Book: Nineteen Eighty-Four
Author: George Orwell
Bookhad Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
“War is peace”
“Freedom is slavery”
“Ignorance is strength”
I want to first get the regret out of my system.
I co-run a book review blog for the past few years and Nineteen Eighty-Four hasn’t been reviewed yet. I almost fell out of my chair when I realized it the other day. I made the phone call immediately to confirm and was left aghast.
How this was possible, I still don’t understand. I mean it’s Orwell we’re speaking about. To make matters even more astounding we’ve reviewed his semi-autobiographical Down & Out in Paris & London years ago, while Nineteen Eighty-Four hasn’t seen the light yet.
Anyway, here we are with it.
Anyone remotely interested in reading good popular culture books would’ve heard about this magnificent dystopian novel set in the year 1984. It’s the near future when it was written in 1949. It is said that Orwell wasn’t sure what to name it so he just interchanged the last two numerals from his year of publication. This is the most rampant theory floating around on the internet. There are more. You can read this one, here and here. One thing is for certain; he wanted it to be a reflection of how he saw society disintegrating and becoming a caricature of what the world was if the powerful decided to internalise warfare and ruled with intentions of spreading lies, half-truths and made up history.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is about Big Brother and the exploits of a nation (Oceania) which has always been in a state of war with Eurasia or Eastasia, but never at the same time.
Yes, chew upon that for a while.
The Big Brother is the all-seeing-eye (actually camera and radios and an intrinsic network of spies) that rules with an iron fist. The best part is that he might not even exist apart from placards and posters from where he “sees”. The propagation of the Party’s agenda and adherence to its policies is of such importance that children are made subversive to an extent that they report their own parents to party officials for mere thoughts that go against policy.
After all, the Thought Police has a wide net and people who don’t report Double Think can end up becoming unpersons.
Unpersons. That’s where our Winston Smith comes in. He works in the Records departments of the Ministry of Truth. He is one of the many who are responsible for changing the past. They remove references of the person from all sort of historical records so on perusal of history, that person never existed.
Winston is mesmerised with his job’s outcome. He is aware of the ever-changing history of Oceania and what the Party seniors do to change the very concept of the past. Oceania is at war with Eastasia, and they’ve always been at war with Eastasia according to every possible scrap of information available in libraries and magazines. Winston remembers clearly that a few months ago, they were at war with Eurasia and that they had always been at war with them. Eastasia was their ally.
But Winston had no way of knowing for sure. He wasn’t sure whether that was fact or just a bumbling mistake that he was making.
Like all dystopian novels, even Nineteen Eighty-Four has a force that has championed the cause of the masses; The Brotherhood. It’s lead by the secretive Emmanuel Goldstein. A senior party worker identifies the deepset issues and problems of Smith and hands him the revered book that promises to free the masses from the rule of Big Brother.
Winston surprised to find a rebel in the upper echleons of the Ministry is further surprised when he finds out the O’Brien is not the only one working from the inside to topple the Big Brother rule. He meets Julia, who works in another department of the same ministry and ends up falling in love with her.
Nineteen Eighty-Four has a multi-dimensional appeal to me. It is not only a very clearly written book, but it also deals in one of my favourite passtimes: Social Criticism. To top it all up, it ranks right up there when it comes to Dystopian Literature. I won’t be spilling the beans when I let it out that the romance of Winston and Julia runs its course and the officials find out about their affair, because the real magic of the book lies in its delayed gratification that leads to a scrumptious end.
I might sound like a person with a bad taste in humour, but the way Orwell has ended the book is the reason why I love it the way I do. When I say “The End” I don’t mean the end of the story per se. What I mean is the part where he writes the appendix and explains the emergence of Newspeak, DoubleThink along with Good, Plus Good and Super Plus Good. Orwell tells me about how the forces plan to remove words from the current language.
After all, if one doesn’t know what a feeling is he won’t be able to spread it. No matter how awesome you feel, how fabulous the weather, how delicious the food or how terrible the government, the only word that would describe it are various forms of the word “Good”.
There are always a lot of comparisons between Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Huxley’s Brave New World. Reading opinions across the internet, I realized that the world is more Huxley-ish and less Orwellian. I never could digest that. Up till that point of time I, somehow, hadn’t yet read Brave New World. I just happened to finish it a few days ago (This was the reason why I searched for the Nineteen Eighty-Four review on our blog) and was astounded. If I have to vote for one between the two, I’d still go for Orwell. Back when I was in college I had read Orwell and had promptly fallen in love with him. The parallels he draws between our world today and the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four is magnificent in its portrayal of a form of government where the powerful squeezes the life out of the powerless and makes them ask for more. It is not the ruse of conditioning that is used in Huxley’s universe.
Of course, this is conditioning too. But the scientific progress in 1984 was a baby step compared to what Huxley was writing. I don’t want to write much about BNW right now as I’m going to be reviewing it soon, but trust me, Orwell was the daddy.
For anyone who hasn’t read this, please do.
Just read it already.