Wednesday, June 13, 2007

1984 by George Orwell

You probably already know the premise of 1984, easily George Orwell’s most famous book. A friend told me that it was disappointing, so I hesitated in reading it, but am glad to report that I disagree with that friend, and am thus considering revoking their status as such.

In a nutshell: Oceania, formerly the British Isles and the Americas, is an absurdly controlled and oppressed country where even thinking the wrong thing is punishable by torture and death. Its citizens are constantly monitored down to the minutest detail, to the point that even an involuntary twitch of the eyelids, or momentary betrayal of a disapproving expression, can result in arrest, forced labor, and, again, torture and death. Winston Smith, the book’s protagonist, works for the paradoxically named Ministry of Truth, and his job is to constantly correct certain ‘misprints’ in government issued documents, so that the government always manages to exceed their production estimates, or predict the outcome of the next war, or so that a disappeared person has never existed in any recorded form.

Always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed -- no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.

I was most impressed by the palpable sense of real fear that the book generates. The whole plot seems to balance on the edge of a knife; Winston, a dissenter, can’t help but express his opposition to the government, but does so at extreme risk. 1984 is frighteningly believable, almost a thought experiment on human nature and power. It’s surprisingly and depressingly pessimistic about our capacity to resist oppression, always choosing self-preservation over liberty, or justice for one’s fellows. Occasionally, it was eerily reminiscent of the little that I know about the situation in North Korea. Obviously, the year 1984 has come and gone without the world dividing itself into three totalitarian countries, but that doesn’t make the book any less powerful. There will always be those people hungry enough for power that they’d kill not only their enemies but their countrymen by the thousands to get it. Unfortunately, I can’t say anything about how it ends without giving it away. It’s a powerful, poignant book, and I’d recommend reading it.

You can access the full text online, for free, here.


Nihil Novum said...

I love 1984. The ending depressed me for days.

Nathan said...

Seriously. Like, seriously. I didn't expect it to be so good.

Carlton said...

Ditto to what Brent said.

Alyson said...

Ditto to all. Good review.