Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Published in 1949.
Synopsis: In a quasi-oligarchic world, Winston Smith’s job is to re-write history to suit the ever-changing needs of an all-powerful Party. Where evil thoughts and adultery are considered to be the ultimate crimes, Winston both inwardly rebels against the totalitarian government and finds love. In this allegorical Cold War-era tale, Orwell paints a picture of a society where every thought and action is carefully scrutinized and the only things that matter are power and loyalty.
About the Author: George Orwell (born Eric Blair) was born to an English family in India in 1903. After being educated in England, he served with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma and also lived in Paris for a while. In his mid-30s, he developed tuberculosis, was admitted to a sanatorium and never fully recovered. He wrote 6 novels and 6 nonfiction books before his death in 1950; Nineteen Eighty-Four was his last.
My Initial Reactions to the Book
When I initially set out to read this book, people told me, “you’ll be surprised how closely Orwell’s predictions resonate with today’s world.” After reading that Jared Loughner had been a fan of the book, I feared what lied within its pages. However, after reading the book, I think that Fahrenheit 451 – a novel from roughly the same time period – had more similarities to our present society than this one. But there is so much possibility for discussion contained within this book, that I can’t possibly put it all down in this blog. I’ll begin with just a few things.
I bought this book during a layover at Heathrow Airport in London, and so picked up a copy of the original, English version. My version started with an introduction written by an English professor from Leicester. Since I started with the introduction, and didn’t delve right into the novel, I’ll admit that my views on the book may have already been tainted.
I think it’s important to look at the time period in which this book was written. It was post-World War II Britain and the world was fully entrenched in Cold War-mania. The introduction to my version of the book indicated that this novel was originally used as anti-Communist propaganda, but that this was not likely Orwell’s intention. Politically, Orwell was at the far left and believed that if the British Labour Party (who supposedly stood for workers’ rights) were to take over, it wouldn’t make any difference. The only thing that mattered to political parties was power. I guess one could argue the similarities between politics, power and our current world, although it isn’t near as severe as in Orwell’s Oceania. I’m reminded of the 1979 Iranian revolution, when many young Iranians craved socialism, but instead they got the totalitarian Ayatollah.
The other day my husband and I watched the National Geographic documentary Inside North Korea. Here, I thought, is the society that most closely resembles the one created in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Kim Jong Il is like Big Brother, and every member of society must pledge their unquestionable allegiance to him in their every action. The “medical” crew who filmed the documentary was watched at all times by “minders,” similar to Orwell’s Thought Police or the telescreens. Also, if one member of society should try to defect or disagree, they may be placed in concentration camps, perhaps similar to the ones in Part 3 of this novel. It made me thankful to live in a society where I can enjoy basic freedoms. I highly recommend this documentary; we rented it from Netflix.
There was one subtle thing I did notice in Nineteen Eighty-Four that I thought bore a striking resemblance to the United States: all products bore the brand ‘Victory.’ Earlier this week, I was saddened to learn that the Huffington Post had been bought out by the AOL/Time/Warner mega-media conglomerate, as if our news can now only be controlled by a single source. Also, while watching the Super Bowl, I saw commercial after commercial of Doritos, Pepsi and Budweiser and thought to myself, “aren’t all of these brands actually owned by just a few corporations.” I fear our greatest enemy is not the pursuit of power by those in our government, but the pursuit of absolute power by the corporations who control most of the wealth.
Okay, enough of my political ramblings – what did you think of the book Nineteen Eighty-Four (and also feel free to comment on my political rants if you wish)? Have you read the book recently or a while back? Did you think it was more reflective of the time it was written or of today? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Next up for discussion will be The Same Earth by Kei Miller. Discussion begins February 24th.