1984 by George Orwell

1984 by George Orwell(Cover picture courtesy of Sanjee’s Book Nook.)

Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One.  Big Brother stares out from every poster, the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal.  when Winston finds love with Julia, he discovers that life does not have to be dull and deadening, and awakens to new possibilities.  Despite the police helicopters that hover and circle overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party; they are drawn towards conspiracy.  Yet Big Brother will not tolerate dissent—even in the mind.  For those with original thoughts they have invented Room 101.

1984 is probably one of the toughest (if not the toughest) book to review.  It has become a cultural phenomenon and is referred to in everything from movies, news and talk shows to everyday conversation.  Before even reading the book, I knew the basic plot of the story, knew the terms doublethink, Big Brother, Room 101 and Thought Police.  For someone who tries to not even read reviews (unless that’s how I discover a book) before reading a book, this makes reviewing 1984 nearly impossible.  But I’ll try to talk about the book on its own merits, not on what it has become in our culture.

Frankly, 1984 is a terrifying picture of a possible future in which everyone’s actions, even thoughts are under strict control.  Enter Winston Smith, a man who remembers the first days of the Revolution and the Party’s rise to power.  But he can’t talk about it because the Party now has complete power over everything, past, present and future.  The past is malleable and can be changed in an instant, which is part of Winston’s job in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth.  After being oppressed for so long, Winston is the kind of person you would expect.  He’s terrified of being found out, yet rebels in small ways by writing in his diary and loving Julia.

Yes, Winston is a hero in some respects, but he’s not your traditional hero or even your traditional anti-hero.  He’s just a man struggling through life in an oppressive regime, knowing that there is no hope of change.  He doesn’t join the rebels in actively fighting against the Party and Big Brother, he doesn’t become a high-ranking official of the Inner Party to sabotage their efforts, he doesn’t distribute pamphlets denouncing the government and he certainly doesn’t do any other traditional hero-in-a-dystopia things.  Maybe I’ve been reading too much YA lately, but 1984, depressing as it is, is quite a nice change.  It’s not a hopeful or uplifting story; it’s a warning.

I wouldn’t exactly call 1984 fast-paced by modern standards, but it’s not like I fell asleep reading it either.  There’s an atmosphere of doom that hangs over the whole novel and it sucks you in, forcing you to keep reading even though you know the ending.  The best part of George Orwell’s book?  You can interpret it how you like.  You can interpret it as a warning against big government, a tirade against socialism (or, conversely, praise of socialism), a cautionary tale about what happens when people stop questioning their leaders, etc.  It’s easy to see how the term ‘Orwellian’ worked its way into the vocabulary of not only our politicians, but the general populace.

I give this book 5/5 stars.  I mean, really, this is one of the few classics that should be studied in school.

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  1. guyportman

    A great review Carrie. You reminded me that I must read 1984 again as haven’t for decades. I recently read Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier.

    • Carrie Slager

      I suspect 1984 is one of those books that you can read over and over again but never really get all of it. I mean, you find something new every time you read it. It’s certainly a worthwhile read!

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