1984 by George Orwell
Published by New American Library on July 1st 1950
Genres: Classics, Dystopia, Fiction, Novels, Science Fiction
Length: 328 pages Source: ThriftBooks
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The year 1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell's prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1949 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. 1984 is still the great modern classic of "negative utopia" -a startlingly original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny the novel's hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions -a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.
I think this book is better approached by an adult than a high school freshman. The philosophical undertones are much more difficult to relate to as a hopeful 14-year-old than a cynical adult. I’m glad I revisited this one. George Orwell paints a believable picture of what sometimes feels like a quickly approaching future.
You have three characters that really matter: Winston, Julia, and O’Brien. None of them are likable – Winston is the perfect vision of a disgruntled middle-aged man; Julia is a sex-crazed, flighty young woman; and O’Brien is a shadowy figure who is utterly deluded. While I don’t expect to like all the characters, it certainly helps to find at least one likable.
The story takes place in London, 1984. The flats have been turned into tenements and Oceania (there are three countries now – Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia) is constantly at war with… someone. Written in 1949, this story certainly gives a chill about what the world could look like 40 years in the future. With the exception of fashion choices (overalls) the world is described well enough to feel real, while leaving much to the reader’s imagination.
The dystopia element of the tale is where the book shines. A successful dystopia chooses one aspect – in this case, freedom – and threatens it to show what a future would look like if something changed this aspect. There is usually a disaster involved (war) and there is usually governmental interference (Big Brother). Winston starts as a traditional “my life sucks” kinda guy, but it’s not the first half of the story that I find impressive. It’s the second half, with the breaking of Winston. I won’t go into too much detail for those who haven’t read it, but the torture techniques are interesting (in a horrifying way) and the lack of happy ending is important. Far too many dystopias have happy endings, and that sort of defies the point.
I don’t mind Orwell’s writing style, which surprised me considering the genre and age of the book. A lot of older science fiction I personally find monotonous, but the balance of detail and directness was perfect and it didn’t drag too terribly. I think the length is perfect – if anything, it could be a little shorter. It feels a bit rushed in places, by retrospectively, I think that pacing works in the situations presented.
I still don’t love this book. I can’t get past how little I like Winston. And Julia. O’Brien is… alright, but overall I feel I need to love at least one character to love the book. I did find the philosophy of the book intriguing, especially with the current state of our country and the fear that’s running rampant… but this book didn’t live up to my expectations. I wanted it to feel revolutionary, but it felt like a small glimpse into a bigger, darker story.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
Some of My Favorite Quotes
“All the confessions that are uttered here are true. We make them true. And, above all, we do not allow the dead to rise up against us.”
“I think I exist,” he said wearily. “I am conscious of my own identity. I was born, and I shall die. I have arms and legs. I occupy a particular point in space. No other solid object can occupy the same point simultaneously.”
“We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull.”