerful and clairvoyant -- and we are living a version of his constricted, hate-filled world today.

Winston Smith, Orwell's protagonist, begins the book by hiding out of sight of the telescreen and writing in a diary with pen and ink purchased at different shops so as to be more difficult to track. He is writing his thoughts about Oceania and Big Brother and the world he lives in, the gray, unemotional, fear-filled world that surrounds him but does not include him. He is writing for O'Brien, a man in the inner circle of the Party, someone Winston believes is also rebelling against the status quo. As Winston continues his small rebellions, Orwell illustrates how Winston is less free than he thinks he is. Winston is merely an inconsequential cog in the wheel of The Party.

Orwell paints a world where Oceania is always at war and thus always asking more of its citizens by giving them less and expecting them to accept less with equanimity because it's for Oceania, the Party, and for Big Brother. Outwardly, everyone lives the same way with oily gin, gray coveralls, and cramped quarters always in vies of the telescreens where even in the parks and countryside there are microphones to capture even the whispered confidences between lovers and co-conspirators. Children turn their parents in for what they say in their sleep that proves there is rebellion in their minds. Life is a gray, empty round of hate and fear and hopelessness, even among the proles who are not subject to the dictates of the Party because they are not allowed to be party members. The proles are serfs, slaves and belong to Big Brother as surely as do the party members.

Orwell creates Winston Smith's world with simple, straightforward language, evoking a cold world full of people looking over their shoulders and clutching their small rebellions in secret. Paranoia and disgust oozes from the pages and stays with the reader long after the book is closed. Even the passages of the Book that explains the workings of The party and how Oceania, though a bit pedantic, ring with truth.

While our world, this modern world, seems less gray and freer, Orwell got it right. His newspeak is our politically correct and his Big Brother is our out of control Congress and President. We don't have thought police per se, but we have a media controlled by the government that spouts the party line and an entire country of people watching and listening to pounce on the slightest misspoken word they gladly throw back in our faces for public condemnation of the miscreant. Although what we see isn't exactly like Orwell's vision, it's close enough to be frightening, knowing that wars are made and lines redrawn to give us somewhere to focus our hate when the real damage is done by the government that is supposed to support and protect us.

George Orwell's 1984 is here and reading about it is frighteningly real.

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