Book Reviews

1984 – George Orwell

One of Britain’s most popular novels, George Orwell’s dystopian tale Nineteen Eighty-Four is set in a society terrorized by a totalitarian ideology propagated by The Party.
1984

Eric Arthur Blair was an important English writer that you probably already know by the pseudonym of George Orwell. He wrote quite a few books, but many believe that his more influential ones were “Animal farm” (1944) and “1984” (1948).In those two books he conveyed, metaphorically and not always in an obvious manner, what Soviet Russia meant to him.

1984 was written near his death, when he was suffering from tuberculosis, what might have had a lot to do with the gloominess that is one of the essential characteristics of “1984”. The story is set in London, in a nightmarish 1984 that for Orwell might well have been a possibility, writing as he was many years before that date. Or maybe, he was just trying to warn his contemporaries of the dangers of not opposing the Soviet threat, a threat that involved a new way of life that was in conflict with all that the English held dear.

Orwell tried to depict a totalitarian state, where the truth didn’t exist as such, but was merely what the “Big Brother” said it was. Freedom was only total obedience to the Party, and love an alien concept, unless it was love for the Party. The story is told from the point of view of Winston Smith, a functionary of the Ministry of Truth whose work involved the “correction” of all records each time the “Big Brother” decided that the truth had changed. The Party slogan said that “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past”, and they applied it constantly by “bringing up to date” the past so as to make it coincide with whatever the Party wanted.

“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”

From Winston Smith’s point of view, many things that scare us are normal. For example, the omnipresence of the “Big Brother”, always watching you, and the “Thought Police” that punishes treacherous thoughts against the Party. The reader feels the inevitability of doom that pervades the book many times, in phrases like “Thought crime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you”.

Little by little, Winston begins to realize that things are not right, and that they should change. We accompany him in his attempt at subversion, and are unwilling witnesses of what that attempt brings about. This book is marked by hopelessness, but at the same time it is the kind of distressing book we all NEED to read…

Why do we need to read “1984”?. In my opinion, basically for two reasons. To start with, Orwell made in this book many observations that are no more merely fiction, but already things that manage to reduce our freedom. Secondly, and closely linked to my first reason, this is a book that only gets better with the passing of time, as you can read in it more and more implications. One of Orwell’s main reasons for writing this “negative utopia” might have been to warn his readers against communism, but many years after his death and the fall of communism, we can also interpret it as a caution against the excessive power of mass media, or the immoderate power of any government (even those who don’t defend communism).

Technological innovation should be at the service of men, and allow them to live better lives, but it can be used against them. I guess that is one of Orwell’s lessons, probably the most important one. All in all, I think you can benefit from reading this book. Because of that, I highly recommend it to you.

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